Gates' Teacher Effectiveness Study: Surprised?
I was invited by National Journal.com, Education Experts blog to share my reaction to the final report of the MET study. Here's what editor Fawn Johnson asked: What is most surprising about the Gates’
findings? What are the easiest ways teacher evaluations can be tweaked to more
accurately reflect effectiveness? How important are student perception surveys?
What lies ahead for videotaping teachers’ lessons? Do we need to learn anything
more about measuring student achievement? Is the task laid out by Gates too
daunting for schools to handle?
I deliberately avoided looking at any of the social media
spin on the final report of
the Gates Foundation funded Measurements of Effective Teaching (MET) study
until after I had done my own reading. I
took the same approach to the release
of the first report back in December 2010.
Then, as now, there are several things about this study that
I admire. Like Fawn Johnson (National
Journal.com Education Experts editor), I am impressed with the seriousness
and sincerity of the researchers in tackling the complex issue of teacher
evaluation, especially since there are too many people who want to oversimplify
it. I’m also glad to know the data from
this study (unlike some of the earlier studies involving value-added measures)
is being made available to the wider research community for independent
investigation of results.
Most delightful of all is the MET researchers’ recognition
of the importance of student voice in determining the quality of teachers’
work. If we are at all serious about preparing our youth to be critical
thinkers and contributing citizens, we must start by listening to what only
they can tell us about what is and is not working in our classrooms and schools.
Also, unlike some critics of the study, I reject the
complaints about the MET’s inclusion of classroom observations by multiple evaluators
as an important way to measure teacher effectiveness. The research team recommended that those observations
should not be over or under represented in the blend of measures used in a
teacher evaluation system. Here I’m
using my parent lens (my husband and I have raised 11 children and shepherded
them all through public school). There
is essential information about a teacher’s effectiveness that no test data can
reveal: How does that teacher treat my child? I have known teachers who could
boast impressive student test numbers, but disrespected and demeaned their
students in the process.
The purpose of teacher evaluation is to answer two questions
(not one): How good a job is this teacher doing, AND how can this teacher do
better? Candid, objective feedback from outside evaluators and thoughtful
reflection by teachers on our work is essential for continuing professional
Teachers submitting video of ourselves teaching for evaluation
purposes is not new. Part of National
Board Certification, a voluntary process for advanced teaching credential,
requires teachers to not only include video examples, but extensive written
analysis by the teacher candidate of his/her work using the video as evidence.
As a National Board Certified Teacher myself, and now as a
member of the Board of Directors of the National
Board of Professional Teaching Standards, I am gratified that the study
confirms what the National Board has known and proven for 25 years: There are
significant differences in the quality of instruction provided by teachers, and
those differences have critical impact on student achievement and on student
It was not the purpose of the MET study to distinguish
between student achievement and
student learning, but their
interchangeable use of those terms in the report further confuses the concepts
in the public conversation. In 2011, a task force commissioned by NBPTS (which
included Robert Linn, Rick Hess, Lloyd Bond, and Lee Shulman) released a report
that supplied much-needed clarification:
Student achievement is the
status of subject-matter knowledge, understandings, and skills at one point in
Student learning is growth
in subject-matter knowledge, understandings, and skills over time…It is student
learning—not student achievement—that is most relevant to defining and
assessing accomplished teaching.
Standardized tests are the instruments we use (for now) to
measure student achievement, but there is much, much more that we need to know
about measuring student achievement and student learning. As my higher
education colleagues and many employers will testify, students meeting an
arbitrary state cut score may (or may not) indicate factual recall of certain
immediate learning objectives, but the method falls grievously short as a
measure of what students actually know and can do after the test. How this
scenario will change if, when, and after the “next-generation” assessments
promised under the Common Core Standards are implemented remains to be seen. But
if all we want from teacher evaluation is a way to identify which teachers are
the best bets for raising student test scores, we would be setting a
disgustingly low bar indeed.
Implementing teacher evaluation systems with a balance of
multiple measures as recommended by the MET study will present significant hurdles
to states and school districts, cost being only one of them. However, there are
already some promising starts. Consider what these teachers from
Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington have to say about the challenges of
implementing such a teacher evaluation system. Notably, these teachers have
not to give the state-required tests to their students this Spring.
Surprise! Effective teacher evaluation not only distinguishes
teachers; it empowers them.
Cross-posted at education.nationaljournal.com