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Test-Driven Teacher Evaluations Strike Out

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The first of the recent strikes against the policy of including test scores to evaluate teachers was delivered by Matthew Kraft of Brown University and Allison Gilmour of Vanderbilt. They studied the evaluation systems in 19 states and discovered that all the test and punish anxiety unleashed by Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and other test-driven reformers, merely increased the number of dismissed teachers by 1%.

The Washington Post's Emma Brown cites Kraft in reporting that the gap between their "teacher quality" promises and the results show "the difference between how policies play out in theory and on the ground, where evaluators are dealing with the constraints and challenges of real life." On the ground, I would add, administrators are reluctant to take decisive, punitive actions based on dubious metrics, but that doesn't mean that the damage done by the use of test scores isn't severe.

The second strike came when the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) released its survey 124 current and former State Teachers of the Year or finalists for that honor. The survey found that 81% of those great teachers strongly believe that federal policy should not "support teacher evaluation systems that rely significantly on" student test scores.

Now, the Network for Public Education (NPE) has issued "Teachers Talk Back: Educators on the Impact of Teacher Evaluation." The report includes a survey of "3000 educators from 48 states who shared their firsthand experiences with the new models of teacher evaluation which resulted from Race to the Top." As the NPE's Executive Director Carol Burris notes, "This report makes it clear that the problems (with those models) are systemic, and they are hitting schools across the nation."

The NPE's headline finding is virtually identical to the NNSTOY report. "Teachers Strike Out" found that 83% of respondents report that "the use of test scores in teacher evaluations has had a negative effect on instruction." A whopping 72% also say that the sharing of instructional strategies among teachers has been hurt.

One contributor, Jessica Martinez of Albuquerque, observes, "The current evaluation system has eroded and undermined collaborative relationships between teachers by placing teachers in competition against one another by creating a competitive and isolating professional culture." NPE President Diane Ravitch adds: "Current teacher evaluation programs are so flawed that they are causing an exodus of experienced teachers and a precipitous decline in the number of people who want to become teachers."

Moreover, project facilitator Elaine Romero mourns, "This project haunts me recognizing the impact of teacher evaluation on teachers-of-color. Where HAVE all the teachers-of-color gone? How DOES not having their presence, voice, and ideas impact our profession?"

I must emphasize that this third, recent documentation of the failure of the quantitative component of teacher evaluations is just the latest evidence that the use of test scores was another example of reformers "swinging like a rusty gate." Its time for the use of test scores in teacher evaluation to walk off the field. This is just the latest example of why we should adopt the NPE's first recommendation:

An immediate halt to the use of test scores as any part of teacher evaluation.

Policy-makers should read the entire study and heed its other five research-based conclusions:

* Teacher collaboration should not be tied to evaluation but instead be a teacher- led cooperative process that focuses on their students' and their own professional learning.
* The observation process should focus on improving instruction--resulting in reflection and dialogue between teacher and observer--the result should be a narrative, not a number.
* Evaluations should require less paperwork and documentation so that more time can be spent on reflection and improvement of instruction.
* An immediate review of the impact that evaluations have had on teachers of color and veteran teachers.
* Teachers should not be "scored" on professional development activities. Nor should professional development be dictated by evaluation scores rather than teacher needs.

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