Debate Right, 9/18

Teacher evaluations necessary but need to be fair

By Rob Scott

The tools for teaching have drastically changed over the years. However, the constant fundamental is the teachers themselves. Teachers do hold a special status in our society that is much different from that of plumbers, lawyers or accountants.

Anyone can remember their best teachers in grade school or in high school for varying reasons. Remembering your plumber or lawyer like that … probably not.

For me, some teachers reached me better than others, but Mrs. Ross in journalism is one that comes to mind. She taught me various academic skills, but the practical reasoning skills that she taught me are what specifically remain today. Additionally, she is the main reason I was able to afford my undergraduate degree thanks to her ardent support and advocating for me to receive an academic scholarship in the area of journalism.

The reasoning life skills that Mrs. Ross taught me cannot be graded or put on a standardized evaluation nor can her assisting me reaching my potential in college. This is something I certainly acknowledge that should be rationalized when thinking of standardized teacher evaluations.

Regardless, there must be some form of evaluation. In sales jobs, they are judged by sales numbers. Attorneys’ form is the number of cases won and clients brought into the firm. For accountants, it’s the number of IRS audits prevented and deductions allowed.

One movie that speaks directly of teachers and how they are evaluated is “Lean On Me.” The movie is a true story about a principal who is thrust into running an inner city high school. The students have terrible grades and the school itself has many issues. The students are judged on a state standardized test. After a few months, the students take a pretest and the results are horrible. The principal calls a meeting with all of the teachers and implores them to do more. He puts the students’ failure on the test directly on the teachers’ shoulders.

The rest of the movie shows how each teacher goes above and beyond assisting the students to prepare and learn for the test. Ultimately, the students are successful and the principal is revered by the students.

Of course, the movie was based on a true story, but it’s Hollywood, too. Should teachers be judged on their students’ performance on a particular test, specifically a state standardized test? The resounding answer should be “yes,” but test scores should not be the only factor in the teacher evaluation.

For example, student test scores should be a percentage of the overall evaluating picture. Included should be individual judgment from the teacher’s superior (i.e. principal or senior teacher). Another inclusion could be parents’ evaluation of the teacher and whether the teacher is educating special needs children.

Critics do say that it is unfair to judge a teacher based upon students’ performance on a state standardized test. Their main argument is that teachers will have to teach for the test and ignore other topics or reasoning skills needed.

A study sponsored by the Gates Foundation administered a higher-quality test of reasoning and critical thinking skills to students who had also taken their state’s standardized test of basic skills. The study found that teachers whose students had high value-added scores on the standardized basic skills test also tended to have high value-added scores on the test of reasoning.

According to the study, this was a potentially important finding because it suggested that narrowing the curriculum as a consequence of standardized testing is not something that is critical. The study concluded that if teachers are effective at teaching basic skills they are also effective at developing reasoning skills. This means evaluations can hold teachers accountable for teaching the basic skills and be confident that the students are receiving more than just basic skills.

Another study by Harvard researchers concluded teachers whose students had high test scores also had better long-term adult outcomes. This finding suggests that these tests had not become ends in themselves, but rather success for students on these tests made the students more likely to be successful as adults. The study suggested more pressure on teachers to increase their students’ test scores would increase the likelihood of success in the students’ adult lives.

Mrs. Ross taught me the basic skills I needed for a test, but because she was doing her job she also taught me more than the basic.

Teachers do need to be evaluated because teaching is too important of a profession for our future. However, to judge a teacher solely on student test scores, like sales numbers, is unfair. Teachers should be evaluated, but be evaluated like their profession, not others.

A one-size-fits-all should not be the evaluation. The teacher should be judged by overall criteria including students’ test scores, in-classroom instruction ability, student increased ability in learning, student difficulty, parental input and other factors.

Schools should have the ability to reward good teachers and terminate bad ones. With an overall criteria system this puts all factors on the table and provides a more fair system of teacher evaluation.

Rob Scott is a practicing attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is the Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party and the founder of the Dayton Tea Party. He can be contacted at rob@oldhamdeitering.com or www.gemcitylaw.com. 

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