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Pre-K Assessments Tricky to Use in Evaluating Teacher Performance, Study Says

Twenty states now use student performance in the early grades to assess teachers, yet current evaluation systems don't provide an accurate picture of what's happening in the classroom, asserts a study released today by the Washington-based New America Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to promote equity, access and excellence in education.

When linking outcomes from pre-K through 3rd grade directly to teaching, states must take into account the complexities of teaching young children, carefully pilot evaluation systems, and ensure that data accurately reflects teaching done in the early years, the report, entitled "An Ocean of Unknowns: Risks and Opportunities in Using Student Achievement Data to Evaluate Pre-K-3rd Grade Teachers" states.

Current evaluation systems for early-childhood education "do not tell teachers, principals or policymakers very much at all," says the report, released May 15. "Nearly all teachers are rated as effective yet less than one-third of children are proficient readers by the end of 3rd grade."'

Researchers studied five states and three local school systems and found that three types of assessments are used to decipher what's been learned in the early years—defined as preschool, kindergarten and grades 1-3—all of which have benefits and risks.

The first approach includes tests written by teachers and local administrators for specific classrooms. The second involves district- and state-wide assessments. The third approach tests children later in their academic careers—for example, 3rd or 5th grade—and parses out what was learned earlier in the child's academic career.

Researchers looked at assessment systems in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Rhode Island, and Tennessee as well as those in the cities of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C. They also examined the work done in Hillsborough County, Fla.

None of these systems gauge what the youngest students know well, the study states, nor can their results be applied to teacher performance. That's because the youngest learners are often assessed on math and reading—subjects that are hard to measure at that age and not very descriptive of the important kind of academic and social learning young children do.

"There is little dispute that the impact a teacher has on student learning should be a part of how she is evaluated," the report states. "Figuring out how to do this well is a daunting task, and some states are sailing without a rudder."

The report is available online.

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