Teacher Evaluations

PRO: By Leah Metcalf

Everyone intuitively knows that having a good or bad teacher is the dierence between longtime learning and just dropping in. According to Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, the amount teachers can teach students ranges from 0.5 to 1.5 years of material, depending on the skill of the instructor. How does the United States make sure that only high quality teachers are teaching its students? The best answer is “value added ratings.” Value added ratings show an individual teacher’s impact on a student’s standardized test scores.

Policies need to connect test scores with teacher performance in order to inform decisions that will help students perform better. Detractors of evaluating teachers based on testing cite the discrepancies in classroom makeup and the pressure to perform as flaws in testing strategy. These are fair criticisms, but these discrepancies can be resolved by other means. In New York State’s new teacher evaluation system, for instance, tests will not be the only factor in deciding a teacher’s performance; others, such as the socioeconomic makeup of a class, will be considered in hiring and firing decisions.

The achievement gap in this country mandates that students demonstrate knowledge of subject matter that has been deemed crucial on a national level. Achievement levels can only be raised if the United States ensures that teachers are judged on how well they have taught their students that crucial knowledge, as demonstrated on tests.

Con: By Michelle Abell Jacobo

It is generally agreed that evaluating teaching methods is important to helping students succeed, but some disagree on what kind of evaluation methods should be adopted and how evaluation information should be used.

Successful teacher evaluation methods are still being developed, and many studies that have been conducted lack statistical validity and reliability. A recent study conducted by three researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research, for example, made the claim that a student’s lifetime earning potential is associated with the quality of their teachers. The study itself was designed to establish, at best, a correlation between the two. Popular media, however, communicated a causal effect – in their story, high-value teachers cause students to perform better not only on tests, but also in life. Over-extrapolated interpretations manipulate the average reader, who may not have the time or interest to read the study closely.

Finally, in a future when we are better able to identify stronger teachers, it is still unclear whether the current testing-evaluation system would help to determine what kind of methods high quality teachers are employing to increase student success. If the purpose of evaluating teachers is to help students learn and succeed, it does not make sense to punish or fire teachers who do not “perform” because doing so further limits the teacher pool. Instead of spending time and money on identifying which teachers to fire, resources should be used to find better teaching methods with the potential to systematically change our education system.