New report says student test scores are not a good measure for teacher evaluations

A new report concludes that basing teacher evaluations on student test scores creates key problems that make the current fad dangerously unreliable. Strategies such as peer assistance and review are much more likely improve teaching quality.


Source: Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice news release

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The first in a new series of two-page briefs summarizing important education policies offers suggestions for policymakers designing teacher evaluation systems. The paper, written by Dr. William Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center, summarizes research findings on the effects of teacher evaluation systems, including unintended as well as intended consequences.

At a time when teacher evaluation controversies in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and other school districts have erupted -- particularly over the issue of evaluations based in part on the growth of students' test scores -- understanding the evidence about these issues has taken on new urgency.

This paper suggests that lawmakers should be wary of approaches based in large part on test scores, because of three problems:

  1. The measurement error is large -- which results in many teachers being incorrectly labeled as effective or ineffective; 
  2. Given that only certain grade levels and subject areas are tested, relevant test scores are not available for most teachers; and
  3. The incentives created by the high-stakes use of test scores drive undesirable teaching practices such as curriculum narrowing and teaching to the test.

Instead, Mathis advocates systems like peer assistance and review (PAR) that de-emphasize test scores. Such systems are more labor intensive but that have "far greater potential to enrich instruction and improve education." He also advocates balancing summative, high-stakes assessment systems "with formative approaches that identify strengths and weaknesses of teachers and directly focus on developing and improving their teaching."

This two-page brief is part of Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking, a multipart brief that takes up a number of important policy issues and identifies policies supported by research. Each section focuses on a different issue, and its recommendations to policymakers are based on the latest scholarship.

Find William Mathis's brief on the GLC website at:
http://www.greatlakescenter.org

This report is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and is made possible in part by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

This brief is also found on the NEPC website at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/options-teacher-evaluations