The U.S. Department of Education’s push to get states to link teacher evaluations to student test-score performance is ill-advised and unfair to educators, former Los Angeles teacher Walt Gardner writes in an opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times.
Under proposed guidelines, the Education Department’s $4 billion “Race to the Top” competitive-grant program would require participating states to use student-performance data in evaluating teachers’ effectiveness. Lawmakers in California are considering changing the current state law on teacher evaluations so it can qualify for the program.
While the idea of linking teacher evaluations with student scoring gains may sound reasonable to taxpayers, Gardner charges, it fails to account for the unique challenges many teachers face in the classroom. The policy would be particularly unfair to teachers in “chronically failing” schools in disadvantaged areas, where many of the students are poor and “come from chaotic backgrounds.” In such schools, out-of-school factors such as poor nutrition and lack of parental involvement hamper students learning. “As a result,” Gardner observes, “teachers are forced to perform triage rather than teach.”
The current recession, he adds, has made the situation worse and more widespread.
Gardner acknowledges that there are examples of schools with large percentages of low-income students that have managed to raise standardized test scores. But he argues that their success is “not sustainable” and exacts “too steep a price from teachers to form the basis of education reform.”
Rather than expecting teachers to be “miracle workers,” he concludes, policymakers should direct their attention to the root causes of poor student performance.