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Teachers Give Evaluation Systems Low Ratings, Survey Finds

Teacher evaluations based on student test scores are widely unpopular among educators, according to a survey released this weekend by a public schools advocacy group. 

According to the findings, a majority of teachers say current evaluation systems have deteriorated their relationships with parents, students, administrators and other teachers. Some teachers participating even reported taking medication for anxiety because of the stresses of the systems. 

The study, which surveyed 2,964 teachers and principals from 48 states in the fall of 2015, was conducted by the Network for Public Education, a group led by education historian and activist Diane Ravitch that opposes high-stakes testing and other policies seen as contributing to a lack of support and respect for teachers.

The survey was not conducted randomly but was meant to be qualitative and descriptive, said Anthony Cody, one of the report's authors, in an email. It was distributed via social mediaprimarily Facebook and Twitterand teachers of color were specifically recruited to make sure their perspectives were represented, he said.

"We rely on surveys [like a recent one from Georgia where teachers reported frustration with the number of mandatory tests and their role in evaluations], and the distressing reports of teachers leaving the profession, and teacher 'shortages' across the country, to validate our determination that these are real issues, not just the gripes of malcontents," Cody said in explaining the study's methodology.

The report, "Teachers Talk Back: Educators on the Impact of Teacher Evaluation," is meant to give a voice to practicing educators in policy discussions. The new evaluation systems, which vary by state and were mostly developed as part of the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top competition and NCLB-waiver projects, are complex and place a heavy emphasis on teacher observations and student test scores. Value-added models, or VAMs, for instance, attempts to estimate how much a teacher has contributed to student-achievement growth by factoring in the gains the student was expected to make based on past performance. 

But according to the survey, 83 percent of respondents said the inclusion of student standardized test scores in teacher evaluations has had a negative impact on classroom instruction. Teachers reported that they now felt forced to "teach to the test" instead of plan fun or meaningful units and spend hours poring over data instead of brainstorming ways to better reach their students. 

Some other interesting findings from the survey:

  • Sixty-six percent of teachers reported that the pressure to focus on test scores is hurting their relationship with their students. The amount of time teachers spend on test preparation might be preventing them from getting to know their students—75 percent of survey respondents reported that they spend four hours or more per month on activities related to education, and over 27 percent reported they spend eight to nine hours per month.
  • More than 41 percent of black educators and 30 percent of Latino educators reported a racial bias in evaluations. One teacher from New York was quoted as saying, "I have received racial comments and insignificant criticism for the most minute things just to justify a low rating, despite the fact that my test scores were high." The report draws connections between evaluation systems to the reported declines of black teachers.
  • A majority of respondents—52 percent—said they think veteran teachers with six or more years of teaching experience are treated unfairly during evaluations. At least one respondent said older teachers are being pressured to "get out."
  • Competition among teachers seems to have skyrocketed, with one Tennessee educator saying that teaching success has become a "zero-sum game: a victory for you in your test scores is a defeat for me." Seventy-two percent of respondents, often afraid of losing their jobs if they don't have the top test scores, noted that they are reluctant to share instructional strategies with their colleagues. When merit pay programs are in place, the competition worsens, with several teachers saying collaboration is "devalued" when their bonuses are tied to test scores.

The Network for Public Education concluded with six recommendations. The first, unsurprisingly, is to immediately stop the use of test scores in teacher evaluations. The group also recommends less required paperwork, a review of the effect of evaluations on teachers of color and veteran teachers and changes to the processes for teacher collaboration, observation and professional development.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal education law, does not require states to set up teacher-evaluation systems based in significant part on students' test scores, which has prompted speculation as to whether some states will scale back testing components and possibly develop new evaluation models.

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