Education By Numbers

For some teachers it’s becoming “what can I do to make my numbers better”. Those numbers are of course their students. Numbers and students are not synonymous, but the new federal-funding, education allocation is placing them in the same sentence.

            An increasing amount of schools are implementing a value-added program to systematically determine how effective their teachers are, according to an article in The New York Times.

            Schools are receiving mixed reviews on this program. Some believe it’s an accurate way to measure a teacher’s ability. Critics, however, contend that it’s not accurate and shifts a teacher’s focus from what is best for the students to what is best for them.

            This system calculates a teacher’s value by comparing his/her students’ current test scores to previous years and other students’ in the same grade. Data analysts can then rank teachers based on this formula.

            For example if a third grader scored higher than 60% of his/her peers on a state-administered test, then he/she is predicted to have that same score during the fourth grade. If that student scores higher than 70%, the increase in achievement is attributed to his/her fourth grade teacher.                                                                                                                             

            The Obama administration has encouraged states to implement more precise methods for evaluating teachers. Many schools have already joined this value-added system bandwagon and even more expected to join soon.

            Traditionally, teachers have used similar programs to improve classrooms. However, the stakes are much higher now. Administrators are using this program to decide which teachers receive raises and which ones are fired.

            Michelle A. Rhee, the schools chancellor in Washington, recently fired about 25 teachers for poor evaluations. The Los Angeles Times published an online database that ranked area teachers from the most effective to the least effective. This piece resulted in the further evaluation of 6,000 teachers’ jobs.

            Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that The Los Angeles Times’ work was an exercise in healthy transparency during a recent speech.

            “There are real issues and competing priorities and values that we must work through together — balancing transparency, privacy, fairness and respect for teachers,” Duncan said. “I don’t advocate that approach (The Los Angeles Times’) for other districts.”

            Some experts claim that this program is unreliable and inconsistent. They state that a teacher’s effectiveness will be all over this chart because of outside influences. They believe that this program should not be considered the ultimate form of evaluation. It does not account for tutors, transfers, changes in state tests or students’ motivations or abilities. The program does not reward teachers for maintaining higher-achieving students’ academic success. It only rewards for growth.

            Other experts, however, disagreed and claim that the outside influences can be controlled and accounted for. They believe that this system separates the effective teachers from the average and ineffective ones.

            Some believe that schools will attempt to adjust their teachers’ value levels to attain more federal funding. They believe that this could corrupt the value-added program.