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Bill Gates: Don't Overuse Tests in Teachers' Evaluations

Philanthropist Bill Gates has penned an op-ed in The Washington Post, in which he warns that hastily chosen teacher-evaluation measures, including a sole or predominant focus on student test scores, run the risk of bringing down the entire effort to improve teacher reviews.

"As states and districts rush to implement new teacher development and evaluation systems, there is a risk they'll use hastily contrived, unproven measures," Gates writes in the piece. "One glaring example is the rush to develop new assessments in grades and subjects not currently covered by state tests. Some states and districts are talking about developing tests for all subjects, including choir and gym, just so they have something to measure."

Exhibit A: A gym teacher evaluation instrument that lists improvement in students' "skipping technique" among measures that would be used to judge teacher performance. (The Thomas B. Fordham Institute also wrote about this example just a week ago.)

Gates goes on to say that he understands teachers' concerns about using standardized tests, noting that while there "is justification for rewarding teachers based in part on how their students perform, compensation systems should use multiple measures, including classroom observation," and should help teachers collaborate and access opportunities to improve their craft.

Critics will, no doubt, see this as a bit of a morning-after take on teacher evaluation. After all, Gates has funded projects like the Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching which put emphasis on student-achievement measures. The foundation that bears Gates' name has supported advocacy groups that are insistent on the use of tests in teacher evaluation. And early releases from its Measures of Effective Teaching project stressed the predictive power of test scores, though later releases noted that there's a trade-off between the predictive power of test scores and their reliability.

Gates even says the U.S. Department of Education should stress "the right balance" of measures in evaluation systems. The ED has cited a couple of states for not making progress on their teacher-evaluation Race to the Top promises. Gates, by contrast, highlights the work of states that have taken a slower approach. The op-ed cites Delaware, which pushed back implementation of its teacher-evaluation system, among states that are deeply engaged with teachers in designing the new measures.

The bottom line, for Gates? "If we aren't careful to build a system that provides feedback and that teachers trust, this opportunity to dramatically improve the U.S. education system will be wasted."

(The Gates Foundation provides support for Education Week's coverage of business and industry.)

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