A thought-provoking new report about teacher assessment was recently released, and hopefully will serve as a voice of moderation in the debates over value-added scores and changing tenure standards which are currently raging in New York and elsewhere. Sponsored by the National Education Policy Center, “Getting Teacher Assessment Right: What Policy-Makers Can Learn From Research” provides a great overview of recent scholarship on teacher evaluation (the author reviewed almost 300 studies). It argues for a more nuanced view of what makes someone a “good teacher,” urging policy-makers to move beyond test scores in their effort to ensure that all students have great instructors.
One of author Patricia Hinchey’s most powerful points is about the need to examine multiple measures of what makes someone a great teacher. Student test scores are one way of measuring teacher “effectiveness,” she notes, but tell us very little about what characteristics are typical of effective teachers or what teaching strategies they use (their “quality” and “performance.”)
Teacher quality refers to teacher characteristics such as education, experience, and beliefs. Teacher performance refers to what a teacher does, both inside and outside the classroom, and includes such elements as classroom interaction with students and collaborative activity with parents and others in the school community. Teacher effectiveness refers to teacher influence on student learning and includes such elements as student test scores and student motivation.
In addition, she warns, using test scores alone as the key “divining rod” of teacher effectiveness (as did this recent report from the Gates Foundation’s otherwise promising “Measures of Effective Teaching” project) is problematic. As she notes, multiple studies (including this recent one from a blue-ribbon panel of education scholars) have shown that test scores can be unreliable measures of both student learning and the effectiveness of individual teachers — even when using value-added formulas to try to control for student demographics and other factors:
While it is obvious that student learning should be factored into any assessment of teacher effectiveness, the overwhelming conclusion of top researchers is that value-added assessment alone is an invalid and unwise basis for making for high-stakes decisions. Just as teacher effectiveness should be combined with teacher quality measures and teacher performance measures, any measurement of teacher effectiveness that uses VAA should combine it with analyses of other evidence, such as classroom artifacts, student self-reports, parent surveys, and other key non-academic outcomes known to correlate with student learning.
Equally important, Hinchey and other scholars also point out that standardized tests fail to measure teachers’ effectiveness in encouraging students to develop traits which have been shown to be crucial to college and career success. As one recent article on the growing recognition of the importance of these “non-academic skills” observed:
Across education and industry, research by Mr. Sackett; Neal Schmitt, a psychology professor at Michigan State University in East Lansing; and others shows the biggest predictor of success is a student’s conscientiousness, as measured by such traits as dependability, perseverance through tasks, and work ethic. Agreeableness, including teamwork, and emotional stability were the next-best predictors of college achievement, followed by variations on extroversion and openness to new experiences, Mr. Sackett found.
Overall, Hinchey recommends that policy-makers seeking to identify great teachers use a combination of six types of measures — classroom observation, instructional artifacts, portfolios, teacher self-reports, student surveys, and value-added assessment — and suggests that teachers’ principals and peers should share responsibilities for evaluating their quality, performance, and effectiveness.
Despite the current media trend of identifying teachers unions as barriers to reforms of teacher assessment, it’s interesting to note that unions across the country are already moving forward with many of the ideas Hinchey identifies as the most promising means of identifying great teachers. Here in New York, this report should be required reading for all New Yorkers who are engaged with the current debates on these issues.