The Teacher Evaluation Test

A lot of arguments in public education revolve around how to marry the measurable and the unmeasurable. Teachers have seniority provisions in their contracts – a measurable factor – because they don’t trust administrators to use unmeasurable and subjective means to evaluate them.

On the other hand, teachers also distrust a host of measurable factors that might be used to evaluate them, most notably student test scores.

They have a point. No one wants to be judged on the performance of others. Still, they’re not teaching in a vacuum. If quality teaching doesn’t result in quality learning, what good is it?

The problem for teachers’ unions is to enunciate a viable means to evaluate teaching that doesn’t sound like a dodge. Ted Nesi, a political reporter for WPRI in Providence, Rhode Island, interviewed the three candidates for president of the Providence Teachers Union and asked them the same simple question: “Should teacher evaluations be tied to student performance? If no, how would you like to measure a teacher’s success?

All three had serious reservations – to varying degrees – about judging teachers on student performance. But it was the second question that elicited the most illuminating answers.

Maribeth Calabro: “Until we have valid, reliable pre/post assessments and progress monitoring tools, we will be unable to effectively make accurate claims regarding student achievement. Meantime, a teacher’s success can be measured using a portfolio approach using multiple valid data points that have been appropriately vetted.”

Daniel Wall: “Teachers should be evaluated on what they do in their classrooms.”

Melissa Cimini: “A teacher’s success should be based on his/her ability to manage the classroom (with the support of the administration) and should be based on the ability to differentiate to meet the needs of the students in the classroom with the appropriate supports.”

I’m just a layman, but to me those are three very unsatisfying answers. If unions could defend their position on teacher evaluations with something that includes students, they might win some support. Even mine.