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A terrible idea

Ohanian Comment: Randi is making the rounds with this offal. Today she was on On Point, along with Claudio Sanchez, education correspondent for NPR, and Charles Barone, director of federal policy at the advocacy group Democrats for Education Reform. From 2001 and 2003, he served as Deputy Staff Director for the House Education and Labor Committee under Democratic Congressman George Miller of California. What a trio. I couldn't make myself stay with it, so I leave it to someone who did:

As the wife and daughter of teachers I have heard it all! My husband teaches in a rural school in Vermont. In one class alone he has 15 students who are vastly different when it comes to learning, among these are special needs children. Whether you are teaching mid level, special ed or AP, each student has their own unique way of learning. Then you have personality connections which Ms. Weingarten leaves out of the learning equation. What one child finds remarkable in one teacher, another student may not. Ms. Weingarten is totally out of touch with the system and with young students. Her obvious focus is on the 20 percent of the student body who have the emotional and intellectual prowess to be on top. What about every other kind of learner out there? Is it now the educators fault that some of us are not strong book learners or is it DNA? This sounds so elitist, so Obama, so disappointing. Ms. Weingarten is an extension of the Chancellor in DC, both are very dangerous people.

Leave education to the teachers, parents and community, keep Washington out of the mix.

Laurie's comment is laugh-out-loud on target:

I would like to know who in our country would like their pay to be based on the actions of a group of children.

By Daniel Willingham

Randi Weingarten's recent speech at the National Press Club garnered a great deal of press attention, almost all of it on her openness to student achievement data being part of an evaluation scheme for teachers.

This is a terrible idea.

When people talk about using student achievement measures to evaluate teachers, they are usually talking about growth models, sometimes called value-added measures.

Simply measuring what a child knows at the end of the year is obviously a measure not just of that year's teacher, but of all of the teachers the child has had to that point, the parents, the neighborhood, etc. So growth models measure kids in the fall and the spring, and look at the change across the year.

Here is an incomplete list of problems:

1) Teacher effectiveness is influenced by factors outside of teacher's control, e.g., the principal and other administrators of the school, the parents.

2) Testing kids in the fall doesn't account for the fact that some kids are easier to teach than others. Some kids are rowdy and disruptive.

3) Students learn more when their peers add value to the classroom. It's better for a student to be in a class with peers who excel than in a classroom with peers who struggle.

4) Tying salary or promotion decisions to student growth over the course of year encourages teachers not to worry about future years. Why should I lay the groundwork for next year's work?

5) Growth models yield scores that are unstable. Teachers who look pretty good one year might look pretty bad the next. This problem may be inherent in growth scores because fall and spring scores tend to be highly correlated. Once you’ve accounted for fall scores, there may not be much variability left in the spring scores that is not due to error.

6) Whatever the initial intention, there is usually a tendency to rely more heavily on standardized assessments than on "softer" assessments, probably due to the apparent specificity of a number and the ease with which numbers can be compared. (Think of how the SAT test is used at some colleges.) But everyone agrees that standardized tests capture only part of what we want students to learn.

7) Test prep is fine by me, if teachers are prepping students for a good test. Which test are we talking about using?

Some of these points can be seen on a video that I made (titled "Merit Pay, Teacher Pay and Value Added Measures").

What was Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, thinking when she suggested that student test scores might contribute to teacher evaluation?

I hope she was thinking that she's playing ball with the Obama administration, and that locals will do whatever they want anyway. Growth models don't yield meaningless data, but they are not good enough to evaluate individual teachers. Not yet.

Daniel Willingham, is a cognitive scientist, a professor at the University of Virginia and author of "Why Don't Students Like School?"

— The Answer Sheet: Daniel Willingham
Washington Post:


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