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How Can Standardized Test Scores Be Used in Teacher Evaluation?

By Patrick Ledesma — December 11, 2011 3 min read
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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.

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