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Disconnecting the Ties Between Teacher Evaluations and Test Scores

In Indiana, educators and legislators have been caught up in the ongoing debate as to whether teacher evaluations and, as a result, teacher pay should be linked to students’ test scores. Considered one of the most controversial aspects of the state’s educational policy, that link seems likely to be headed for the trash heap of abandoned educational reforms.

According to a recent article in the Indianapolis Star, a panel is poised to recommend that the state take student’s ISTEP scores out of the equation when determining the outcome of teacher evaluations. Proponents of the measure say it could cut down on the stress experienced by teachers in performing their responsibilities as teachers.

“We’re taking adult stress and putting it on kids because the adults are stressed out,” said Nicole Fama, a principal and chairman of the panel.

Here are some of the pros and cons listed by educational leaders about the merit of tying teacher evaluations to student test scores:

Standardized tests aren’t accurate measures. Since standardized tests aren’t actually linked to curriculum, they should not be used as viable data for determining performance-based pay schedules, according to Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Using student test scores could build accountability. “We need to hold teachers accountable for ‘How many students were able to be successful in your classroom?'” says Kate Dickson of the Chalkboard Project, an independent group that’s testing the concept in several Oregon school districts. In that state, 99 percent of teachers have received performance evaluations that have met the satisfactory mark each year.

Student test scores is common sense. According to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, grading teachers without taking into consideration student test scores is akin to grading heart surgeons without taking into consideration patient outcomes. It’s “like saying to hospitals, ‘You can evaluate heart surgeons on any criteria you want — just not patient survival rates.’ ”

Test scores as a factor could set a negative tone. Some critics of using student test scores said that it could lead to an unhealthy competitive environment in schools. It could lead to teachers becoming competitive — not collaborative — as they vie for higher pay scale level.