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Is it time to re-evaluate teacher evaluations?

With New York Governor Mario Cuomo recently backing down from a proposal to tie teachers’ performance ratings to student outcomes, the debate about how to best evaluate teachers once again takes center stage in the education field.

According to The New York Times article, Cuomo had said tougher evaluations for teachers — with a heavier emphasis on their students’ test scores — was the solution to transforming the state’s education system. After coming under fire from several fronts, including parents’ protests against testing, Cuomo did a turnaround on that position. It appears that President Obama’s administration also is reconsidering the idea of using student test scores to measure teachers’ performance.

That issue has been at the heart of many debates across the nation about what it takes to conduct effective teacher evaluations as well as boost student performance.

John Layton, the associate superintendent of Lafayette (Ind.) School Corp., said there are too many variables outside of the classroom that interfere with the ability to use student scores to fairly assess a teacher’s performance.

“Even when doing the best job possible in the classroom, teachers find themselves paying an evaluation price for things out of their control, such as parental involvement or lack thereof in a child’s education,” Layton said in an oped article for a local newspaper.

“When one considers that a student spends a minimal amount of the minutes of their lives through age 18 actually attending school, how can it be fair that student standardized test outcomes be attached to teacher evaluation and therefore teacher reputation and compensation?”

Time for a change

In another article published by Education Week, the authors pointed out that these so-called Value-Added Measure (VAM) evaluations can lead to many discrepancies because of the complexities of measuring student progress or a teacher’s ability to more effectively teach some parts of the curriculum over others. Those results can change from class to class, depending upon whether teachers are assigned higher performing students — or students who traditionally have had challenges in the classroom.

One frustrated teacher was quoted as saying, “I do what I do every year. I teach the way I teach every year. My first year got me pats on the back. My second year got me kicked in the backside. And, for year three, my scores were off the charts. What did I do differently? I have no clue.”

As leaders grapple to find answers on a fairer teacher evaluation system, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — which had previously backed the idea of using student test scores to rate teachers, is now focusing on the idea of providing more training for teachers as an effective method for raising the overall quality of education.