Right now, in almost every public school in America, teachers are being evaluated, judged, and labeled based on what’s called value-added models. In Tennessee, the value-added model is called TVAAS, and it is designed to measure the amount of growth that students make from one year to the next based on their performance on standardized tests. It is used to estimate how much of that growth and achievement can be attributed back to the teacher. While this method sounds promising and the Tennessee Department of Education sells it as such, there are several flaws that make the issue more complicated than it might seem.
First of all, TVAAS is not always reliable, valid, and free from bias. In fact, a teacher classified as being “highly effective” has a 25 to 50 percent chance of being classified as “needing improvement” the following year, and vice versa. Teachers have absolutely no recourse to challenge any of this data, and the TDOE will not publicly release its mathematical formula.
Secondly, there are known problems with the standardized tests upon which this data relies. It is well-known that standardized tests are poor measures of student achievement and that such tests were never intended to measure teacher quality or teacher growth. Add into this equation the fact that Tennessee has recently shifted to a dramatically more difficult state test. It’s hard enough to accurately measure what students learn from one year to the next based on their performance on a standardized test; it is impossible when the standardized test keeps changing.
Finally, most of the teachers in each school building do not teach a subject or grade level that has a state test. For their evaluations, they have to rely on the average of the flawed TVAAS data of the other teachers in the building. Imagine part of your yearly performance evaluation being how well your co-workers did their jobs, and you have little to no impact on them. That’s the current situation for a majority of the teachers in Tennessee.
These problems affect people. Despite mounting cautionary research, TVAAS is being used for consequential decision-making purposes. Teachers are being demoted, demoralized, and dismissed because of this model that is, at best, correct only some of the time. Teachers’ pay raises in many school districts are also tied to this ridiculous system. The practice of evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores needs to stop. Here’s one way teacher evaluations can be made better: allow teachers to use portfolios for their evaluations.
Teachers know better than anyone how much each of their students have progressed during the school year. They should be given the option to create portfolios that demonstrate what skills their students have mastered. A principal or assistant principal would sit down with the teacher at the end of the school year and evaluate this portfolio based on how well the teacher helped students meet the standards. Included in this portfolio should be a professional goal that the teacher wants to accomplish (i.e. providing more timely feedback, increasing parent contacts, etc.) and evidence on how well the teacher achieved this goal. Doing away with TVAAS and integrating an evaluation system that actually treats teachers like the professionals they are would be a drastic change, but it is needed--immediately--if the state is truly serious about reversing the teacher shortage crisis and continuing its path as the fastest improving state in the nation in public education.