Teacher evaluations need improvement

Poor teaching plagues bright futures. Evaluating the performance of teachers has become essential to improving school systems across the nation; however, student scores on standardized tests should never be taken as the measure of an educator’s worth.

With the rise of new test score-based models such as Los Angeles Unified School District’s “Academic Growth Over Time,” stellar teachers are driven out of their profession solely because of insufficient data gathering.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times ran a story on Kyle Hunsberger, a teacher at Johnnie Cochran Jr. Middle School. While students proclaim Hunsberger “the best math teacher they’ve ever had,” the district’s test score model deemed him average.

Teachers have brought attention to other flaws in the test score system, such as that they are rated on the subjects they are less familiar with and that inconsistent class sizes—particularly at large, underfunded schools—may skew the data being gathered.

Such complaints also demonstrate that teachers have identified a correlation between their performance on test-based evaluations and where and how they choose to teach. This create a disincentive for teaching in low-income areas, where students tend to perform more poorly on standardized tests, and also encourages educators to “teach to the test” rather than emphasizing critical thinking and long-term learning.  

If test scores continue to be looked at as a measure of an educator’s worth, the improvement critical to our school system will never come. Teachers—and students—have so much more to their names than just numbers. Unfortunately, the emotional growth, maturity and attitudinal changes that bloom behind the statistics are largely overlooked.

In addition to test scores, evaluations should include assessments by classroom experts who observe students actually learning. The evaluation thus becomes not a grade, but feedback on which teachers can base their improvement.

School districts can also reach out to independent educational programs, such as USC’s own Joint Educational Project, to dig deeper into the problems surrounding poor teaching nationwide.

Teaching evaluations could do so much more than the current imperfect models. We just have to start seeing the bigger picture.