Wanted: Ways to Assess the Majority of Teachers

But for most of the nation’s teachers, who do not teach subjects or grades in which value-added data are available, that debate is also largely irrelevant.

Now, teachers’ unions, content-area experts, and administrators in many states and communities are hard at work examining measures that could be used to weigh teachers’ contributions to learning in subjects ranging from career and technical education to art, music, and history—the subjects, in other words, that are far less frequently tested.

The work, which has taken place quietly, in contrast to the larger value-added conversation, is renewing interest in alternative sources of achievement information.

“A standardized test is very useful to take a snapshot of the inventory of knowledge and skills that a student has, but it’s not as useful to change teacher practice and improve strategies and determine what needs to happen next,” said Laura Goe, a principal investigator for the federally financed National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, who has worked with several states on teacher evaluations.

Such work is also giving way to questions about how to make sure that alternative measures—such as projects, portfolios scored according to guidelines, and classroom-based assessments—are both rich sources of data and provide comparable information about teachers and their impact on student learning.

“I would say this has been a very challenging area because it’s so high-risk in a sense,” said Lawrence T. Waite, the program manager of a teacher-evaluation initiative housed at the New York State United Teachers, or NYSUT. “Using growth is new. Certainly, teachers look at student learning every day, but we’re now doing this to look at teachers’ impact on student learning, which raises the stakes on the use of that assessment instrument.”

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