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Opinions Differ on Teacher Evaluations

Empty Desks

Use of value-added modeling systems to assess teacher performance is “exploding nationwide,” the New York Times reports, in large part because of Obama administration efforts to get states and districts to improve how instructors are evaluated. But, the Times says, many experts — including the authors of a Department of Education report on the subject — warn that the technique can too easily produce inaccurate results. Value-added models evaluate students’ test scores from year to year and how well they performed compared to others in their grade. William L. Sanders, a senior researcher for SAS, a company that does value-added ratings for Tennessee and several others states, tells the Times that the methodology, correctly used, can “reliably distinguish” between highly effective, average, and ineffective teachers.

Many other researchers, however, beg to differ. They say it can be dangerous to credit or blame a single teacher for how well or poorly a student does in the assessment. For exaple, the Times notes, not all evaluations take into account whether a student comes from a low-income family, or if a teacher only taught the student for a brief period.  In  addition, many students receive instruction from several teachers and after-school tutors, all of whom may influence how well they do. The DOE study warned against placing “too much emphasis on measures of growth in student achievement that have not yet been adequately studied for the purposes of evaluating teachers and principals.” Value-added methods, it said, should for now be used only “in closely studied pilot projects.” Nevertheless, the DOE has continued to press and reward states to use the models to make teachers more accountable.

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