Teaching Profession Opinion

How Can Standardized Test Scores Be Used in Teacher Evaluation?

By Patrick Ledesma — December 11, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Patrick Ledesma

Whether educators like it or not, the public values the use of standardized test scores as a measure of school quality. Test scores provide a measure that is quick, relatively cheap, and convenient. Scores allow anyone to easily make judgments about teacher quality.

From this accountability perspective, perhaps it was just a matter of time before standardized test scores would be part of the teacher evaluation process.

My home state of Virginia joined the list of states seeking to use test scores in teacher evaluation, recommending that “40 percent of teachers’ evaluations be based on student academic progress, as determined by multiple measures of learning and achievement, including, if available and applicable, student-growth data from Virginia Department of Education.”

In this discussion on the role of test scores in teacher evaluation, I am reminded of a recent conversation with an educator working in a school with a diverse socio-economic student population:

This educator remarked, “My school had a 93 percent pass rate on the standardized test. We have over 55 percent of our students on free-and-reduced lunch. Another school had a 98 percent pass rate on the same test, but has only 8 percent of their students on free-and-reduced lunch. ... My teachers worked harder for their test scores.”

It’s statement a that deserves consideration.

Will the use of test scores in teacher evaluation unfairly challenge or penalize teachers who work with students with more academic and social needs?

After all, teachers in high-needs schools have to overcome the effects of poverty and other socio-economic factors to produce their high score results. While teachers in schools with more privileged students have different challenges, their students may come to school with a level of preparedness that gives them advantages on standardized tests.

So, any teacher evaluation that incorporates student test scores will need to be sensitive to environmental contexts in which teachers help all students learn.

Failure to consider the contexts could result in misleading evaluations. Test scores may artificially inflate or unfairly constrain a teacher’s rating. Given the emerging literature that questions the use of growth and value-added models, teachers are rightfully concerned how scores may be an inaccurate and unstable measure of their teaching.

Despite these concerns, policies advocating for the use of test scores continue; therefore, it is important for classroom teachers to advocate for how tests can be properly used as part of an evaluation process.

Last March, I was part of a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards webinar panel that discussed this issue. An ensuing report, ““Student Learning, Student Achievement,” outlines the essential criteria on how large-scale standardized assessments can be used in teacher evaluation systems:

Standardized tests should include the following elements:

1) Curriculum-related scale with equivalent unit of measure along a considerable continuum of achievement.

2) Information on validity of tests for assessing special populations.

3) Data systems that track students and link to teachers.

4) Curriculum alignment

The report goes on to state that:

“Teacher evaluation systems will need to incorporate additional evidence of teacher practice in order to correlate any student learning gains with specific classroom activities. ... Gains in student learning are not just the function of the classroom teacher but of many other factors as well, including teaching conditions and supports, past learning experiences, tutors, parents, student attendance and participation, and other external student and family factors.”

The point is that if the public wants to use standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, then we need better standardized tests.

And as states expand the use of test scores in teacher evaluation, educators will need to help the public understand what is needed to make their convenient and preferred method of teacher evaluation meaningful in judging the teachers and schools that serve them.

Patrick Ledesma is a middle school technology specialist and special education department chair with Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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.


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.
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.
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

Teaching Profession Reported Essay Students Aren’t the Only Ones Grieving
Faced with so many losses stemming from the pandemic, what can be done to help teachers manage their own grief?
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Teaching Profession Reported Essay Teachers Are Not OK, Even Though We Need Them to Be
The pandemic has put teachers through the wringer. Administrators must think about staff well-being differently.
6 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Teaching Profession We Feel Your Grief: Remembering the 1,000 Plus Educators Who've Died of COVID-19
The heartbreaking tally of lives lost to the coronavirus continues to rise and take a steep toll on school communities.
3 min read
090321 1000 Educators Lost BS
Education Week
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Educators Have a Responsibility to Support the Common Good
A science teacher responds to another science teacher's hesitation to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
1 min read