The Myth of Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 20 years, you have likely noticed that assessments and evaluations have become big buzz words. In my humble opinion, too much weight is being given to them. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am fully convinced of the importance of accountability. Most people need some external influence to keep them on the right track and giving their best. Students and teachers alike are subject to the temptation to steer off course and “just get by” if they do not perceive of any oversight. However, gathering data from a few visits to a classroom or a few days of testing by a third party can only give a limited view of the real impact that a teacher is having on a student. Some of the impact may not be fully recognized until many years down the road. After all, I know of several of my former teachers and professors who have impacted me in ways that I am only now beginning to understand. I’m sure you have some similar experiences.

My point is that the data gathered from these intermittent points through the year should be given its due attention, but any analysis of the data must be viewed through the perspective of its actual limitations. Do not make too hasty a judgment on the successes or failures of a teacher (or a student for that matter) on such a small set of data points! As a math teacher, I know that more good data leads to more reliability. If the data appears to point out some weaknesses, then the teacher should be made aware of them. However, please don’t make a gambler’s mistake and put all of your chips on one number!

Here are a few of the reasons why teacher effectiveness cannot be treated as an exact science.

1) Each year involves a new set of students with different educational experiences.
They have had different teachers. Some have moved in from other places. The focus from room to room and school to school and year to year varies.
2) The standards, and consequently what skills and topics are considered important, are in seemingly constant flux.
In the last 20 years, there have been at least 5 different sets of standards from the department of education in my state. There have also been at least 4 different expectations on how to put together a lesson plan.
3) The assessment mechanisms are changed every few years.
Some tests are required for graduation. Some are not. Some are based on only one course’s material. Some have a broader scope of multiple subjects. Some are constructed response. Some are multiple choice.
4) The cut scores (the score needed for a pass) and scoring decisions (what score makes a specific grade) are rarely consistent.
5) The test documents are classified and teachers usually don’t know all the important details until well after the next school year has started.
6) The administrative positions are filled by different people on a nearly year to year basis.
The subjective nature of each person’s evaluation techniques can become a mine field when trying to get to know a new supervisor.
7) There are budget restrictions increasingly hampering the ability to obtain or maintain important and necessary materials.
8) Measuring a teacher’s impact on the student’s performance is based upon a questionable formula that compares a student with an imaginary group of students just like him/her and a faulty premise that past results guarantee future predicted outcomes.
9) The student tests are given before the school year is complete.
Some are given a few weeks or a month before the school year is over, but others are given even earlier than that.
10) All evaluations that are not given on a daily basis are really just a snapshot of what is actually taking place.
11) Evaluations only give data on a narrow set of observational input.
12) No test given at school is able to predict or include all of the variables that affect a student’s performance.

I’m sure that I’ve left off some other reasons so feel free to comment.

There is an old adage that says the numbers never lie. That is true. But ask where the numbers came from, who had a hand in them, and why the numbers say what they say. They still have their limits.

Don’t let the data analysis game get you down! If you are a teacher, give your best each day. There will be ups and downs, but a test does not tell the whole story. Evaluate yourself honestly regarding what has really happened in your classroom. Then, let the chips fall where they may.

Be your best!




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