Sunday, October 13, 2013

Responding to TEACHNJ Enthusiasts

Saturday's Trenton Times had this editorial enthusing about TEACHNJ the new teacher evaluation law.

I wrote the letter below to the editor in response.

To the editor:
I was certainly entertained by reading Janellen Duffy’s rather breathless endorsement of TEACHNJ in Saturday’s (October 12, 2013) edition of the Trenton Times. In these days of rampant cynicism it is nice to read such gosh-golly-gee-willikers enthusiasm in print. Alas, if only Ms. Duffy had saved her enthusiasm for something worthwhile.

TEACHNJ is a law that resulted from the determination of Commissioner Cerf and Governor Christie to use student test scores to assess teacher effectiveness. This effort alone is fraught with problems. First of all, these tests are designed to measure what students have learned, not teacher effectiveness. Using a test designed for one thing to measure another violates the first rule of statistical measures. Secondly, the ability of the Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) to determine teacher effectiveness has been consistently questioned in the education literature.

 Only 20% of teachers teach classes where students are evaluated using State tests (math and language arts in grades 3-8). It would obviously create discord in a school if a few teachers’ jobs were on the line due to test scores, while the other teachers skated by. The DOE solved this problem by making all other teachers develop Student Growth Objectives (SGOs). While this might serve the purpose of keeping some peace in the school building, there is no evidence that SGOs are an effective way to measure teacher effectiveness. The DOE’s own website points teachers to an article that says, “there are not yet any research-based models for evaluating teachers’ impact on student learning for non-tested groups”(Goe & Holdheide, 2011). This is the kind of measure we are to use to make tenure decisions?

To read Ms. Duffy’s article you would think that teacher evaluation and professional development did not exist prior to TEACHNJ. In my experience as a school district administrator, I have seen rigorous programs of evaluation and professional improvement in many New Jersey school districts. I have seen the vast majority of teachers well prepared and willing to work to improve. I have seen the vast majority of administrators who are knowledgeable about instruction and dedicated to helping teachers do well. TEACHNJ is a slap in the face for every education professional in the State.

Should teacher evaluation and professional development be better? Certainly. Will tying teacher evaluation to test scores and growth objectives improve student learning? The research would indicate that it is not likely. If teachers based their instructional practice on research as shaky as this, they would certainly not receive a good evaluation. Perhaps it is time to evaluate the evaluators.