Education research vs. education policy

The debate about how (or whether) to consider student achievement when evaluating teacher performance appears to put policy makers and some of the leading scholars in the field on a collision course. As the matter of whether New York City should release the ratings of 12,000 teachers based on their students’ test scores goes before a judge, a group of scholars is seeking signatories to a petition that declares: “Legislatures should not mandate and districts should not pursue a test-based approach to teacher evaluation that is unproven and likely to harm not only teachers but the children they instruct.” The authors are some of the most highly regarded and recognized leaders in education research and include five former presidents of the American Educational Research Association as well as the elected leaders of other professional groups in the field.

But aren’t they too late? Twenty-five states and hundreds of districts already allow or are using measures of student achievement in teacher evaluations, which affect decisions about compensation and in some cases removal. So, are the scholars fighting a forest fire with a garden hose and refusing to acknowledge that reality? Well, maybe not.

The statement says test scores should not be “heavily relied on” and that value-added measures — which use sophisticated formulas to calculate the discrete impact of a student’s teacher — should not be used as the “primary way” to evaluate teachers. The petition says test scores “are one piece of information for school leaders to use to make judgments about teacher effectiveness” and “such scores should be only a part of an overall comprehensive evaluation.” That’s exactly how the system in New York is designed. Student achievement counts for less than half of the evaluation. So, is that “heavy reliance”? It’s certainly not the “primary way” that teachers are being evaluated.