Letters To The Editor
On the face of it, the ideas in Laurence T. Mayher's Commentary, "Judging Teachers by Students' Achievement" (Education Week, April 20, 1983), seem logical and desirable. Good teachers do make a difference in student learning, and it seems reasonable to include measures of achievement as an important criterion for evaluating teacher effectiveness.
But the major problem, still unsolved, is our general inability to measure student learning reliably and validly for most of the higher-level competencies schools ought to be developing. What we can, and do, test are low-level skills of recall, computation, and the like. The proliferation of basic or minimal competency-testing requirements in many states has already had the effect of making the achievement floor into a ceiling in many schools.
Even now many teachers warily teach for these "basic" tests, and students get little opportunity to practice critical thinking, problem solving, and significant writing. Evaluating teachers on the basis of test scores would put even more pressures to drill on skills and reduce the scope of the curriculum still further.
Until school systems and test makers are willing to face up to the difficulties and costs of the kind of assessment programs that would measure fairly and adequately with breadth and depth such competencies as critical inferential reading; powerful, clear writing in a wide variety of modes; and synthetic problem solving, then Mr. Mayher's proposal will do more harm than good. Particularly destructive to the goals Mr. Mayher and I share would be the nearly inevitable result that such an evaluation process would be most likely to stifle the very creative, imaginative, inspirational teachers we both value, while rewarding those whose workbook approaches seem like the safest way to test mastery.
The first priority must be to develop sensitive measures of the really important abilities schools should be developing. Then we can think about how to use them as part of the evaluation process of teachers.
John S. Mayher Associate Professor English Education New York University New York, N.Y.
While your recent article on the proposed cuts in our program, "U. of Mich. Budget Panel Urges Ed. School Cuts" (Education Week, April 27, 1983), was generally accurate, the information presented was somewhat one-sided. You could have easily chosen a positive quote from the report of the Budget Priorities Committee to balance the negative ones. One example, "We believe that the school's recent productions augur well for a distinguished future."
In addition to a generally negative focus, the article included unrelated information that is of personal concern to me. The article states: "Ms. Stark has resigned, effective July 1, but has agreed to stay in her job until next January if necessary." Including this information in the article at a strategic spot gives the misleading impression that my prospective change of role is directly related to the budget recommendations. This is entirely untrue.
I informed the vice president for academic affairs in August 1982 that I would not seek another term as dean of the school of education when my current term ends in July 1983. This decision was announced publicly in September 1982 along with my acquiescence to the vice president's request that I extend my term somewhat if various decisions were pending. By April 1983 this item was no longer news and thus was inappropriately included in your article.
We await a final decision on our budgetary future and anticipate further deliberations about the scope and nature of the specializations to be offered within education. I have every confidence that the School of Education at Michigan will continue to be one of the top programs in the country as your article acknowledges it is now. I look forward with pride to conducting my own teaching and research as a member of the school's faculty and to searching for and supporting a new dean.
Joan S. Stark Dean School of Education The University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Mich.