Evaluating Educators

New York State released teacher and principal evaluations that for the first time allow parents and administrators to assess the effectiveness of local teachers at the county, district and, in some cases, the school level.

The evaluations, which cover the 2012-13 school year, are an expanded version of aggregate statewide results that were released in October. Those figures showed that 91.5 percent of New York State teachers were rated either highly effective or effective. The results have prompted an outcry from critics who question how so many of the state’s teachers could be regarded so highly while so many of their students are performing poorly.

New York City teachers were not included in the evaluations because the city and the teachers’ union could not reach an agreement in time on how the evaluations would be formulated. The city will be included in the next batch of evaluations.

During the 2012-13 school year, 31 percent of students statewide were proficient in reading and math, based on statewide tests. In New York City, 30 percent of third- through eighth-grade students passed tests in math and 26 percent passed tests in English. But that school year was the first time the statewide tests were aligned with the more rigorous curricular standards known as Common Core, and student test scores dropped sharply statewide. The previous year, when tests were not aligned with the Common Core, 55 percent of students passed proficiency tests in reading and 65 percent passed in math.

Many experts, however, strongly cautioned against drawing a straight line between student test performance and teacher effectiveness, especially in schools filled with many students struggling with difficulties outside the classroom, including poverty, crime and a lack of support.

Under the new system, the teacher ratings are based on three elements. Sixty percent of the rating is based on metrics like classroom observation; 20 percent is based on statewide tests for fourth through eighth graders; and the other 20 percent is based on standards agreed upon at the local level through collective bargaining.

Critics have denounced the validity of the evaluations given the disparity between the percentage of teachers who were deemed solid, and how many of their students went on to fail state test. Teacher performance has been under an especially strong microscope recently with two lawsuits challenging teacher tenure wending their way through the state’s court system.

Are there ineffective teachers?  Of course there are!  But there are also ineffective doctors, judges, lawyers and politicians.  How should we measure their effectiveness? Let us assume that a judge frees an accused DUI person and the person once released gets involved in a fatal DUI incident – should we hold the judge responsible?  Assume a doctor tells a diabetic to give up sweets and the diabetic doesn’t and dies – should the doctor be held responsible.  There are many variables why students do not test well.  One reason that is built into the system is the unequal allocation of funding to rich and poor schools.   Exclusively blaming an educator for poor student performance negates the impact of parents, and the educational system.  I am not claiming that teachers do not play a major role but eliminating the impact of the environment makes little sense.