I have been following the national debate about teacher evaluation for some time. As an educator, I have mixed feelings about the discussion. On one hand, I agree with the reformers who say that measuring teacher effectiveness is critical to improving teachers and thereby our entire public school system. On the other hand, however, I find fault with most of the current systems for evaluating teachers.
Bob Bowdon’s recent satirical piece on the issue (“Classroom Grading is an Attack on Students“) does much to convince me that attitudes need to change before we’ll find a good solution to this problem. Bowdon uses student grading as a metaphor for teacher evaluation and tries to show that teacher unions are being unreasonable in their focus on the fairness of current systems. While fairness is not the most important factor, it is the one that most separates student grading from teacher evaluation. Students are graded based on multiple measures of performance and with great emphasis on consistency. Teacher evaluations are much more subjective.
Now, I have nothing against honest and accurate measurement of teacher mastery. I’ve written before about the positive changes that have come to the North Carolina Teacher Evaluation Instrument. No one whom I know is arguing that teachers should not be evaluated. On the contrary, most teachers that I speak with welcome evaluation. Fairness is certainly an issue, but it isn’t the biggest one.
The most important parts of this debate center of what constitutes great teaching. Is it the ability to produce high test scores from your students? Is it a knack for helping your students’ scores improve? It is building meaningful relationships and teaching citizenship and character along the way?
If you agree that it is some mixture of all of these characteristics (and more!), then you recognize the absurdity of using only student test scores to determine which teachers are effective.
Just as it would be absurd to measure a student’s mastery based on a single test score.