Teachers’ Performance Shouldn’t Be Based on Students’ Scores – How 9 States Are Making the Change


How should we evaluate teachers?

That’s a question that principals, school districts, and politicians have been fighting to answer for a long time. For the past 10 years, one of the major components of teacher evaluations has been student test scores. On its surface, it’s a logical concept: if the teacher is doing his or her job well, their students should do well on their assessments. That was the thinking behind an Obama-era policy known as the Race To The Top. It offered states extra federal dollars if they took student test scores into account when it came to grading teachers. 

That plan came about after a report was released which essentially found that teacher evaluations were ineffective. The report said that nearly 99% of teachers were graded as “effective”. With every teacher getting essentially the same grade, it was impossible to determine which teachers were excelling and which teachers were struggling to be successful.

The use of test scores, however, created more problems than solutions. For instance, what test scores do you use for educators who don’t teach a tested subject? In some states, teachers were being tied to test scores for subjects they weren’t even teaching. In other states, extra standardized tests were created, which led to overburdening the students with even more assessments. In New York, the situation was so bad that large numbers of students boycotted standardized testing altogether. Even though the new policies were not well received, states and school districts felt obligated to enforce them because of the money they would lose if they didn’t.

There has now been a slow move away from using student test scores in a teacher’s evaluation. In 2015, forty-three states required the use of test scores but that number has dropped to thirty-four, thanks in part to the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, which essentially gave control over teacher evaluations back to the states. Since then, the ESSA has been working to come up with a system that works for everybody.

Last month, New Mexico education officials said they will no longer take test scores into account when evaluating teachers. Instead, they’ll use a combination of principal observations and parent surveys. In New York, the Board of Regents says test scores will still count for half of a teacher’s evaluation, but individual school districts can decide which tests to use, which some say is a huge improvement.

If we are not the narrators of our own story as educators and as a system of education, others will make it up.”

-Kaweeda Adams, superintendent of Albany City School District

The question of what method is best for evaluating teachers continues to be a hot-button issue for educators and politicians across America. With more control being given back to the states, we’re seeing a wider range of plans being implemented. Now, five states no longer even require teachers to be evaluated every year. Four states no longer require low-scoring teachers to be put on improvement plans. Other states use what’s known as a “Value Added Model” which uses student test scores, but takes other factors into account like a student’s background and living situation, as well.

Until the perfect evaluation system is invented, administrators and school districts will be left doing the best they can to determine how well teachers are doing in their classrooms. Teachers, meanwhile, will be left doing the best they can to help their students be as effective as they can be.


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