Will Rating Teachers Really Improve our Schools?



The Boston Globe published an opinion article* that decries the “disconnect between Boston’s teacher ratings and how the schools are performing”. The author, Lawrence Harmon, asks “why only about a third of Boston’s third graders in district schools read at an advanced or proficient level?” …if only 5.8 of Boston teachers need improvement and just 1.2 percent are unsatisfactory. He implies that teacher ratings are grossly inflated. Yet, there is no consideration for exactly what these numbers measure.

To suggest that teacher ratings should correlate to how schools perform is a huge oversimplification. Standardized test scores are not normalized for effects of poverty, parental education, first language, disability, transience, class size, availability of educational materials, etc. We have already done a huge amount of harm to our students and our schools with data that labels them under-performing. Our public schools are actually improving and the majority of teachers are very dedicated, and take responsibility for student learning. No one should give media attention to our public schools until they have read the book Reign of Error by the noted Columbia University professor, Diane Ravitch.

Our public schools and teachers have been degraded and demoralized using standardized test data. Granted, there are a small percentage of incompetent employees in all organizations, public and private. Schools are no different, so why do we single out the teaching profession? No one has defined what truly makes a good school or a good teacher. Pompous policy makers, data crunchers and think tanks ignore the true purpose of education: to build on what students know with instruction that is relevant to their lives in order to prepare them for successful futures. Standardized test scores do not reflect the quality of schools in the context of their true purpose. Similarly, teacher rating systems do not attempt to measure the most important component of good teaching. As evidenced by the students themselves in a video on the state’s web site, this is ability to motivate, interact, relate and care about their students.  Student Video

Publicly rating teachers, professionals (with as much college education as attorneys), is truly demeaning. To claim that the variables that impact student performance are excuses is ridiculous. Mr. Harmon states that “great urban police departments…take responsibility for the crime rate…” Yet, we wouldn’t dream of evaluating police departments and officers based on a comparison with the average crime rates for the entire state. This makes about as much sense as evaluating public defenders on the percentage of guilty clients they are assigned, or doctors based on the percentage of their patients who die.

* Boston Teacher Ratings Don’t Add Up by Lawrence Harmon,  The Boston Globe, November 30, 2013.


The Riddle of the Running Shoes: The Logic of Assessments


Original Artwork by Lisa Lach, 2003

Notice: All teachers will have as a component of their evaluation, test results that measure the achievement of their students. This is in compliance with new educator evaluation regulations.

The section on Physical Education Teachers reads as follows: Running speed is the easiest measure of student performance in your class. Therefore all of your students will be tested as follows. The teacher and an objective observer from the school district will time all students as they run a mile around the track. The results will be recorded on special forms that will be returned to the state within a week of test completion. We realize that all students may not have running shoes. In order to level the playing field, these will be provided for all students a week prior to the test. Under no circumstances are students to take this test wearing their own shoes. Based upon student counts in our database, one pair of size 7 shoes for each female student and one pair of size 12 shoes for each male student will be sent to the school. This was determined from the statistically average shoe size, since it is too costly and requires too much time to provide shoes based on the foot size of each individual student.

Upon completion and receipt of the data, scores will be normalized and teachers whose students fall in the bottom quartile will be required to participate in remedial professional development. These scores will also reflect on the ranking of your school and district.

Be sure that your students are not the ones left behind in this high stakes race!


The Results: Data from the million students in Massachusetts who took this test, shows one teacher whose students all ran in record time and placed in the top 5%. All the others show a fairly random distribution of scores. Can you guess why?


Hint: The Principal saw that teacher sweeping the track the morning of the test.


Reason: Upon questioning, the teacher said she had all of her students run the mile barefoot.

Question: Should the teacher be punished or praised?

DISCLAIMER: The scenario above is fictitious. It is intended as an allegory to highlight the illogical assumptions and factors that are ignored in our current educational assessments.