Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Education reform: Can poor test scores get a teacher fired?

An interesting article about how Houston is tying student test-score data to teacher evaluations:

Imagine if a computer could identify the weakest-link teachers – the ones who should be told it's time to get out of the classroom.

It's not quite so simple, but a new policy in Houston allows teachers to be fired based on data that some experts say isolates a teacher's effect on his or her students' test-score gains.

Reform advocates say school districts should improve teacher quality in part by using such "value added" data. Dozens of districts, including Houston's, have already incorporated the concept into "pay for performance" systems. Education leaders in New York City and the District of Columbia are moving toward linking it to tenure or dismissals. But none has gone ahead as boldly as the Texas district.

"The worst teachers in a school really drag down achievement," says Eric Hanu­shek, a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution in California. "The biggest tension is: How much do you rely upon objective statistical information from test scores, and how much do you rely on other measures of teacher performance?"

A number of parents backed the Houston decision at a packed February board meeting. But the local teachers union is planning a legal challenge, claiming, among other concerns, that the formula is not public and leaves teachers in the dark about how they're judged.

The district defends it as a tool to help principals ensure that each classroom has an effective teacher. No one has been let go yet under the new policy, but at the end of the school year, the data could be cited as one criterion for not renewing a teacher's contract.

The controversy highlights a broader debate over how to improve teacher evaluations – which are "largely broken," US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said recently before a House committee.

…The broader point is to use the data to target professional development, he says.

Groups such as the Education Equality Project – a national coalition that advocates closing achievement gaps among racial and economic groups – argue that if value-added data meet certain criteria and are gathered for several years, they can fairly tie student gains to the individual effect of teachers.


Education reform: Can poor test scores get a teacher fired?

By Stacy Teicher Khadaroo Stacy Teicher Khadaroo – Wed Mar 17, 4:40 pm ET


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