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The Star-Ledger

 

Test Scores Add Value To Teacher Review

May 17, 2012

By Marcus A. Winters

Research over the last two decades has confirmed what most parents already knew: Teacher quality is any public school’s most important asset. Taking that simple and obvious premise seriously means working to identify and remove ineffective teachers. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in New Jersey and nationwide is pursuing this path.

Students are harmed when they are taught by bad teachers. Research shows that being assigned to an ineffective teacher can reduce a student’s learning during the school year by as much as a grade level. Anyone who understands the importance of education won’t be surprised to learn a recent study by economists at Harvard and Columbia universities showed that assignment to one or another teacher is related to later life outcomes, such as the likelihood of early pregnancy, the chances of college attendance and lifetime earnings.

Studies have consistently found that all public school systems have both high- and low-performing teachers. This is not just a problem for struggling urban districts. No matter where you live, there is a chance your child will be assigned to an ineffective teacher.

It seems obvious, then, that schools should try to identify and remove ineffective teachers. But New Jersey’s current evaluation system is nothing more than a rubber stamp. Even in very low-performing public school districts, it is common for just about all teachers to be rated "satisfactory" or above.

Further, even the few teachers who receive unsatisfactory ratings face little consequence for their poor performance. Nearly all teachers who stick around for three years receive tenure, which provides powerful job protections that make it nearly impossible to be fired for poor performance.

There is growing bipartisan support in favor of using student standardized test scores to improve teacher evaluations. Poor evaluations could then be used to remove the system’s worst teachers. Such "value-added" analyses of teacher quality measure each instructor’s independent contribution to student-learning during the school year.

Policymakers who support using value-added measures to identify and remove ineffective teachers span the political spectrum. Republicans such as Gov. Chris Christie have voiced support, as have Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Obama.

Research suggests that, if used properly, value-added measures such as test scores could drastically improve the quality of education provided to students. A nationwide study shows such measures have demonstrated far greater accuracy at predicting future effectiveness than have conventional measures of teacher quality, such as years of experience and advanced degrees.

A rich evaluation system would assess a teacher’s performance using both student test scores and observations of classroom performance. The subjective classroom analysis would help to flag cases when test scores wrongly identify good teachers as ineffective.

School systems should use the improved evaluation to identify and remove their worst teachers. Teachers deemed ineffective for more than one year by a robust evaluation system should be removed from the classroom. And the policy should apply to all teachers, rather than just new applicants: No student should have to suffer simply because a teacher has been employed by the school system for more than three years and, therefore, can’t be fired without an overly burdensome process.

New Jersey should follow in the footsteps of other states, such as Colorado and Florida, that recently moved in this direction.

All of New Jersey’s kids deserve to be taught by a high-quality teacher. That can only happen if schools adopt policies to identify and remove those teachers who, for whatever reason, simply aren’t making a difference for their students.

Original Source: http://blog.nj.com/njv_guest_blog/2012/05/test_scores_add_value_to_teach.html

 

 
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