Why does teacher evaluation based on student performance continue to be a hot topic?

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently granted seven California school districts waivers of some requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in exchange for, among other things, a promise to include student performance data in the evaluations of teachers. The California Teachers Union immediately criticized that waiver deal and continued to oppose using student data in locally negotiated evaluation procedures.

The question is: why does this continue to be such a hot button issue? Since the 1970's, Education Code section 44662(b)(1) has required districts to evaluate certificated employee performance based, in part, on "the progress of pupils" toward the standards of achievement set by the governing board. Los Angeles Unified School District was recently successfully sued by a citizen group to require compliance with that statute. The District has now implemented a new evaluation procedure after reaching agreement with the United Teachers of Los Angeles. Other districts have been threatened with similar litigation and are deciding how to best comply with the statute while maintaining an effective teacher evaluation process. Given the statute as recently enforced, it does not seem like the seven California districts gave up anything significant in exchange for the federal waivers.

Moreover, it is difficult to understand why so much energy is being expended around this issue by advocates of using student data. The literature on teacher evaluation by such experts as Linda Darling-Hammond, Chairperson of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, says that student performance data is only one of many indicators of teacher quality, and not a factor that has a major effect on improving student achievement. There does appear to be agreement that "value-added models" (VAMs) can be instructive, meaning that it helps to track the change in student performance while under the instruction of a particular teacher. However, even VAMs are inconsistent due to the influence of multiple factors outside the teacher's control.  While it may not be a powerful tool for actual school improvement, the student data issue is still a tool available to those who are critical of the teachers' union and the entire public school system.

The bottom line for school districts is that state statute, court decisions, and the conditions of federal grants all point toward inclusion of student data in certificated employee evaluations. The lack of a strong research basis and the continued opposition of the teachers' union notwithstanding, the writing on this issue appears to be "on the wall."

Why do you think teacher evaluations are such a hot topic? Do they deserve this much attention? 

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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