Developing and implementing the world’s best system for evaluating teachers’ ability to teach is the most important step in improving student learning. While charter schools, school funding and teacher unionization grab all the headlines, these are all sideshows. If teaching ability can be accurately measured and teachers are paid based on their ability, poor teachers will find other career choices. Middle of the road teachers will have the financial incentive to emulate the best teachers. Paying top teachers well over $100,000 annually will assure the best and brightest go into teaching.
Currently, teachers deal with a hodge-podge of different evaluation systems. The only consistency is the high level of subjectivity. Cultivating relationships with administrators is often more important than improving teaching skills.
In the real world, being a great teacher really doesn’t mean much. Since there is no effective method for measuring teaching skills, great teachers are rarely identified. If they are found, more than likely with a rigid pay scale based on seniority and advanced degrees, they wouldn’t get paid more anyway.
Considering our educational bureaucracy and entrenched methods, the U.S. is lucky to have a preeminent position in the world. The rest of this column is dedicated to taking luck out of the equation and suggesting a system that produces higher achieving students.
Although the following analogy may not correlate to education for many readers, USDA started evaluating dairy genetics in 1935. Progress flat lined until 1974 when an effective measurement tool was developed. Since then, genetic progress has been the main dynamic behind the dramatic increase in per cow production. The point is, you can’t effectively manage teaching effectiveness or anything else until you can accurately measure it.
President George W. Bush’s biggest mistakes with his “No child left behind” program was using student performance as the barometer. What is important is measuring student improvement. Accurately accomplishing this is much easier said than done.
An effective teacher evaluation tool needs the following attributes:
Measurable – The model has to accurately measure the teacher’s ability to impart knowledge.
Quantifiable – Express measurable results as numbers.
Unbiased – Influencing or adjusting the data isn’t possible.
Transparent – Make the model relatively easy to understand with all factors visible.
Repeatable – If the analysis is repeated in a week, expect close to the original results.
Statistically relevant – The database needs enough teachers so that an analysis can find if differences represent superior teaching or are due to chance.
Make decisions with the data – Pay teachers based on results. Determine and implement ideal class size ranges for different subjects, age groups and socio-economic groups based on the data.
Creating the ideal education system for measuring teacher effectiveness
Step 1 – Create a uniform statewide set of measurable student outcomes for each class.
Developing a uniform statewide set of student outcomes is a daunting task. Each class from kindergarten through twelfth grade is laid out in a natural progression of learning. (Outcomes are what students are expected to do by the end of the term.) Besides the outcomes, uniform statewide student tests that effectively measure students’ ability to apply what they learned are challenging to develop. However, if done right, these tests can also measure student creativity.
Why is it important to standardize learning? Measuring student improvement in a sixth grade social studies teacher’s class and comparing to one or two other social studies instructors in the same school has little or no value. The measurement pool needs large numbers of instructors so reasonable differences are statistically significant.
All sixth grade social studies teachers in the measurement pool need the same predetermined student outcomes and measurement tools (tests). If Teacher A uses different tests than Teacher B, comparisons aren’t valid. Apply the teacher effectiveness scoring to all educators, including home schooled, charter schools and private schools getting state aid.
Outcome based education is not just teaching students to succeed in taking a test. Students know what they are expected to do before starting the class and instructors can focus on exactly what they need to teach their students. The difference between an “A” or “B” in the class are test questions that display application and creativity instead of just knowledge.
Countries with uniform curriculums have higher performance in international student tests than those without. This means there are other advantages beside effective teacher evaluations.
Step 2 – Develop a measure to find each student’s starting point in each class.
To measure student progress, an exact measure of both starting and ending knowledge is imperative. The cheapest and easiest method of measuring student starting point accomplishment is a test on Day 1 of class. However, this method becomes less accurate as new students come into the class during the year.
Delaware schools have developed an “Expectation Score” for each student in each class. The expected grade might be based on overall GPA, grades in similar classes and perhaps momentum ( if the student is doing better or worse lately). Comparing each student’s real grade to their expected grade and averaging results provides an accurate measure of teacher performance. Developing an expectation for kindergarteners requires research on measurable factors affecting their performance.
Most student evaluations today focus on what they have learned to date. In teacher evaluations, it is equally important to measure where the student started as accurately as measuring where they finished in a class.
Step 3 – Provide each teacher with a number measuring their ability to improve attainment of student outcomes.
Teachers need to have all the latitude possible to use their creativity to enhance their students’ abilities to carry out class outcomes. The teacher’s ending score must accurately reflect the effectiveness of their efforts.
Instructors need uniform tests given to other students throughout the state during the term (with rapid results). This lets them know how they are doing and if they need to make adjustments in their teaching. The tests also help find students having problems and not meeting expectations.
Although covered earlier, student improvement is measured, not just an ending score. If a medical doctor decides to move out of the district and pulls her twins out of a class and the next two students brought in to replace them are homeless, this can’t be a career ending event for the teacher.
Step 4 – Use the data.
A pay scale adequately rewarding the best teachers is essential. The pay scale should also help teachers at the lower end of the spectrum recognize the need for major change or a career move. There will be demand for the highest scoring teachers to offer fee based seminars and one-on-one consulting.
The data can show instructors excelling with students in the 20th percentile and below and other teachers who consistently move 80th percentile students to the 95th percentile. Rearrange classes and maximize each teacher’s strengths.
Uniform student outcome and test data provides correct answers on ideal class size ranges for different age groups, subjects and social-economic groups. Over time, as poor performing teachers leave the ranks and the best teacher’s methods are widely adopted, student learning will improve.
In a knowledge based world economy, a nation or state’s intellectual ability has more impact on wealth than natural resources, manufacturing capacity or anything else. Simply put, education is a nation or state’s most important industry.
The education system has no control over many impediments to student learning. Many young people deal with dysfunctional families, violent environments, homelessness, poor nutrition and drug dealer role models. All impact their learning. Rather than focus on these factors, developing better teachers is something that is doable. Over time, paying the best teachers salaries comfortably in the six figure range, weeding out teachers who need to make a career change and providing the means for those in the middle to improve and excel will yield better educated students.
Wisconsin Republicans focus on attracting jobs by offering less environmental restrictions, government subsidies and lower taxes funded by keeping teacher and public employee wages low. This has not worked particularly well in attracting jobs. High wage workers are far more interested in seeing their children get a world-class K-16 education.
Wisconsin’s next governor will face huge challenges. Focusing on rewarding teachers as professionals and breaking their present commodity mindset has a better chance of making a long-lasting impact than any other program.