President Obama delivers remarks next to Secretary of Education in 2013. (YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS )

A focus of the Obama administration’s education reform effort has been the remaking of teacher evaluation systems to include student standardized test scores. States that wanted to receive federal funding in President Obama’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top education funding contest had to commit to linking test scores to teacher evaluation, and the same was true for those states that wanted to receive a federal waiver from the most onerous parts of No Child Left Behind. Most states wound up passing laws linking scores to evaluation, even though assessment experts — including the American Statistical Association — have warned against the “value-added measurement” method being used to make that linkage.

[Statisticians slam popular teacher evaluation method]

This linking has had some unusual consequences. Because there are standardized tests only in math and English Language Arts are tested, policymakers determined to evaluate all teachers on the scores devised ways of getting around the problem. They did this by, for example, evaluating teachers on the average scores of all students in a school, or grouping subjects together as they appear to relate to math or English Language Arts and evaluating teachers on those scores. For example, an art teacher in New York is assessed by his students’ standardized math scores. The result: teachers are assessed on the test scores of students they don’t have and/or subjects they don’t teach.

[Controversial teacher evaluation method is on trial — literally — and the judge is not amused]

Wondering whether President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan knew that their policies had led to this state of affairs, I asked both the White House and the Education Department to respond to individual versions of this question:

Your Education Department has promoted policies that link teacher evaluation to student standardized test scores. Because tests are only given in math and English Language Arts, many teachers around the country are evaluated by the test scores of students they don’t have or by the test scores in subjects they don’t teach. For example, in New York City middle schools, it’s been estimated that over 60 percent of New York City teacher evaluations are out-of-subject. An art teacher would be evaluated in part on student math scores.  Are you aware of this state-level consequence of federal policy and do you think it is fair to teachers?

The White House responded by saying that the Education Department would respond.

This is the response from the Education Department:

At the center of great schools is great teaching and parent involvement. Both rely on good information about student progress and growth. No child, teacher or school can be measured by one test; success is tied to factors way beyond just academic. But teachers and school leaders need to know how students are progressing. Parents have a right to know how their children are doing in school. Students should be able to show what they know. Moreover, when schools don’t assess student progress, it’s the performance of the most vulnerable students that gets swept under the rug. Communities deserve accountable schools. Part of that information comes from tests—which should always be one of multiple measures, along with measures like classroom observations and evaluation of students’ written work. It is up to states what measures they use in their educator evaluation systems, as long as they are looking at student learning as one (but not the only) piece; and only a handful of states use statewide standardized tests to evaluate educators in non-tested subjects. Many states developed a different way to measure student progress in those subjects.

DCPS’s evaluation system is a great example of using multiple measures of teacher and principal performance to determine whether they’re successful or have areas to improve:

o   Measures include: formal and informal observations, student growth data based on state assessments and based on teacher assessments, commitment to the school community, and professionalism.

o   Observations are done both by administrators and master educators, so teachers can get feedback from their peers.  And teachers receive feedback multiple times throughout the year.

o   And DCPS has made adjustments along the way – instead of having growth on state tests count 50% for some teachers and use that as the only measure of student growth, they reduced the weight to 35% and added 15% based on growth data from teacher assessments.

From our ESEA Flexibility Policy Document[www2.ed.gov]:

Student Growth:  “Student growth” is the change in student achievement for an individual student between two or more points in time.  For the purpose of this definition, student achievement means—

  • For grades and subjects in which assessments are required under ESEA section 1111(b)(3):  (1) a student’s score on such assessments and may include (2) other measures of student learning, such as those described in the second bullet, provided they are rigorous and comparable across schools within an LEA.
  • For grades and subjects in which assessments are not required under ESEA section 1111(b)(3):  alternative measures of student learning and performance such as student results on pre-tests, end-of-course tests, and objective performance-based assessments; student learning objectives; student performance on English language proficiency assessments; and other measures of student achievement that are rigorous and comparable across schools within an LEA.

To receive this flexibility, an SEA and each LEA must commit to develop, adopt, pilot, and implement, with the involvement of teachers and principals, teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that:  (1) will be used for continual improvement of instruction;

(2) meaningfully differentiate performance using at least three performance levels; (3) use multiple valid measures in determining performance levels, including as a significant factor data on student growth for all students (including English Learners and students with disabilities), and other measures of professional practice (which may be gathered through multiple formats and sources, such as observations based on rigorous teacher performance standards, teacher portfolios, and student and parent surveys); (4) evaluate teachers and principals on a regular basis; (5) provide clear, timely, and useful feedback, including feedback that identifies needs and guides professional development; and (6) will be used to inform personnel decisions.  An SEA must develop and adopt guidelines for these systems, and LEAs must develop and implement teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that are consistent with the SEA’s guidelines.  To ensure high-quality implementation, all teachers, principals, and evaluators should be trained on the evaluation system and their responsibilities in the evaluation system.  As part of developing and implementing these evaluation and support systems, an SEA must also provide student growth data on current students and the students taught in the previous year to, at a minimum, teachers of reading/language arts and mathematics in grades in which the State administers assessments in those subjects in a manner that is timely and informs instructional programs.  Once these evaluation and support systems are in place, an SEA may use data from these systems to meet the requirements of ESEA section 1111(b)(8)(C) that it ensure that poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers.

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