SADOW: More Rigor Is Needed In Louisiana’s Teacher Evaluations

As the state continues to review accountability measures for teachers and schools, new data out last week confirms that greater, not reduced, objectivity in measurements shows the way forward to genuine improvement in Louisiana’s delivery of elementary and secondary education.

COMPASS scores came out for schools and teachers, allowing for comparisons of changes from last year in evaluations of these and to other data indicating student progress, as measured by performance on standardized tests. These data, comparing teachers to students, showed that teacher performance rose at a faster rate than did student achievement (and administrators’ performances even more in many cases), and in comparing teachers to schools, that higher performing schools on the basis of student scores that used more objective data in assessments of teachers tended to grade theirs more harshly.

The explanation was that, because of transitioning to new curricula statewide, districts were given latitude to increase the input of subjective measures. Higher-rated teachers were more prevalent at schools that used more subjective measuring, even as student performance at these schools tended to be lower. This lead state superintendent John White to call for schools to increase standards and rigor in teacher evaluation, noting the inverse relationship between teacher scoring and student growth.

Naturally, such remarks were seen by some of those who want to deny this reality as raining on parades. Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said the suggestion that effectiveness ratings got boosted out of laxness in rigor shocked him and to him denigrated the achievement of those who, by this year’s metric, had improved – demonstrating again the attitude that for decades led Louisiana to perform education abysmally that only now by confronting it are things becoming better.

Understand that teacher unions never have had improving quality of education as a primary goal, because it interferes with their actual primary goal of transferring as much taxpayer money as possible to as many teachers as possible with their members doing the least amount of effort. Accountability measures interfere with that because it turns individual teachers’ minds towards their own individual performance, not the collective’s, and it encourages replacing poor performers with structures that discourage union participation, such as educating through charter schools.

But this also reflects the embracing of mediocrity that infiltrated public schooling in the 1960s and lasted through the 20th century, where it became as important to boost students’ self-esteems as whether they learned. Levelling to bring up the bottom performers even when their actual learning did not merit it had the effect of placing less emphasis on higher achievement, discouraging its pursuit and in the process providing a soft bigotry of low expectations regarding the bottom achievers. It also had the impact of making teaching less demanding and thereby easier, and thus cheapened the value of rewards to both students and teachers.

So White absolutely was correct to call this out. Good intentions achieve nothing; it’s results that count, particularly when a child’s entire future is at risk. Subjectivity and human nature as they are, out of empathy evaluators most often are going to go easier on their subjects when given the chance. There’s no insult to acknowledge that the risk of this needs to be minimized in order to get the desired results.

Which is what needs to be kept in mind as the state continues to investigate its teacher evaluation methods, as a special panel currently is doing with an aim to report back to the Legislature for next session.As previously noted, improvement of the current evaluative method of half-subjective, half-objective (even if this year more subjective methods were allowed greater prominence for the objective half) should take the direction of increasing the objective proportion, even if not necessarily by increasing the value added component. These data only provide more confirmation of the necessity of such an approach, contrary to the wishes of unions, their ideologue allies, and fellow travelers, if Louisiana education is going to continue pulling itself out of a mighty hole.

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