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Answer Sheet
Posted at 12:04 PM ET, 11/02/2011

Teacher evaluation systems getting nutty

How’s this for nutty? A teacher who has a chance encounter with a parent at a grocery store and chats about school can earn credit toward a financial bonus.

That is the way it is in the Challis School District in Idaho, a state where nearly 30 school systems have adopted teacher evaluation systems that include as one measure how well teachers get parents involved in their child’s education.

In the five-school Challis system, teachers are supposed to make contact with the parents of each of their students at least twice every three months, according to the Associated Press.

A teacher can send a note home to fulfill one of the “contact” requirements, though the other must be face to face. It can, Challis Superintendent Colby Gull was quoted as saying by the AP, be fulfilled by a chat in the supermarket during an unexpected encounter with a parent.

That counts for official contact purposes, he said, “as long as they’re talking about what’s going on in the classroom and the parent is informed about their student.’’

That might generate no serious problem in a small town where it is easy to run into parents. But even in Challis it doesn’t seem fair to the teacher who doesn’t have that chance meeting with a parent, and it seems downright absurd in a bigger place. What does a teacher do if a parent rejects an invitation for a face-to-face meeting?

Teacher evaluation systems have become a big focus in school reform today, with the most popular new feature being linking teacher assessment and pay to how well their students perform on standardized tests. Assessment experts say this is a lousy idea, but that hasn’t stopped the Obama administration from encouraging states and schools to proceed — and many are.

And now, the parent involvement piece, not a new idea (some schools were getting parent views of teachers for evaluation purposes back in the 1990s), is getting new life in teacher evaluation. But the idea comes with problems.

To be sure, there is benefit when parents tell school administrators unofficially how well their child’s teachers are or are not doing. Principals can factor in this feedback in their own observations and see patterns over classes and years.

But the notion that those assessments would be included regularly in an official evaluation presupposes that parents are right in their judgments, and ignores the strong possibility of teachers playing to parent sentiments to get good recommendations.

Parents can know if their child likes a teacher, but may not always have a fair idea of why a child doesn’t like a teacher.

Getting parents involved in evaluating teachers on an official basis is just one more bad teacher assessment idea which is totally unnecessary. There are teacher evaluation systems already in place that do a good job of weeding out bad teachers. We don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel.


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By  |  12:04 PM ET, 11/02/2011

 
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