Assessing a Teacher’s Value

What are the benefits and pitfalls of using student test scores to measure a teacher’s effectiveness?

Help the Parents

Lance T. Izumi is the senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute.

The “value-added” assessments are useful in analyzing teacher performance, but they can be made better. The crucial issue, though, is what to do with this data.

Critics question the reliability and fairness of using longitudinal testing data to grade and publicize the performance of individual teachers. It’s true that some state tests aren’t very rigorous.

“Stringing together three crappy state tests in a row is not as close to perfect as we can get,” says Matt Ladner, research head at the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute and an education expert. While better than nothing, he advises, “To do this right (aka as best we can) schools need to have multiple tests to get much more data and thus much less error.”

As opposed to centralizing testing through the Obama-supported Common Core national academic-content standards, Ladner recommends decentralization, with school-site teachers formulating their own assessments based on state standards, giving monthly tests, and tracking student learning gains together as departments. But even if school systems had better assessment data, how would it be used?

Rather than focusing on producers — in other words, teachers — policy makers should ask what they can do for consumers — parents and their children. If, based on teacher assessment results, parents learn that their child’s teacher is lousy, then what’s their option? Most kids will continue to be stuck in assigned classrooms regardless of their teacher’s performance. Waiting for a teacher to be remediated or fired could take years, by which time their child’s learning could be derailed.

Parents need a way for their children to exit bad classrooms immediately. That way could be effective open-enrollment policies, space in widely available charter schools, or vouchers and opportunity scholarships to attend private schools. As Reason magazine senior editor Katherine Mangu-Ward points out, “all the data in the world won’t do kids or their parents any good if they can’t make choices informed by that data.”

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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