Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Sunday, August 5, 2012
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Thomas: Linking teacher pay to test scores helps no one - Editorial Columns - TheState.com
Starting in the early 1980s, education reform focused on increasing expectations for students by establishing state standards and graduation requirements that included high-stakes exit exams. In the past few years, education reform has shifted from student accountability to teacher accountability.
Under federal pressure from Race to the Top and opting out of No Child Left Behind, many states are addressing teacher quality through changes to teacher evaluation and pay scales that include student test scores.
Superintendent Mick Zais argues that teacher experience and advanced degrees are insignificant to both teacher evaluation and pay; thus, the SC Department of Education is currently presenting to teacher focus groups a plan to field test a new teacher evaluation system that will link teacher quality, at least in part, to student test-scores, constituting as much as 40% of that evaluation.
The Los Angeles Times created a great deal of controversy surrounding test-based teacher evaluation by calculating and publishing value-added models (VAM) of ranking teachers. From that controversy, a growing body of research reveals the significant flaws in linking teacher evaluation to student test scores:
“Many researchers have raised concerns regarding the use of value-added models (VAM) for teacher evaluation. Briefly, VAM do not provide guidance for improvement, are comparative rather than absolute measures, assess a small part of teacher’s responsibilities, force different kinds of teaching into one scale, do not produce consistent results for given teachers over time, and may not identify effects actually caused by the teachers.”
Just as no solid evidence supports SC increasing commitments to charter schools and Teach for America, test-based teacher evaluation should have no place in education and teacher quality reform in SC. Let’s consider the many reasons that addressing teacher quality through test scores is a waste of precious time and resources for our state at the expense of our students and teachers:
• As noted above, the relatively new but growing body of evidence on the validity and reliability of test-based teacher evaluations reveals that data are unstable; in other words, as the populations of students change or the school settings change, the rankings of the teachers fluctuate. Test-based teacher evaluation can be of value only if it can offer a stable message that a teacher is strong or weak. If that label isn’t predictive, it has no positive contribution to policy and personnel decisions.
• In order to implement test-based teacher evaluation that shows student growth, SC will have to create and implement two tests per course for every teacher in the state and in every content area taught. Since there is no compelling evidence test-based teacher evaluation data are stable or valid, this investment in time and money is a catastrophic failure by our state leaders. How will we identify growth in music, P.E., and art, and how can we justify the costs associated with generating all of these tests?
• Test-based teacher evaluations create a competitive environment in which teachers must choose between the welfare of their students and their own professional security as that becomes threatened by the outcomes of other teachers and their students. In effect, each teacher must seek to use her/his students against the outcomes of other teachers’ students for their own personal gain. Education is best served by a collaborative, not competitive, environment.
• Test-based evaluations of teachers place far too much weight on flawed assumptions. First, high-stakes testing distorts how well any tests reflect student learning. Next, high-stakes testing decreases the quality of both teaching and learning since it encourages teaching to the test. Further, linking teacher evaluations to student outcomes confuses “high-quality teaching” with student test scores, although we have no way to insure that teacher quality is always positively correlated with those scores. And finally, test-based evaluations of teachers imply that student outcomes are or can be linked only to the teacher’s room that any student sits in when the test is administered. Here is the great failure of test-based evaluations of teachers: Data linked to a student are correlated with dozens of conditions (that cannot be controlled for) that distort any one teacher’s quality.
Claiming that teacher quality is central to education reform is a powerful and compelling message—although teacher quality is overshadowed by out-of-school factors. As I have noted about committing to charter schools, SC must stop pursuing solutions without identifying the primary problems, which include the inequity that creates poverty and the inequitable distribution of high-quality teachers.
Test-based reforms to teacher evaluation, pay, and retention are distractions from genuine reform to teacher quality and pay. To pursue test-based teacher evaluation while the state continues to struggle economically and educationally is an inexcusable failure of state leadership.
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Friday, June 22, 2012
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Friday, May 11, 2012
Sunday, January 8, 2012
[expanded and cited version at The Daily Kos: "Government "Options": A Contradiction in Terms*"]
The largest federal education initiative, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), has proven in a decade to be the worst federal education initiative as well. Under the Barack Obama administration we are experiencing Orwellian double-speak in more federal programs—Race to the Top (RttT) and opting out of NCLB—that claim to be addressing NCLB flaws but are in fact guaranteed to make bad even worse.
South Carolina created controversy during the RttT application process, and our state is poised for even more controversy as Superintendent Zais plans to pursue opting out of NCLB. The problem with opting out of NCLB is that the Obama administration is using the language of offering states relief from federal education intrusion to insure even greater and more damaging federal education intrusion.
A notable danger in opting out of NCLB is that many states are moving teacher accountability and evaluation toward a test-based system, often referred to as value-added modeling (VAM) and merit pay. SC should find every alternative to the damage being done by NCLB, but we must not fall prey to jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire by embracing the exact elements of NCLB—standards, testing, and accountability—that have caused the legislation to fail students and public education.
Over the past thirty years, we must acknowledge, all fifty states have implemented large-scale experiments in standards, testing, and accountability, resulting in all fifty states claiming today that public schools are failing. The reason for this outcome—one we should have anticipated—is that educational quality is not linked primarily to standards, testing, and accountability, but to the larger social and community characteristics of every child in the U.S. and SC.
The accountability era, then, has failed to improve the education of children across the U.S. and in SC; thus, it makes little sense that the same process will improve teacher quality directly and student outcomes indirectly, simply because we mandate that accountability. But, beyond the shear failure of logic of this next step, teacher accountability and evaluation should not be linked to student test scores for many reasons:
• Standardized testing remains strongly correlated with gender, socio-economic, and racial biases—making them inappropriate for evaluating students and their teachers.
• Every test is designed for a specific reason, and no test should be used for accountability or evaluation of a different population than the one for which the test was designed. A classic example of this mistake is the SAT—a test designed only to predict freshman college success, but mistakenly used each year to rank and evaluate schools and entire state’s education quality. Tests designed to measure student learning are not necessarily valid for evaluating teacher quality.
• Merit pay, even in the free market, has been shown repeatedly through research to be ineffective for increasing quality of worker outcomes; in fact, merit pay proves to be counter-productive—especially when applied to education, where teachers are more interested in the conditions of their teaching assignment than with increased pay.
• Merit pay and linking teacher accountability and evaluation to test scores increase the competitive nature of education, a process deterred by competition and enhanced by collaboration and cooperation.
• The current research on VAM has proven to be highly volatile, meaning that the status of a teacher one year varies significantly over the following years. In other words, the labeling and ranking of teachers—as with the labeling and ranking of students—have more to do with characteristics unrelated to teaching and learning such as the home characteristics of the students.
• Linking teacher accountability and evaluation with student test scores will discourage teachers from working with the most challenging student populations—high-poverty students, special needs students, and English language learners—that need high quality teachers the most.
• Focusing on revamping teacher accountability and evaluation shifts time, resources, and energy on a bureaucratic process that allows our state to ignore the primary source of educational failure—social inequity, poverty. The conditions of a child’s life associated with her/his home—access to health care, food security, eye care, personal safety—remain conditions neither students nor their teachers have any control over but those conditions are the strongest correlation with the tests used to label and judge students and teachers.
A central flaw of NCLB has been a misguided approach to solutions, one that ignores identifying the problems before mandating those solutions. NCLB and now both RttT and opting out of NCLB are all making yet another flaw: Seeking to mandate outcomes by holding students and teachers accountable for situations over which they have little or no control. High-stakes testing, despite our best efforts, remain a reflection of conditions that are not academic.
SC is now best served by opting out of opting out, if the only options we have are to implement more harmful federal mandates cloaked as relief from federal mandates.