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Where Teacher Evaluations Stand to Improve

Ever since the L.A. Times unveiled their series on value-added teacher evaluations last week, the education world has been set ablaze with a fiery debate about test-based evaluations. This week, Carl Bialik of the Wall Street Journal jumped into the fray, as he analyzed the pros and cons of test-based evaluations and determined that there's much work to be done before evaluations can effectively measure teacher performance.

"Because education tends to have this moral-crusade element...we tend to rush to use things before they are refined or really fully baked," said Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, in the WSJ article.

The WSJ states that performance numbers emerging from test-based evaluations "rely on a flawed statistical approach," citing a study in which a large proportion of teachers rated highly one year and dramatically fell the next year.

Bialik doesn't fully disregard test-based evaluations, however. He references the evaluation system present in Washington, D.C., where only 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation can be tied to test scores, and suggests that such an evaluation system, despite the questions surrounding its fairness, may already be better than many of the subjective, principal-based evaluation systems in place. ("Damn near anything is going to be an improvement on the status quo," Daniel Willingham, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia, told the WSJ.)

Bialik also mentions the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as they're busy funding a study in seven school districts of teacher evaluations by combining test-based analysis with other factors, like teacher tests of subject knowledge. Dr. Steve Cantrell, senior program officer of the Gates Foundation, told the WSJ that the study will "help determine whether it is possible to create a 'persistent and stable measure' of teacher performance that predicts student learning."

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