The accountability movement in education in the United States over the past 15 years has forever changed the way that public schools in this country function. Every area of school operations has changed because of the heightened emphasis on effective practice and achievement of targeted goals. The exciting thing about the accountability movement is that it is not finished yet. The practice of school improvement is still changing and morphing as we zero in on how best to equip our students for success in the our current technology and information age.
Not excluded from the change that has taken place in public schools is the practice of teacher evaluation. With defined accountability targets and an emphasis on the use of best practices, school systems across the United States are reexamining long standing teacher evaluation methods in an effort to align them with current achievement goals. Many would also point out that much of the new emphasis on teacher evaluation is being driven by federal initiatives like Race to the Top and SIG which require “value added” teacher evaluation systems. If you are not familiar with value added teacher evaluation, it is the practice of incorporating measures of student achievement into the determination of teacher ratings. In short, teacher effectiveness is now being linked, at least in part, to student performance. Because the concept of value added teacher evaluation is so new in American education and because it runs counter to long standing teacher evaluation methods it is a provocative issue that is worthy of deeper examination because of its promise, it current problems, and the potential it has for effective future applications.
The promise of value added teacher evaluation systems is that for the first time states are being challenged to move away from rudimentary traditional teacher evaluation methods that rate teachers as effective or not, with little indication as to where teachers’ strengths and weakness are or any consideration of how their students are performing in comparison to teachers’ rated proficiency levels. Without doubt, value added teacher evaluation systems add accountability to teacher rating methods that have largely lacked this practice in a consistent and quantifiable fashion previously. Value added teacher evaluation systems also provide the opportunity for teachers to evidence the good work that they have done through student growth. Any fair value added teacher evaluation measure recognizes where students begin academically and illustrates the progress that they have made during the course of the school year. Fair value added teacher effectiveness systems also provide the opportunity for good teachers to evidence their effectiveness through the progress that their students have made.
While value added teacher evaluation systems have great promise the also have some glaring warts/problems. First, because the practice is so new and many states have rushed to develop their systems, many of the current models in practice have not gone through sufficient vetting to identify and phase out all of their kinks. The result is that we have a hodge-podge of methods in use across the country that are producing much angst among teaching and administrative staffs and are providing varied student achievement results. Fair approaches must allow time for the systems to be vetted, at least a minimum of two years in any state. The first being a baseline data collection year, and the second being the full implementation year. Also, as the practice of value added teacher evaluation is used over time, we will have strong longitudinal data to show us what practices are actually most effective. In the meantime, administrators who are implementing these systems must be careful not to show positive bias on ratings for teachers who work with higher achieving populations. Schools and school systems must also be wary of using whole school approaches that make individual teachers in specific grade levels or content areas accountable for the achievement of students that they do not teach.
So, with all of the previous information considered, what are the next steps for value added teacher evaluation? First, educators need to understand that we must stay the course. The current accountability movement in education, just like any other change movement, has its problems. That is ok though because our nation’s public schools are far better today than they would be without the movement. That said, states that are implementing value added teacher evaluation methods must do so in a responsible fashion, that credits the hard work that good teachers do by providing the opportunity for them the evidence their effectiveness. With this approach, I am confident that value added observations will add to the work that is being done to improve the effectiveness of public schools throughout the United States.
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