The Los Angeles Times newspaper has launched itself into the education reform debate by printing a series of articles where they propose a radical new system for teacher evaluations. The series has sparked tremendous controversy, and the use of student test scores as an evaluation tool for teacher quality is the epicenter of the debate.
The Times believes that there should be a ranking system based on a mathematical formula called “value added” for both teachers and schools. This is how The Times defines “value added”:
“Value-added estimates the effectiveness of a teacher by looking at the test scores of his students. Each student’s past test performance is used to project his performance in the future. The difference between the child’s actual and projected results is the estimated “value” that the teacher added or subtracted during the year. The teacher’s rating reflects his average results after teaching a statistically reliable number of students.”
The Times has even gone so far as to take test score data for Los Angeles Unified School District students (which is public record) and apply the formula to rank LAUSD teachers and schools on their website. The Times is critical of the fact that LAUSD has done little with the data up until now. Currently, test scores are a used for doing school evaluations, but are not taken very seriously unless the overall scores for the school are excessively low. Scores are not used in teacher evaluations at all.
The use of test scores playing more of a role in evaluations may have been changing soon anyway, even if The Times hadn’t gotten on the bandwagon. LAUSD’s Board of Education just voted to attempt to include the data as part of teacher evaluations. The Obama administration and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are in favor of the “value added” system. However, the LAUSD teacher’s
union will fight it because it is not a fair or accurate measure of evaluation.
When I read about this in the first article in their series on the topic, I immediately sent a letter to the editor stating my opinion: that high test scores don’t necessarily indicate that good learning has occurred. cialis no prescription I said that until somebody can prove to me that good test scores are correlated to students who can critically think and problem solve, are good citizens and turn into productive members of society, that only then can we say good test scores are an indicator of teacher effectiveness. To my surprise, The Times printed my letter.
A few days later, L.A. Times famous columnist Steve Lopez (Mr. Lopez was the inspiration of the film, The Soloist) contacted me. He had read my letter and wanted to explore my ideas. Since I had won LAUSD Teacher of the year, Los Angels County teacher of the year, and since I have a master’s degree in public policy (emphasis education policy), he felt that I would be someone worth speaking with. I was honored and agreed. We talked for ninety minutes.
I told Mr. Lopez that certain subjects (e.g. physical education and electives) aren’t even included in the standardized testing, and thus it would be impossible to rank those teachers under The Times proposed system. I also reminded Mr. Lopez about the immesurable number of variables that affect scores in a classroom, from socio-economic, to student motivation, to whom students had as a previous teacher, to classroom control and more. I also brought up the most obvious attack on using test score data– the “teaching to the test” idea that has proven to be a huge failure.
I did go on to tell him that I thought the data was a potentially good tool for professional development and that teachers should be privy to it for self-reflection. I also told him that the current evaluation system in LAUSD is essentially useless, and that the tenure system is problematic. I suggested a “cocktail” evaluation system which would include peer review, observation (possibly by parents, administrators, retired school personnel, college professors and even students) , and also test score data to a lesser extent. Mr. Lopez published an article about my views in The Times.
Students, parents, teachers, school administrators, union leaders–all stakeholders in the education process–wish to improve the educational system. The debate on how to best go about it didn’t start with The L.A. Times, nor will The Times end it. Making the “value added” data public has created a firestorm. I don’t necessarily agree with what The Times has done, but as an educator, I hope that now that the fire is lit, the education community will revamp the current evaluation system to one that best serves the students.
Primary author is Steve Franklin, secondary author Christi Grab.
Mr. Franklin is a teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District. He is an eleven year veteran and has won District and County Teacher of the Year awards. He was also a recipient of the prestigious Bank of America Community Hero award. Before teaching, he spent five years at Learning Forum, which runs summer camps designed to increase student academic potential. It is a world-wide program.
Christi Grab is Parentella’s Editorial Director and author of The Unexpected Circumnavigation: Unusual Boat, Unusual People Part 1 – San Diego to Australia. She is currently working on book two of the series.
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