Just about every time you turn around, you can find, somewhere, a new survey or report or brief or poll that includes “teacher voices.” They are usually funded by a foundation that has some small or, often, huge investment in corporate school reform, and the reports somehow find a way to validate some reform tenets. Here is a new survey that includes the voices of teachers from an entirely different source — with different results.
Anthony Cody, a veteran educator who co-founded the nonprofit Network for Public Education with education historian and activist Diane Ravitch, assembled a team of teachers and administrators from across the country to write a report on the effect of teacher evaluation systems that require student standardized test scores to be a factor.
The team created a survey and received nearly 3,000 responses from teachers and administrators in 48 states. Based of the responses, the team wrote a report, titled “Teachers Talk Back: Educators on the Impact of Teacher Evaluation.” The report, released this weekend at the national conference of the Network for Public Education in Raleigh, N.C., finds widespread dismay at how test-based evaluation systems have affected students, teachers and schools.
A majority of teachers who responded said, among other things, that test-based evaluation systems hurt teachers who educate the most vulnerable students and that the relationships that teachers have with their students — and other educators — have been harmed.
These evaluations systems were pushed by the Obama administration through its multibillion-dollar Race to the Top initiative and waivers it gave to states from the most onerous parts of the flawed No Child Left Behind, the K-12 education law that was finally replaced by Congress in December, eight years late. Assessment experts, such as the American Statistical Association, the largest organization in the United States representing statisticians and related professionals, warned against using what is known as “value added measurement” — a method of using test scores to evaluate teachers — for high-stakes decisions such as salary and job retention, but policymakers ignored them for years.
VAM purports to be able to take student standardized test scores and measure the “value” a teacher adds to student learning through complicated formulas that can supposedly factor out all of the other influences and emerge with a valid assessment of how effective a particular teacher has been. These formulas can’t actually do this with sufficient reliability and validity. Because the only subjects annually tested are math and English, reformers found strange ways to implement their evaluation systems, such as assessing teachers on the test scores of students they don’t have or subjects they don’t teach. (Really.)
With the emergence of an opt-out movement among educators and parents against high-stakes testing and test-based evaluation, some states are backing away from these assessment systems. But damage has been done, and there have been consequences for students and educators alike.
The results of the Network for Public Education’s survey are not statistically representative of the nation, but they do echo those found by a number of other national polls showing that teachers believe that their profession has been targeted by school reformers and that they are under unprecedented stress. Cody said the outreach to teachers was not random but that he and the team were looking for something that was “qualitative and descriptive.” Thousands of comments were added to the survey questions from the 2,964 teachers who responded.
You can read the entire report here. (And you can hear podcasts and get other information about what happened at the Network for Public Education’s conference here.) Here are findings and recommendations from the report: