“When somebody can prove that high test scores produce good citizens, critical thinkers and productive members of society, then and only then can we say the teachers who taught those kids were ‘good.’”
Sunday, August 29, 2010
For the past several weeks, the Los Angeles Times has published a series of articles urging the use by Los Angeles school administrators of a teacher evaluation method called “value-added analysis” or “VAA.” VAA is a technique for comparing the performance of teachers by measuring the progress that has been made by their students on standardized tests of English and math.
Most people understand that student performance on these tests can be strongly influenced by the wealth of student families, the extent to which student families choose to interact with the educational process, the quality of school and district administration, and other matters largely outside any teacher’s—or any student’s—control. VAA attempts to adjust for these problems by comparing a classroom’s performance not with other students in the same or other schools, but with its own performance in past years. Any difference between the classroom’s expected and actual performance is then assumed to be due to the teacher’s positive or negative influence. The Times series is urging, and Los Angeles Unified School District administrators are considering, the use of VAA to evaluate teachers, perhaps simply to counsel them, and perhaps even to demote or discharge them, for allegedly “sub-standard performance.” Other school districts around the nation have already done this.
In reaction to the Times articles, many Angelenos, including teachers, teacher unions, administrators, parents and concerned citizens have expressed favorable or unfavorable opinions in letters to the editor, touching on many important issues. One that particularly interested us at License Advocates Law Group, a firm that represents people, including teachers, whose licenses or credentials are being threatened, came from a middle school teacher in Los Angeles. His letter read, in part:
We think that sums up the problem with standardized tests in general, and with VAA in particular, pretty well.
VAA simply does not adjust for—in fact, it exacerbates—the basic problem with standardized tests: that the tests select not for the skills and abilities today’s world demands—imagination and creative problem-solving—and not even for the student’s abilities in English and math. Instead, they select for one skill: the ability to perform well on standardized English and math tests. And VAA tells us whether a teacher has advanced or reduced his students’ ability to take those tests. Testing analysts—and employment lawyers—have a word for this issue: “validation.” For a test or employment process to be “validated,” it must in fact select for the precise knowledges, skills and abilities that the employer is seeking. If it doesn’t, the employer can’t use the test or process to discipline the employee.
Almost all “pencil and paper” tests have this problem. Whoever is giving the test usually isn’t looking for the student’s ability to perform well on tests. They want to see if the student has in fact absorbed the thoughts that the teacher has imparted. The written test can, at best, only approximate that objective. And VAA can only tell us that the teacher might have advanced or reduced his students’ ability to take these tests.
We cannot know whether the State of California or any California school district will adopt VAA or any similar analytical tool as a method for disciplining or discharging teachers. But if they do, we here at License Advocates Law Group are ready to help. Our partners have worked on these issues successfully for years, and we know how to protect your credential.