Opinion
Education Opinion

Which Side Is Right About Evaluating Teachers?

By Walt Gardner — September 10, 2012 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Now that the fall semester is underway, it won’t be long before teachers are evaluated about their instructional effectiveness. In years past, the process applied largely to new teachers who did not yet have tenure. But most states today require that even veteran teachers be evaluated. High on the list of strategies for this purpose is the value-added model. Two papers published by prestigious organizations two years apart almost to the day present contrasting views about this controversial metric.

The Economic Policy Institute was first when it released its paper on Aug. 29, 2010 (“Problems With the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers”). Ten scholars concluded that “used with caution, value-added modeling can add useful information to comprehensive analyses of student progress and can help support stronger inferences about the influences of teachers, schools, and programs on student growth.” However, they emphasized that the “foundation of teacher evaluation systems” should be the professional judgment of competent supervisors and peers. In short, the value-added model should play only a supplemental role.

Then on Sept. 5, 2012, the Manhattan Institute’s Marcus A. Winters weighed in with his view based on his study of data from Florida public schools (“Transforming Tenure: Using Value-Added Modeling to Identify Ineffective Teachers”). He concluded that “public schools can indeed use VAM to help identify teachers for tenure or removal.” However, he hastened to emphasize that “this report does not argue that VAM should be used in isolation to evaluate teachers for tenure or to make any other employment decisions.”

Actually, I see more agreement between the papers than initially meets the eye. Both acknowledge that evaluating teachers is a complex undertaking. They both also urge the use of multiple measures in making these high-stakes decisions. The major difference is over the issue of reliability. Winters maintains that claims about the value-added model’s unreliability should be rejected. In contrast, the ten scholars believe that “estimates of teacher effectiveness are highly unstable.” They cite the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences: "... VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness should not be used to make operational decisions because such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable.”

There’s another issue that warrants further debate. It has to do with Type I (false positive) and Type II (false negative) errors. Which is worse: labeling a bad teacher as good or labeling a good teacher as bad? Winters believes that the existing system of evaluation defaults in favor of teachers (“Putting value-added model to the test: Study finds student scores can predict teacher effectiveness,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sept. 5). I don’t doubt that some teachers remain in the classroom when they don’t deserve to be there. But there is an equal danger of removing teachers who help students in ways that are not measured by the value-added model. I’m referring now to non-cognitive outcomes that are not measured by standardized tests currently in use. I point this out in my letter to the editor that was published in The New York Times Book Review on Sept. 9 (“The Character Hypothesis”).

I hope that many more studies will be devoted to the subject because the issue is far from settled. At this point, however, I think the value-added model can cautiously be used as one piece of information. My only concern - and I want to emphasize it - is that as pressure mounts for quantifiable data about teacher effectiveness, the value-added model will take over the entire process. That’s not good for teachers or students.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP