New Study Finds Test Scores Not a Valuable Way to Evaluate Teachers

Placing more than 50 percent weight on test scores is not a reliable way to determine a teacher’s effectiveness, according to the final installment of the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study released in January 2013.

Over a three-year period, the MET project gathered 3,000 volunteers, all teachers, across seven districts in the United States, from Denver to Dallas to Hillsborough County, Fla. With a $45 million budget, the project set out to find the best way to evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness. The project was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as part of an ongoing effort to give teachers the tools they need to improve student achievement in public schools across the United States.

The MET Project recognized that current measurement tools for teacher effectiveness do not reflect the complexity of each teacher’s unique situation, but saw a three-pronged approach using peer observations, standardized test results and student perception surveys as a viable option for measuring teacher success in the classroom and for giving school leaders a better understanding of a teacher’s impact.

The study found that basing more than half of a teacher’s evaluation on test scores resulted in volatile predictions, and that the optimal weight for test scores in a teacher’s evaluation is one-third to one-half.

The study also found that student surveys and classroom observations are equally valuable in evaluating a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom, and this method proved to be more reliable than only considering a teacher’s level of education and years in the classroom.

Weighting all three measures equally produced the most reliable results in predicting student gains from year to year, whereas giving teachers incentives to narrowly focus on one aspect of their evaluation motivated negative methods, such as teaching to the test.

This study provides a good first step for moving away from seeing our students as test scores and focusing our concerns on how to successfully teach them through engaging methods such as Project Based Learning. Highlighting the pitfalls in evaluating teachers and administrators based on test scores is important, but there also needs to be a focus on improving professional development opportunities and making sure our evaluation processes reflect the unique environments of our educators. As there is no standard way to learn, there is not a uniformly correct way to assess our nation’s schools. Until this is fully recognized, we cannot successfully evaluate our students or our educators.