If a Tree Falls in Forest, but No One Heats ... Value-Added Measures Shouldn't Be the Sole Source of Information in a Teacher Evaluation System, but They Can Play an Important Role in a System That Values Student Learning Gains

Article excerpt

If a teacher teaches what seems to him a very thoughtful and careful lesson, but students don't learn the skills and/or knowledge intended, was it a good lesson? The answer, we believe, is obvious: If students aren't learning, then the teaching isn't effective. Plain and simple. Thus, teacher evaluation should absolutely be focused on student outcomes.

If citizens and policy makers and educators have decided that the primary objective of schools is to foster student learning and if we have the tools to adequately measure student learning (we do), then it naturally follows that we should be assessing teacher effectiveness based in large part on the learning gains of students in the classroom.

In this Phi Delta Kappan issue on teacher evaluation, there will be several arguments for alternatives to teacher evaluations based on student tests. In this essay, we'll take the contrarian view and argue that using student test scores as a foundation for teacher evaluations is a good (and obvious) idea. We'll make this case by outlining and defending the following four premises:

* Student learning is the primary objective that schools and educators should pursue.

* Current technology in testing and value-added data analysis allow for useful measurement of student learning connected to schools and classrooms.

* Value-added measures that aim to connect gains in student learning to particular sets of teachers may be imperfect, but they're also the best (and most efficient) teacher evaluation option available.

* New data supports the common intuition held by many of us: Deploying effective teachers clearly matters for the long-term life outcomes of students.

#1. Student learning is the primary goal.

Obviously, schools as social organizations have multiple aims and pursue varied goals. As such, teachers have numerous responsibilities and objectives, and some of these aims go beyond student learning. Teachers care about students' emotional well-being and their physical safety. Educators hope to create opportunities for students to engage in varied activities with diverse peers. Finally, teachers also care about being responsible members of the school's professional staff, volunteering to serve on committees and chaperone student groups. While these and other goals are meaningful, they're subordinate to the primary goal of educators--nurturing student learning.

If student learning is the fundamental goal of educators, then any evaluation or rating of teachers should be based, in large part, on student learning. In fact, the public debate around strategies for teacher evaluation has revealed that most stakeholders agree that effective instruction is of paramount importance. That is, nearly all of the "line items" on proposed teacher evaluation checklists are related to effective teaching. Some participants in this debate want to give teachers credit for participating in the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification program or other types of professional development. Others suggest teachers should be evaluated on the practices they exhibit during instruction, as measured by classroom observations and rubric-based ratings of instructional skill. Still others prefer the status quo, in which teacher ratings are based on the standard perfunctory evaluations by the principal each year.

Most of these strategies are being proposed as components of teacher evaluation systems because each is thought to be connected to effective teaching. That is, policy makers are willing to pay National Board Certified Teachers a bit more because they're thought to be better at engaging and instructing students. Similarly, teachers who exhibit certain teaching strategies during classroom observations are believed to be better at fostering student learning and academic growth. In each case, the mediating variable is valuable because we hope that it will lead to more effective instruction. …