January 17, 2012

E4E Co-Founder Sydney Morris: Use the Data, But Use it Constructively

Original article published in the New York Times by Sydney Morris

The recent study by Harvard and Columbia economists showed a link between quality teaching and higher test scores and between higher test scores and positive life outcomes. Researchers found that students with top teachers are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers, more likely to enroll in college, and more likely to earn more money as adults. These new findings highlight something that we as teachers have always intuitively known – that what we do everyday in our classrooms has far-reaching impact.  
Despite this knowledge, a false dichotomy exists between proponents and opponents of using student-growth data to evaluate teachers. We often hear of the “reformers” who want to use student test scores to identify and fire the lowest-performing teachers, and conversely, the teachers’ unions who are painted as defenders of the status quo.

Teachers have always intuitively known that what we do everyday in our classrooms has far-reaching impact.

Lost in this back and forth are the voices of real classroom teachers who want meaningful evaluations that give them the feedback and support they need to improve their craft. In Educators 4 Excellence’s work with nearly 4,000 teachers in Los Angeles and New York City – the nation’s two largest school districts – we have consistently heard from educators that they believe their students’ academic growth should be one, among many, indicators of their performance.

Logically, performance measures should be used in staffing and compensation decisions. But this should not be the end goal of teacher evaluations. Ultimately, they should be mechanisms for support, offering teachers feedback on what’s working and pathways to improvement. Test scores alone will not provide this information and should be coupled with other measures, like classroom observations and student surveys.

Instead of debating how teacher evaluations should be used, we should be focused on what they look like and how they are implemented. To answer these questions, we need to bridge the gap between policy and practice by seeking advice straight from the classroom. Teachers matter – and their voices and ideas should too.