Should teacher evaluations be linked to student test scores?
Following news that 11 former public school educators in Atlanta, Georgia, were convicted of falsifying test scores to meet annual targets and secure certain rewards, our son, Akhil, had several questions for me.
"Have you ever falsified test scores?" "What about marks you submit as internal assessment for the IB and IGCSE examinations?" That was easy. No, I have never done that.
"How do you feel about what those educators did?" Now, that was a little more difficult.
Although one cannot condone what the teachers did by way of altering and fabricating test answer sheets, it raises a larger question: should our teacher evaluations be linked to student achievement, as in the United States? In Hong Kong, both in the international and the local school sector, exam scores are generally not used as an indicator to measure teacher effectiveness.
Or are we a little more subtle here, and do we follow a more circuitous route in making the same connection? Parents certainly apply to send their children to schools that have good track records on external examinations. If students are considered to perform better with more effective and experienced teachers, then aren't exam scores linked to teacher effectiveness here, too?
"Using test scores to measure teacher effectiveness fosters a tendency to focus not on learning but on improving test scores," says Randi Weingarten, a lawyer and president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation's most powerful teachers' unions. Weingarten says teaching is too complex to be measured by a test score alone.
So how should teachers be evaluated?
In keeping with research and best practice, the Education Bureau advocates the use of performance management indicators. The teacher appraisal structure includes selecting and training the appraiser, determining a cycle and establishing an agreement ahead of time between the appraiser and teacher on the methods used. It advocates that teacher appraisals should focus on performance, not personality, and include teaching and teaching-related duties, non-teaching duties, as well as professional and personal competence.
Several lines of research indicate that evaluations add stress for teachers.
Jeffry Childs Beers of Portland State University in the US state of Oregon reports that most common stressors involved problems with students, problems with school policy and administration, classroom environment, workload, and problems with colleagues. He notes, interestingly, that one common anticipated stressor, low salary, has rarely been included in rating scales that measure teacher stressors. But there are studies that have found low salary to be very stressful for teachers. Concerns abound that these stressors may eventually erode teachers' enthusiasm and engagement, undermining their ability to meet students' needs.
Beers reports teachers who indicated lower levels of stress said their pupils had better motivation and conduct than teachers with higher levels of stress. He suggests the ability to teach may be influenced by the teacher's stress level, as those with lower stress are not only more confident about their ability, but also seem to believe that the students are more willing to learn. This belief, in effect, may lead the teacher to a higher level of interaction with the students, thereby leading to more effective instruction.
Beers notes that while the impact of high-quality teaching on student learning, achievement, development and success in school has been extensively researched, much less is known about what teachers need to provide high-quality teaching to students.
So in the 54,000-student Atlanta school system, the reason teachers would alter the test answers is open to debate. Was the motivation to inflate scores the financial incentive to collect bonuses, or was it the administrative pressures to keep their jobs? Or both?
Sadly, measuring teacher effectiveness is not an exact science. It will be difficult to recognise and reward good teaching until we develop a better system for evaluating it.
Anjali Hazari teaches IB and IGCSE biology at the French International School