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Standardized tests and teacher evaluation

We have explored previously how an over reliance on standardized tests is contributing to students leaving  high school neither college or career ready. To make matters worse we now are putting in place a teacher evaluation system that also over relies on standardized tests.

As I wrote in my last post we need to give schools management in public schools––they already have it in charters––more ability to replace low quality teachers and other building level professionals. But doing that based on how well a teachers’ students perform on standardized tests is not a good way of assessing the quality of a teacher.

Paul Tough in his must read new book Helping Children Succeed and in an Atlantic article entitled How Kids Learn Resilience writes about research on teacher effectiveness by Northwestern University economist C. Kirabo Jackson. Tough writes:

… Jackson began investigating how to measure educators’ effectiveness. In many school systems these days, teachers are assessed based primarily on one data point: the standardized-test scores of their students. Jackson suspected that the true impact teachers had on their students was more complicated than a single test score could reveal.

… Jackson did something new. He created a proxy measure for students’ noncognitive ability, using just four pieces of existing administrative data: attendance, suspensions, on-time grade progression, and overall GPA. Jackson’s new index measured, in a fairly crude way, how engaged students were in school —whether they showed up, whether they misbehaved, and how hard they worked in their classes. Jackson found that this simple noncognitive proxy was, remarkably, a better predictor than students’ test scores of whether the students would go on to attend college, a better predictor of adult wages, and a better predictor of future arrests. (Emphasis added.)

… Jackson’s proxy measure allowed him to do some intriguing analysis of teachers’ effectiveness. … Jackson found that some teachers were reliably able to raise their students’ standardized-test scores year after year. These are the teachers, in every teacher evaluation system in the country, who are the most valued and most rewarded. But he also found that there was another distinct cohort of teachers who were reliably able to raise their students’ performance on his noncognitive measure. If you were assigned to the class of a teacher in this cohort, you were more likely to show up to school, more likely to avoid suspension, more likely to move on to the next grade. And your overall GPA went up—not just your grades in that particular teacher’s class, but your grades in your other classes, too.

Jackson found that these two groups of successful teachers did not necessarily overlap much; in every school, it seemed, there were certain teachers who were especially good at developing cognitive skills in their students and other teachers who excelled at developing noncognitive skills. But the teachers in the second cohort were not being rewarded for their success with their students—indeed, it seemed likely that no one but Jackson even realized that they were successful. And yet those teachers, according to Jackson’s calculations, were doing more to get their students to college and raise their future wages than were the much celebrated teachers who boosted students’ test scores.

Wow! Research that demonstrates that so called non cognitive skills are a better predictor than standardized test scores of attending college, adult wages, and future arrests. And shows that, by and large, the teachers that are most effective in developing these skills in their students are not the teachers that are best at getting higher test scores.

Obviously we want schools to hire and retain more teachers that are good at developing students skills that lead to students “more likely to show up to school, more likely to avoid suspension, more likely to move on to the next grade. And your overall GPA went up—not just your grades in that particular teacher’s class, but your grades in your other classes, too.” And yet we have a teacher evaluation system––because we have wrongly equated student success with a test score––that as Tough notes does not reward teachers who are good at building these skills, “indeed, it seemed likely that no one but Jackson even realized that they were successful.”

Not smart!

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

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