Ask a room full of administrators why they evaluate their faculty? Compliance might be the first response of many administrators. But once they put aside what they are required to do, I think we would find unanimous agreement that a process for evaluating faculty is designed to examine their effectiveness in the classroom, as well as the impact they are having on their students. I would assume that most educators would agree with this basic idea.
The challenge with connecting student achievement data to faculty evaluation is that assessments of student learning, such as high-stakes assessments, evaluate the collective impact of a student’s learning history, the many teachers he or she has had over the course of his or her schooling, the school environments in which they were raised, their parents’ influence, resources at their disposal, and many other factors. We think we get around this challenge by using value-added achievement data. Does anyone really believe that value-added achievement data or any other aggregation of high-stakes assessment data will be a true reflection of how well a single teacher taught a single student or a classroom full of them.
I believe that one of the quickest ways to minimize our assessment efforts in school is to use results from these assessments to evaluate faculty. Don’t get me wrong, I think faculty should be evaluated and the performance of students should be a variable. However, I think the assessment data that we use should include the wealth of assessment data on achievement, behaviors, and dispositions that most teachers collect. The achievement assessment data should include all the work of the student throughout the year, not merely the results of a student’s performance on a single high-stakes test, especially when these tests are designed to assess in a very narrow range of student learning styles.
What many states who have adopted the use of student achievement data to evaluate faculty are doing is penalizing a faculty member if his or her students do not achieve to “satisfaction.” Again, it seems that the only fair way to use student achievement data would be to aggregate the data for a group of students and assess whether a group of teachers at a grade-level or in a discipline are successfully meeting the needs of their students. Aggregating data based on groups of performers minimizes the influence of the variables that could impact any one student.
This conversation will be difficult to resolve, especially if educational policy makers continue to place greater value on accountability than they do student learning. If teachers are not at the table influencing the direction of this work, then I have little hope that we will find a solution that is in the best interest of students. My experience is that teachers are more likely to worry about student outcomes tied to learning than are educational policy makers or politicians. We should focus our attention on building capacity within our schools not on accountability. If we build capacity in our teachers, administrators, and schools the performance indicators will improve substantially and accountability will take care of itself.