Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Nov. 28, 2009
Our View - Scores don't tell full story about teaching
At first glance, there seems to be a lot of value to the idea of tying teacher evaluations to student test scores. The most pressing value right now, in fact, is how such a policy would place the state in a better position to claim the $175 million it could be eligible for under the federal "Race to the Top" program. (To qualify, states must vote to tie teacher evaluations to test scores, adopt tougher standards, turn around troubled schools, build long-term student tracking systems and lift legal limits on charter schools.)
That would seem to be a key reason why Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, a former teacher himself, is bucking the counsel of the teachers' unions and pushing for a more direct correlation between student test scores and helping to identify a teacher's effectiveness.
Some state education leaders like the clear criteria and objective analysis that the test scores allow.
"There's a whole bunch of us in administration who won't mind seeing that be part of the equation," Carlisle Superintendent Tom Lane told The Des Moines Register. "When I get evaluated, my board looks at what we are doing with student achievement."
But standardize tests scores, on their own, can't tell the full story about the quality of education being offered and received. Many other criteria need to be factored into that equation to determine a teachers' effectiveness.
Take Iowa City for example. The "Schools in Need of Assistance" within the district tend to have very high mobility rates among their students. That means, in some schools and in some classrooms, teachers have more than half of their students leave or enter the class over the course of the school year. If teachers' individual performance is based on standardized tests, then they will be held accountable for the performance of students who they might not have had in class for very long.
That's not to imply that there aren't, in fact, bad teachers out there teachers who are incompetent, disorganized, emotionally unstable or simply burned out. As Iowa City Education Association Co-President Tom Yates observed in his Friday guest opinion: "Who cannot claim to have passed through school, public or private, having lived through a year with a 'bad' teacher?"
But test scores do not provide a full picture on whether teachers are "bad." Nor do they offer the best course of action for dealing with "bad" teachers.