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February 07, 2012 3 min read


Let Fairness Rule Teacher Evaluations

One of the highest compliments a teacher can get from a student is to be told that she or he is fair. When students believe their teacher is fair, they accept test grades, homework assignments, and discipline without drama. Teachers, like their students and like people in other professions, appreciate fairness and should expect it. With that in mind, I am not surprised by the pushback on new evaluation systems from teachers in Hawaii, New York, Tennessee, and many other state and local school districts. Using student test scores from flawed standardized tests as a measure of teacher evaluation does not meet the fairness test for teachers who have had to endure “reform du jour” for the last decade.

Why is it that teachers reject being measured by student test scores? It makes perfect sense to corporate America and the media world that teachers would have the most impact on the test scores of their students.

It’s time for a reality check. Anyone who’s ever spent time in classrooms knows that there are factors over which the teacher, despite valiant efforts, has no effect. Student effort on tests may have a much greater impact on test scores than all the greatest teaching in the world. Parental responsibility is high on that list also. Did the child get enough sleep, a healthy breakfast, nurturing support, and reinforcement of the teacher’s lessons through homework or parent-student conversations? Using a single test on a single day for a high-stakes decision like teacher evaluation attacks that core value of fairness.

Teachers do indeed have a great deal of responsibility for student learning. Good teacher evaluation and strong professional support are expensive, but are key to making a real difference in student learning in the long run.

Involve teachers in making decisions about their profession, and they will demand and set high standards. They will also use the filter of fairness for every decision and so should administrators and policymakers.

—John Wilson


Reading Research Panel Formed

The International Reading Association, a Delaware-based professional group with 70,000 members, just announced it has convened a panel of researchers to “respond to critical issues in literacy” by translating research into practical recommendations.

The Literacy Research Panel will focus on the achievement gap, student motivation and engagement, standards and assessments, and teacher education, according to the IRA.

P. David Pearson, a reading researcher and former dean at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, will chair the panel.

“There’s a spirit in the air that we need a correction to the direction that No Child Left Behind took us in,” he said. “Things like the Common Core [State Standards] and the movement towards deeper learning are going to make sure we really focus on the ultimate goals of reading and literacy, to prepare kids for the job force and for higher education, and make sure that kids are able to reach their aspirations.”

Mr. Pearson said the group will “develop a set of research-based practices that we can promote through teacher education and professional development and through standards and curriculum materials and assessment” and to help “set the national agenda when it comes to literacy, research, and practice.”

The other researchers on the panel are: Peter Afflerbach and John Guthrie, University of Maryland; Nell Duke, Michigan State University; Virginia Goatley and Peter Johnston, University of Albany; Kris Gutierrez, University of Colorado, Boulder; Kenji Hakuta, Stanford University; Gloria Ladson-Billings, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Nonie Leseaux and Catherine Snow, Harvard University; Elizabeth Moje and Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar, University of Michigan; Victoria Risko, Vanderbilt University (IRA president); Timothy Shanahan, University of Illinois at Chicago; and Karen Wixson, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

—Jaclyn Zubrzycki

A version of this article appeared in the February 08, 2012 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week