The Pitfalls of Evaluating Teachers Based on Student Testing – No

Judging teachers on the basis of their students’ examination results makes about as much sense as rating attorneys on their number of successful criminal cases or assessing the performance of physicians based on patient survival rates.  

Some factors in life simply occur beyond the direct control of another human being…And as much as parents, instructors, administrators and community leaders may hope that a youngster will excel in an educational setting, ultimately the child and not the educator bears the burden of learning. 

Additionally, life never issued any promises that every child at birth will obtain equal measures of academic ability even within specific peer settings.  People possess different skill sets and talents.  

Children are not like little widgets on an assembly line…public schools cannot pour in education and then measure scientifically to ascertain the level of mechanical improvement in various educational subjects.  Objectification serves things well sometimes, but not people.

The background of the controvery

A study published by the Sutton Trust in England suggested recently that British public schools should evaluate teacher performance in the classroom objectively by considering the improvements in their students test scores over the course of time as the most significant criterion.  The organization’s goal of enhancing the social mobility of socioeconomically disadvantaged and minority youth seems laudable.

The notion that public schools should review classroom test scores as a reflection upon an instructor’s teaching skills has gained popularity in some circles in the United States recently, too.  But several arguments lend support to critics of this trend.

Issues of trust and objectivity

First, test designers do not possess any guarantee that standardized tests will always cover academic material in an objective, impartial manner.    

The firms which prepare uniform academic tests no doubt seek to pose relevant material, but sometimes in a classroom setting a teacher’s personality, individual experience and expertise may contribute to a child’s learning objectives without reference to subjects test designers consider important.  

Most of us can remember at least one or two very inspiring and enthusiastic teachers, individuals who excelled in their profession.  Would these people have performed well in terms of a test based evaluation of their skills?  Maybe not.

So a learner may find a particular teacher very helpful to him or her in the long run, and yet fail to perform up to expectations on a test day or even during an academic year or two. Not everybody learns at the same pace.

Why should society assume that academic test scores possess any greater validity in assessing actual learning than the opinion of an instructor who interacts with all of the children in his or her classroom on a daily basis?  Or that teachers who hold forth in a classroom during the time period when test scores rise actually deserve credit for the improvement?

Are teachers really so biased by their own social views and subjective prejudices that they unconsciously penalize some learners by issuing lower grades to them and higher grades to others?  We need to place greater trust in their integrity as grade keepers and less faith in standardized evaluation processes! 

The myth of equality

Second, not every pupil demonstrates the same degree of academic motivation.  While the law in the United States endeavors to maintain a ground floor of basic equal rights for all people, it cannot always correct the unfairness or inequalities dished out by life.  

Some brilliant children perhaps fail to perform well in the classroom for a variety of non-academic reasons: boredom, frequent re-locations, emotional issues such as the loss of a loved one, substance abuse or even, perhaps, disinterest.  On the other hand, youngsters who score low on some IQ tests may excel in particular subjects because of a high degree of motivation and hard work.

No one expects teachers to act as part-time social workers or stand-in parents in the comprehensive sense.  Punishing an instructor whose class includes a number of less interested students with a poor evaluation seems rather unfair.  

Some of the children in his or her class might perform very well on one test day but show a lack of motivation on a subsequent exam or series of tests.  Is the instructor to blame?  Or should teacher evaluations consider other, personal factors in the lives of the pupils or in the society at large?

Examining student test scores sounds very scientific in theory, but really educators cannot control for all of the variables potentially impacting their subjects.

The road not traveled

Third, relying on student test score fluctuations as a means of assessing instructor ability may take the focus away from improving education as a process and place it on mechanical protocols for determining whether or not “learning” has actually taken place in the abstract. A high test score on a standardized exam will not insure that a student can utilize academic information on a daily basis. 

For instance, some children perhaps learn more from experience than from lectures.  Others may find emotional qualities in the context of classroom communications more important than the intellectual content itself.  Perhaps in the interest of assisting struggling learners in public schools, more research attention should be directed to these areas.

Money and priorities

Finally, another important argument against using student test scores to evaluate teaching ability relates to the underlying expense of this form of evaluation process and the priorities individual districts place upon various public educational necessities (or not).  

For instance, a school district in Charlotte-Mecklenberg, North Carolina reportedly recently paid 1.9 million to create some 52 new tests for pupils. The process of measuring student achievement can be expensive.  And if the assessment of a teacher’s instructional abilities hinges directly upon the testing process, too, then many districts will in the future will no doubt encounter additionally costly litigation from teachers who believe they have suffered mistreatment during the evaluative process.

Expanding the testing measurement process comes at the opportunity cost of hiring additional instructors and cafeteria workers, expanding playground and recreational facilities, enhancing school bus safety, buying personal computers and books for the classroom or a host of other worthy expenditure.

Today many public schools find their budgets shrinking.  These institutions need to spend money more carefully than during previous years. Probably reducing class sizes by hiring more instructors to offer individual attention to struggling learners would better serve children struggling in academic settings than expanding bureaucratic testing measures to better critique teachers.

In conclusion

Teachers who have gained a teaching license have already demonstrated their ability to teach effectively.  Generally in the United States, student teachers must jump through an impressive series of academic “hoops” to win the ability to even sit for mandatory teacher licensing examinations, for instance. 

These instructors deserve the professional respect, support and trust from administrators, parents, students and their peers which accompanies their accomplishment and dedication in earning teaching credentials.  The responsibility for learning or not should rest more directly upon youngsters.