Teacher Job Performance

The blogs are lighting up with discussion and analysis of this past weekend’s LA Times article on differential teacher performance.  There is bound to be tons of subsequent chatter about the fairness of publishing this data, the adequacy of a value-added metric for assessing teacher performance, and the psychometric value of using particular tests for performance evaluation.

I’m going to stay away from those discussions, because I’m neither a psychometrician nor a moral compass.  But I will offer three thoughts as you try to interpret the inevitable back and forth:

1) Beware strawmen.  I don’t really know anyone who believes that teacher evaluation should be based solely on test scores or value-added measures.  This is technically impossible anyway, as the data necessary to do so is available for only about 1/3 of all teachers.

2) Beware using those technical complications above as an excuse to maintain the status quo.  No matter how you diagnose the problem, there is no way to defend the current manner in which most school systems handle teacher evaluation.  (See TNTP’s landmark The Widget Effect.)  Less than 1% of teacher nationally receive unsatisfactory ratings, and yet millions of students slip through the cracks.

3) Imagine an organization with a near optimal personnel performance evaluation/management system.  Managers provide regular informal feedback on performance to employees, in order to improve performance.  Discussions about differential performance are neither uncomfortable nor unusually challenging, because they happen constantly.  Everyone seeks both positive and negative feedback on a regular basis.  Employees have regularly scheduled formal evaluations, but those formal discussions are merely aggregations of the myriad informal feedback sessions that have happened prior.  High-stakes decisions (i.e. firing, promotion) are subsequently made and are defensible.  I’m not suggesting that most – or even many – organizations actually function that way.  However, I would posit that the exact opposite of this ideal system is having to learn from the Los Angeles Times that you may not be doing well at your job.

Update: More commentary from Rick Hess here, Joanne Jacobs here, and Sec Duncan here.

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