Secretary Arne Duncan Speaks at NEA Conference, Invites Comments About Test Scores and Teacher Evaluations

Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at the NEA's annual convention in San Diego.

Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at the NEA's annual convention in San Diego.

Secretary Arne Duncan spoke today about educator effectiveness at the annual NEA conference.  He discussed, among other things, the important link between student achievement and teacher effectiveness.  He said:

“Let’s talk about data.  I understand that word can make people nervous but I see data first and foremost as a barometer.  It tells us what is happening.  Used properly, it can help teachers better understand the needs of their students.  Too often, teachers don’t have good data to inform instruction and help raise student achievement.

“Data can also help identify and support teachers who are struggling.  And it can help evaluate them.  The problem is that some states prohibit linking student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

“I understand that tests are far from perfect and that it is unfair to reduce the complex, nuanced work of teaching to a simple multiple choice exam.  Test scores alone should never drive evaluation, compensation or tenure decisions.  That would never make sense.  But to remove student achievement entirely from evaluation is illogical and indefensible.

See his full remarks.  Tell us what you think:

Should students’ test scores be considered when evaluating teachers?

ED Staff


  1. This is a terrible idea. Paying for test scores ensures even more intense teaching to tests. It is exactly the wrong direction for improving education.

  2. There’s enough information out there on merit pay to know it doesn’t work. Wall Street and the bank bailouts are a stellar example – they rode this country into obscene debt while raking in merit pay. Other formal studies indicate little impact on performance. If we apply the same approach with education student learning will become bankrupt. We don’t pay cops for each criminal they catch, we don’t pay firemen for each fire they put out. We don’t pay doctors for every patient they save. Why do we insist on singling teachers out? Education is not a race to the top. Once you get there, there’s no place to go but down. Plus “everyone” else becomes a loser. No thank you. Education is a lifelong journey that makes you a better person and contributes to the common good. President Obama keeps reminding us about community service as part of his platform. He needs to remind Arne Duncan this means the educational sector as well. Who our children and grandchildren are and what they are capable of cannot be determined by standardized testing. Profit-driven education tests what is easy to measure rather than what is important to learn. We want to see a system of assessments that illustrate what the student is capable of doing with what they’ve learned and understand. Knowing and understanding are not the same thing. I know what mc2 = e is. I even know what the symbols represent. But I don’t come close to understanding the equation let along how to use it effectively. Merit pay based on high test scores encourages knowledge at the lowest levels at the expense of true understanding and learning. Like I said, no thank you. Are you listening, President Obama?

  3. Merit Pay? That means I get more pay for the easy to teach; kids to whom I need only “blink my eyes at” in order to see jumps in readinglevels, while those I struggle and agonize over daily (sit through more team meetings,spend more time analyzing running records and differentiating instruction)would result in less pay or even loss of pay.

  4. No, test scores should NOT be part of teacher evaluation. We should wake up and eliminate standardized testing from public schools.

    NCLB has put a straight jacket on schools and undone many of the authentic reforms teachers themselves were advocating to make education more relevant, accessible and engaging. The false accountability of standardized testing must be slashed. If each child is unique, then standardized testing in a few subjects gives us little useful information from the point of view of an individual child with a complex of interests and abilities. Nor does a collection of data from these tests give more information about a school or a school district than would be learned more easily by analyzing the socio-economic information for the region.

    Only students who have the same teacher from one year to the next will have test scores that reveal much of anything about specific teachers.

    In the two decades that I was a public school math teacher, there was never a time when test results were useful in guiding instruction. Nor did the results ever inform my school or district about anything of note relative to curriculum or planning. This is because standardized testing data simply has no real significance relative to authentic teaching or learning.

    Real learning — the stuff that is experiential, creative, or relating to critical thinking and problem solving — leads to discussion, analysis, presentations, debates and collaborative efforts. The focus on standardized testing pulls in the opposite direction: solitary memorization of facts…and this will increasingly be the focus of education so long as raising test scores is a school’s primary goal. How sad. Why do so many education leaders fail to see this? There should be a test to measure common sense.

    Only 10% of our public school students can score in the top 10% on these tests. This may make them feel even more terrific about themselves, as they are undoubtedly already successful on many academic fronts. (For the record, some “big headed” kids are not so much fun to be around.) However, 50% of our students will score in the bottom half … and these kids are likely to take it hard. Many just give up and drop out. Many have the wonderful gift of bilingualism, but that is not tested. In fact, it is a quality that pulls down standardized test scores! Blows to self-respect like these are hard to surmount, especially if the “message” on testing is always on “high alert”.

    Kids who drop out are most at risk for future incarceration. The cost per year per inmate is almost exactly the same as the cost of one new teacher’s annual salary.

    Nothing, absolutely nothing, makes me more agitated than high school exit exams. Children now carry many school burdens: content standards, measurable objectives, rigor, accountability, school-wide pacing, subject breadth (mile wide, inch deep), proficiencies in bunches-of-facts, homework in the primary grades, skill’s drills and practice tests, fewer high school electives but more math support classes, heavy backpacks and, the worst of them all: exit exams.

    As in many other states, the High School Exit Exam is given to all of California’s sophomores in early March. Most of our students will “pass.” The ones who do not pass are likely to have a different first language, have testing anxiety, or have a learning disability. Sure, they have more chances to pass, but even the College Board will tell you that scores on standardized test generally stay the same; more “tries” don’t really help all that much. There will still be hundreds of thousands of great kids in California who will not receive a diploma and will not walk at graduation. Tragically, these are the students who will be most devastated by failure. And, of course, it cannot be a real test unless someone fails; the “cut” scores are always the result of political ploy, not sound educational reasoning.

    When school administrators and members of school boards keep saying their main goal is “improving student achievement,” that is the first clue that they have uncritically accepted fear-based education. The joy of learning and creativity are not measurable. Basing “achievement” almost exclusively on standardized test scores is astonishingly nearsighted. The percentage of public school children whose first language is not English is steadily increasing, which alone skews the average scores on tests that are given only in English.

    Honestly, I have seen hundreds of these test questions, and educated people would be appalled by their quality. That the testing companies regularly rack up errors in scoring is also a little known facet of the industry that is taking countless dollars away from our classrooms.

    Standardized testing hurts kids (for proof just google that phrase). Teacher friends have repeatedly told me about kids of all ages who cry during these tests out of fear and frustration. I have witnessed it myself. Most students and teachers would find relief in never again hearing the phrases “no child left behind” or “high school exit exam.”

    Let us strive for authentic school accountability. Good schools have high scores on parent and student satisfaction surveys, high graduation rates, and highly nutritious cafeteria foods that support brain function.

    True educational leaders will be advocating for changes like these, and they will increasingly be pushing back against Federal and State programs involving standardized testing.

  5. I do not believe assessment test scores should influence evaluations of teachers. How can my career depend on a classroom of students who take one test, and whose scores depend not only on how well they are prepared, but how much they care about doing well, and what moods they are in at such given time. I agree assessment data can be helpful but with caution. A generic test used for many different intelligent and emotional levels of students should not determine the outcomes of the school or the teachers involved. Too much emphasis is placed on assessments (teaching to a test) and not enough on learning a wide variety of ideas and information in the classroom.

  6. I am a high-school classroom teacher who will begin my forty-fourth year of teaching in one month.

    I teach second-language learners at the high school level who enter with a third-grade literacy level.

    At the end of the year, in almost all cases, I am able to bring their literacy level to grade six.

    If Arne, however, is going to base my pay on test-scores, then I will abandon teaching my students in favor of teaching advanced-placement students, who are going to excel regardless of who teaches them.

    My present second-language learners may be poorer because of this, but I will be richer.

    This is what merit pay will accomplish, Arne.

  7. Sec Duncan has shown us the way to fix the nation’s health care system!
    First, we track individual doctor, medical insurance companys, and also individual hospital death rates: how many of their patients die in the course of the year. We also set a criteria for death rate proficiency, which should be no higher than 5%. Those with a death rate higher than 5% then will have all their fees and charges cut, on a sliding scale that matches in reverse the death rate; the higher the death rate, the lower the fees and charges.
    All death rates would be published. Those with death rates above 10% need intervention, the serious of which depends on how many years in a row the doctor, company or hospital had a death rate exceeding 10%. After 5 years of this, the hospital or insurance company would be taken over by a state led team of pharmaceutical specialists. Doctors with 5 years would be sent back to medical school to start over.
    The new low fees will make medical care available to everyone!
    Thanks, Arne.

  8. I teach in a Detroit suburb. Last year I had 29 kindergartners in my class. 4 of the families lost their homes to forclosure during the school year,many of the parents were jobless and some were homeless. Whole families were living in grandma’s basement. How are you going to assess them or me when all they can think about is where the next meal is coming from or where they are going to sleep. Do you think they are thinking about a test? Doing school reform without doing social and economic reform is not giving these families hope. Where is the hope President Obama promised when I voted for him? He is still continuing the educational polices of George Bush. I want the same educational opportunities for my students that he is making sure his daughters are getting.

  9. I am all for pay based on job performance–that is what happens in other careers. If you are successful, you are rewarded either with a booming business, a promotion, or a bonus. Teachers are not given this treatment. An educator who brings out the best in their children is rewarded in many ways, unfortunately not monetarily–which I believe has added to an attitude of disrespect for the profession as a whole. Having said that, other careers are not rewarded based on how they perform on one day in isolation. The formulaic testing rut we find ourselves in leads to this narrowing of what success means. Even athletes are judged often in the context of a tournament–not an isolated event. Standardized testing is wrong on so many levels–creating a false sense of equity for our disadvantaged youth, making schools into testing factories, and lowering the bar for all children as our scope narrows and we focus on just being able to pass the test. Our children deserve better.

  10. My first choice would be to get rid of the tests completely. Instead of paying teachers, why not pay the students to pass them. Or have them earn points towards a new computer.
    Who is responsible for a rise or decline in test scores? A whole team educates a students: PE teacher, librarian, etc. Who will want to teach the struggling students if money is tied to performance?

  11. Mr. Duncan speaks of the need for good data -which is exactly what our current test-them-til-they-drop system does NOT provide. Tying teacher salaries to bad data is ridiculously inappropriate. Back in the “old days” students took one test, twice a year. You could actually measure student progress from the beginning to the end of the year. Today you get scores half a school year out of date, from a test you never saw, administered to a class that is not your own. How in the world can that “inform instruction”???

    First we need to overhaul the testing system to get accurate and appropriate data. Then we can talk about how we should use that data. If our educational “leaders” cannot grasp that, they are in the wrong profession.

  12. Standardized testing must be factored into Teachers evaluation.

    The data should not be judged over a semester or single year but on an anual bases over 3 or more years. If a teacher’s students consistently score below there peers there is a problem.

    It defies all logic to think that testing can not assist in evaluating teachers. It is clearly one of many indicators that need to be included. Why are the Unions and teachers so afraid fearful of it’s inclusion.

  13. As a teacher, I chose to work with students in a vocational high school. Many of these students were disadvantaged. Had I chosen to teach in a school across town where most parents had college degrees, I am 100% positive that my students’ test scores would have been higher. Furthermore, as a grandparent, I am tired of my granddaughters being taught the tests, spending weeks being tested, and getting the impression that education is all about testing. My granddaughters told me that most of their friends did not even try on the end of the year tests because those tests measured the effectiveness of the school and the teachers and had no effects on the students themselves. Those in charge of linking test scores to teacher performance seem to be clueless. I am encouraging my granddaughters to choose careers other than teaching.

  14. Of course teachers are responsible for their students’ PROGRESS. However, the more germane question is if the tests give an accurate and true picture of student achievement. I maintain that they do not. That is the real problem; the measurement vehicle is WRONG. Consequently, we continue – as we say in these parts – “spitting into the wind.”

  15. Dominique’s statement is very forthright and “spot on”.

    The additional question that I wish to add is this: Other than the extreme emotional damage that has been done to our students who do not pass these standardized tests, what is the overall COST IN DOLLARS for testing? I have inquired multiple times, and I have yet to receive an answer.

    In Texas, schools “benchmark” at least twice. Students take the state test up to three times. What is the cost?

    Our desks are ancient — from the 1950s. I have one out-of-date teacher computer; I have a 20 year old overhead projector. We have roaches, termites, ants, mice, and rats. And, there’re the mystery spots that ooze on the ceiling tiles. This is the environment in which I teach all day long, and our students come into for their learning experience. Where does this factor into the evaluative process?

  16. The best analogy I’ve heard about this issue of not linking teacher performance to test is this. You don’t fire the dentist because you get a cavity. Teachers can’t do it all. As a college instructor, I have seen writing skills diminish. THE TESTS AREN’T WORKING.

  17. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Secretary Duncan and others who have never taught in a public school classroom are so obsessed with merit pay, particularly when they are repeatedly told by those with experience that it is a bad idea, and that it won’t work. When doctors, lawyers, and engineers give their professional opinion on a subject, non-experts listen intently and usually follow their advice. Why is teaching the only profession not accorded the same respect?

    Ignoring for a moment the blatantly obvious—that test scores in no way indicate teacher performance—the simple fact of the matter is that performance-related pay does not work. If you won’t listen to teachers on this matter, Secretary Duncan, then perhaps you will listen to those in the business world, whose opinions you seem to value far more:

    Does Performance-Related Pay Boost Performance?

    Pay for Performance Can Be a Terrible Idea

    If you want the advice of someone with 15 years of classroom experience, the best way to improve education in America is to actually listen to the people who are doing the educating. And if you don’t want the advice of those of us who have been on the front lines of this problem, then you have no business calling yourself an educator.

    Forgive my hostility, but it is *my* students who are suffering as a result of decisions made by those utterly ignorant of the realities of public education in America. It would be nice if someone who *doesn’t* work in a classroom finally opened their eyes and acknowledged that fact.

  18. No! No! No! How are we to enhance our students’ (and our own) creativity when teachers are constricted this way? I want my students to be able to think “outside the box” in addition to developing their character/self-esteem. Yes, stories can help with this, but if I’m too rushed to cover everything, then it’s ineffective. I want more for my students than a thin spreading of content.

  19. I see many repetitions of the word “data” but few of the word “information.”

    For test data to become information, there at least must be a reason for acquiring that particular data (requirements to be tested). There must be an analysis or evaluation of the results in the particular environment for the data acquired (are there trends, etc). Only then can the data even come close to becoming information (data with meaning), and therefore potentially useful.

  20. As my peers have so eloquently stated, standardized testing should never be tied to teacher evaluations. It is unfortunate that our profession is held to such ridicule by so many who have never taught in the classroom. We do not control every moment of a child’s day! Students are in my class approximately one hour per day wherein I do my best to deliver the best instruction possible. I have had students who were sleepy because the parent partied all night long and the child was unable to sleep. I have had student whose mother was only 14 years older than her child, and she had her own agenda, which did not include advocating education! Sadly, in our school, we have many students who come from low socio-economic backgrounds, and they have not been reared in a home environment that values education nor respects educators! We never give up the fight to win our students over to valuing education; but, attitudes and behaviors learned at home generally prevail for the majority.

    Politicians are intent upon making education a “one size fits all” factory. I believe that this erroneous thinking stems from their own world experiences as business executives, lawyers, and career politicians. There is not an easy fix! Education needs to offer children so much more than punitive standardized testing.

    In Texas, for instance, the political body has included the Student Success Initiative (SSI) along with No Child Left Behind and IDEA. School districts must comply with all three pieces of legislation even though they are not compatible. The commonality is that they have punitive consequences. Additionally, high school student must pass 4 years of English, Science, Social Studies, and Mathematics. Teachers lesson plans must include ELPS and College Readiness. Now consider the child in high school who has a very low IQ who would like to learn trade skills. If he is in a small district, he will have to take and pass the 4X4 core classes; if he fails science one year, he must take it the next year along with the 4 core classes. Pressure! And, no courses are available to meet this child’s real needs — the attainment of his goal to work in building trades. He will spend time retaking classes and going to tutorials.

    Teachers have been turned into scapegoats. It is the design of the delivery system that is flawed; it does not meet the needs of this population. It seems that politicians would rather continue testing students and pointing fingers at teachers rather than get down to the business of genuinely revamping a broken system.

    Politicans need to look in the mirror to see who is to blame for what they call a fiasco! Politicians design education! Teachers have not created this mess, and teachers should not be held as scapegoats.

  21. I personally feel that merit pay should not be an issue when teachers are not even getting their yearly salary step increases or cost of living raises. Most teachers in the state of MD have been affected by the recent economic crisis and I would like the government to simply allow me the raises I am entitled to before they try to give out merit pay. I do not need an “extra” reward for my students’ success or lack there of, I simply want what I believed I would receive when I first signed on to teaching in my county. Also, I do not believe that merit pay motivates those who actually need motivation. I am a highly qualified teacher who uses effective teaching strategies, but there are many other factors to student achievement that are beyond my control. Parents need to be involved so that they can help their children succeed – merit pay is not the answer.

  22. The problem with education is structural, and none of the reformers really want to address the REAL problem, and that’s the fact administrators have absolute control over teachers. Tenure, contrary to widespread belief, doesn’t really protect teachers from politically-motivated terminations; in fact, school districts use all kinds of tools at their disposal, legal and illegal, to ruin teachers, who, once fired, can never work in any school district ever again. The problem is administrator abuse of teachers and NO accountability whatsoever for their actions. School boards are merely puppets. But don’t expect Arne, Eli Broad, Bill Gates, and all the rest to address the real problems, for the filth that permeates school administration is just what they look for to implement their dubious “reforms.”

  23. Test scores and teacher evaluations are difficult to qualify and quantify.

    Even with the huge education stimulus, teachers and substitutes with math and science backgrounds are shortchanged while unreasonable sums are misdirected to “at risk” programs. Everyone should get a fair share of the pie.

    Those who advocate more business involvement in our schools are changing the atmosphere of one of education to a corporate mindset of hard driven efficiency. When technology takes over poetry, philosophy and science to the detriment of human civilization and America in particular, we all lose.

    High-priced athletes and university sports programs have caused a skewing of education payroll. Teachers in social programs get huge bonuses for a few days work, while people who have dedicated their lives to the rigors of math and science are simply left out of the equation because of a missed point on a teacher test. One B-rated teacher in Calculus or Quantum Mechanics will yield more than an A-rated teacher in sociology.

  24. To paraphrase Sun Tzu in The Art of War, “If the general (teacher) does not give explicit commands and the soldiers (students) do not follow them, then it is the general’s fault. If the general gives explicit commands and the soldiers do not follow them, then it is the soldier’s fault.”
    The teacher can do everything but take the test for the student.

  25. Regard among policy makers for test scores and testing companies so far exceeds what their performances and contributions warrant that any use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations should be considered, much less approached, with extreme caution. Before teachers started filling the gap with subjective but systematic observations and accumulated student work samples, leaders in the Iowa Testing Program used to say their scores should count for 5% of the information considered in making informed decisions about curriculum and instruction. If policy makers were similarly realistic about the role of such “information,” teachers might feel differently about due consideration of test scores – as no more than 5% of the appraisal of their work! JSD

  26. Something to try that WILL work:

    Publicly apologize to teachers for scapegoating them in recent years. For the last eight years, NCLB has done nothing but blame public school problems on ineffective teacher. There has been almost NO recognition for eight years of the job teachers do. The general public has NO IDEA what the job entails and our leaders have worked to make that WORSE for eight years.

    Make a HUGE and LOUD public apology to the teachers of this nation who have dedicated their lives to teaching kids. Most with little support, either financial or in respect.

    Ask teachers what they think, and make THAT public. (The asking part is happening.) What a difference that would bring! Much of the public and many politicians (who rightfully want to improve public schools) have no real idea of what is wrong with them. (So they try ‘canned solutions’…like merit pay…most of which are the wrong thing to do. JMHO. Merit pay is divisive…just like NCLB was.) That doesn’t mean it can’t be a tool for improvement if done in the right way, but it HAS to be done fairly. Example: NCLB has good things in it, but it became bogged down because it used AYP to pit schools and districts and teachers against each other..instead of helping us to work together toward a goal we all share: Improving education for kids.

    ANY workable solution will require input and support from teachers…not just unions…teachers. In all the talk of fixing public education and schools…which I wholeheartedly support…the idea of involving teachers in this process is never brought up by anyone in a position of authority.

  27. This second comment comes after reading so many wonderful comments from my education colleagues. These comments are very insightful and it is my hope that both Secretary Duncan and President Obama will read them and take them under serious consideration.I completely concur with JoAnn, Rebecca and Jane. JoAnn said:

    “What is clear to me is that women and men who gave years of their lives, despite unreasonable conditions in the classroom, financial penalty and general public disregard, will be penalized for the general disinclination of communities to support schools in any number of meaningful ways that we know can work.”

    She is right. This is already happening. It has forced early retirement of MANY teachers already.
    This link has more important ideas to consider:

  28. After my own ‘Listening to Arne Duncan Tour’, I have come to think that Secretary Duncan has no idea what he is talking about. That makes me very sad…sad for teachers, sad for education, and sad for our public school system which DESPERATELY needs a leader who understands what is REALLY wrong with our schools.

    It is NOT the teachers. That is a much oversimplified answer. He’ll never be able to fix what he doesn’t see or understand.

  29. How many times will I have to be whipped because I am not a teacher who teaches “core” subjects? So much of what Secretary Duncan advocates not only narrows and limits a child’s education, but it also advocates the elimination of electives. It fails to acknowledge not only the many basic challenges expressed in the previous posts, but it also ignores and therefore dooms teachers of electives to no hope of receiving extra pay since our subject matter is not “on the test”. As a departmentalized educator and therefore one of seven teachers assigned to each student in my classes, I cannot even expect to be up for consideration for pay rewards because I am not the sole teacher for any of my students as an elementary teacher might be. There isn’t even a test that allows me to be “in the mix”. In my state, there are only four core subjects: English language arts, math, social studies, and science. The elective teachers such as languages, arts, music, home economics, business and vocational, physical education teachers and any others who are not teaching core subjects are totally ignored. The next logical step is for elective teachers to disappear for the educational scene because we refuse to be the “low-paid stepchild” or university students even consider degrees in these areas of education because they (we) can’t be paid on par with other “core-subject” teachers. Talk about dumbing down education!!

    Research validates that electives are important in the educational development of children; yet, we aren’t even are part of the equation here. we engage students in an appreciation of life and the world, but aren’t deemed important. If cuts are necessary, we are the first programs to go. If Secretary Duncan proposes to ignore half a child’s educational development, how is that fair or equitable? In fact, what about the “pay for performance” proposals makes any sense what-so-ever?

    Secretary Duncan is barking up the wrong tree for all the reasons listed in all the posts prior to mine. Sometimes what seems like a good idea when inspected more closely turns out to be a false assumption. Secretary Duncan’s false assumption is that “teachers are the problem”. We aren’t. Dedicaion, sacrifice, and commitment are all synonyms for the teachers who work in classrooms around this country. Not many other professionals work the hours we do for the kind of pay we receive; yet, we are persecuted for problems that we did not create and over which we have little control.

    In fact, nothing about what Secretary Duncan is fair or equitable. He proposes a “silver bullet” solution to a problem that is multifaceted and cannot be “fixed” by any one proposal.

    I caution Secretary Duncan of the unintended consequences that may accompany his proposals for “pay for performance”. Big ideas always seem attractive and desireable; however, I wish to advise Mr. Duncan that the “Devil is in the details”. Be careful, Mr. Duncan, what you wish for (or in this case mandate). You may not like the true results.

  30. I am constantly embarrassed by my fellow teachers’ excuses for their unwillingness to have their students’ test scores used as a means of determining their effectiveness as a teacher. I am amazed at our fear of merit pay initiatives, vouchers, school choice, and most other reform ideas that might introduce competition into the education system.

    Teachers, please understand that our positions against reforms, specifically those against merit pay and competition, undermine our desire to be seen and respected as professionals. We cannot continue to argue for the status quo or unreasonable reforms (particularly in regards to spending ever growing sums of money on education) simply because a program may not be perfect. Are the criterion tests used today perfect? Of course not, and they need to be improved. Should these tests be the only measure of a teacher’s effectiveness or the only determinant of a teacher’s pay? No, but it should be one component of that equation.

    Some teachers are better than others at improving test scores. This is a fact. Teachers can use the same techniques, put in the same number of hours, etc. and still achieve different results. We must finally admit that this is not simply because of the students we teach. We must admit that we teachers are not equally effective. Every teacher will tell you that the single most important factor in student achievement and test scores is teacher quality, but those same teachers are unwilling to admit that teacher quality can be measured (in part) by test scores. This makes no sense!

    Until we personally take the challenge of getting all of our students to achieve at a passing level (which is admittedly a minimal achievement on most criterion tests), we will continue to have students who are unsuccessful on these tests. We can no longer live behind excuses.

  31. I honestly think that one has nothing to do with the other–teacher effectiveness is what it is and so is testing of students–and teachers can’t control how well a student will do on a test on any day–as Dawn said above–too many variables. As far as merit pay is concerned, again, too many variables tied to human behaviors of the inappropriate kind–favoritism–which could ultimately lead to bitterness and lack of collegiality in the educational workplace.

  32. I recall reading an article that made a great deal of sense to me. The author pointed out that doctors are not judged by the actual success of their treatments but instead on whether or not they utilized what is recognized as “best practice” in their field of medicine. If they were judged on sucess, oncologists in general would probably be considered ineffective doctors, because a significant percentage of their patients would die.
    The author suggested that now that we truly do have so much research-based evidence on what is best practice in the classrom we should use the same approach to judging the merit of a teacher. Just as oncologists will not have as high a success rate with patients as an obstetrician will, due to the types of patients and cases they treat, teachers who deliver the same quality instruction will not necessarily have the same success rate due to the many factors outside their control. Their populations will differ.
    I do not know that I am absolutely opposed to the concept of using test scores as a measure of teacher merit, but I believe that there need to be a number of other measures as well, at the very least. To give an example, I am a reading specialist. I work with the lowest-achieving readers in my school, and I only get to see them for 30 minutes every other day. Research is very clear in supporting the fact that in order for interventions to truly accelerate achievement, students must received it daily in very small groups or one-on-one, and ideally for at least 60 minutes a day. I would love to implement that research, but that is not a decision I am permitted to make. The frequency and duration of my interventions is dictated by our administration, and the size of my groups is determined by the total number in my caseload. Given that, my chances of significantly raising test scores are medium at best. Would it be fair, then, to say that I am an ineffective teacher because I only succeeded in significantly raising the test scores of 50% of my students, or because only 75% of my students scored proficinet on the state test? In reality, I think achieving those results would be an enormous accomplishment.
    There are so many factors that need to be considered when we talk about merit pay and test results. As I stated, I will not say that I am adamantly opposed, but I have a hard time imagining how it could really be done fairly and justly.

  33. Absolutely NOT! (For many of the above reasons.) Children are not commodities produced in factories — the change that needs to be made is for teachers, who are the experts, to make diffentiated decisions about students AND how they are assessed, based on a variety of variables that Duncan and many others would not begin to understand.

    The classroom culture is not that of the 1950s, and Duncan and others who believe it is need to go back to school, literally. Student success depends on parents, teachers, and community working in tandem, with the experts, teachers, leading the way — and parents and administrators standing right beside and behind them asking, “How may we assist you in your work?”

  34. Good teachers are driven out of the profession by rigid Praxis testing. Many of these teachers could teach math, science and technology to our nation’s students that is above and beyond anything mandated in state benchmarks.

  35. Merit pay tied to test score performance is not a practice President Obama proposed in his campaign for President of the United States. I recall Obama speaking about high stakes testing NOT being the goal of education in this country, but rather education as preparation of students for their adult role as US citizens. That would mean to teach them skills fostering: A) the creativity which prompts new ideas to effectively face and deal with current and future challenges, B)problem solving, and C)cooperation among peers to get a job done. These skills are not a menu of multiple choices from which a student can choose one right answer, but instead a compulsary skill set for success. Arne Duncan and President Obama need to revisit this academically devastating idea and look beyond the simplistic solution of “Choose A, B, or C ” to educate our,and their very own, youth.

  36. As I read through the comments already posted, I found that we all share the same frustrations. As educators, we are being forced to fit the business/industry mold that was shaped nearly a century ago. Sadly, little has changed.

    Public education began as a means of preparing students for the world of work — this meant conditioning children to attend formal schooling (designed to simulate the work day) where they would receive instruction in valuable life skills (which translates to the ability to follow written and oral instructions, work with others, and extend critical thinking, etc.) so that they could become model citizens and employable, typically in blue-collar factory jobs or secretarial positions, depending on gender. **Note, while the institution hasn’t changed much, expectations certainly have. Teachers are now expected to prepare children for the 21st century, which requires a completely new set of skills and knowledge, but are hands are tied by mandates that don’t take into account a holistic approach to teaching and learning.

    Consider, too, that as late as the mid-60s, it was not atypical for administrators and parents of junior high students (kids aged 12 – 14) to withdraw a struggling/failing student so that he/she could seek employment. Obviously, this is no longer permissable. Yet, sadly, I have heard more students express an utter frustration with the current state of education than ever; often, they lament the fact that they cannot, legally, quit school to begin a trade or seek full-time employment. **Note, today, all students are (generally) expected to attend some post-secondary institution of higher learning. The high school diploma no longer suffices.

    Sadly, I spend an inordinate amount of time talking with disenfranchised high school students who simply go through the motions each day — they’re putting in their time to attain the diploma that we have hyped as the crucial component in attaining “real world” status. For some, college is a necessary evil; others, a goal that seems financially impossible to attain. Regardless, most feel the pressure to perform (and conform). However, not all of them share the sentiment; and, watching them struggle with self-realization as they often undermine their own success is painful and emotionally draining. As others have mentioned, I’ve seen the “best and brightest” breakdown over a standardized test; I’ve seen classic underachievers score well on “the test” and then slump back into complete apathy. And, as others in this blog have mentioned, we recognize that there is no simple fix, no quick solution. But we all recognize the huge disservice to our nation’s kids.

    Until policy-makers realize that children are not products, but people, we will never begin to correct the problems faced by American children today. They know, all too well, that the job market and economy are on shaking ground as they watch family, friends, and even teachers, lose their jobs. So how important is a standardized test, or even that high school diploma, to those kids who feel the future is bleak? Given this consideration, is it any wonder that educators are concerned about student “data” on standardized tests being tied to performance?

    Having worked in the private sector prior to embarking on a teaching career, I recognize that those on the oustide of public education haven’t a clue. No other profession is so closely scrutinized, or publicly mocked. There are so many variables that most CEOs, CFOs,and HR people would throw their hands up in dismay. We deal with human lives and emotions on a daily basis, along with navigating the waters of zero-balance budgets and on-going federal cuts to vital school programs. Those on the oustide need to take a closer look. Simply deciding that a model will be developed and implemented isn’t a guarantee of success. Look at NCLB! As educators, we give so much of ourselves — our time, our energy, our compassion — to those whose lives we mold. No amount of merit pay can adequately compensate us, nor would we want it.

  37. Tests are the constant in academic performance equations. Students are the variables. Everyone seems to think that teachers have the one solution.
    We don’t. We can’t control all the variables…we can’t make students perform–they have to want to.

  38. It’s July ninth. I just came back from my classroom with about 30 pounds of teacher edition texts so I can prepare for the new grade level I will be teaching in the fall. Will I get paid for the hours I spend during my vacation for this preparation?

    Next week I am taking a technology course that I will pay for myself, so I can better use my classroom “Smartboard”. Will I be repaid?

    Last Tuesday I purchased $45 worth of educational materials…a mere drop in the bucket. My annual expenditures will undoubtedly be over $1000, as they are every year. (I shouldn’t complain however. I will get a big $200 tax credit after all.)

    The real question is, does all this uncompensated time and money make me a better teacher? The answer is: I don’t care. I also don’t care if I get merit pay or not. In my opinion the very idea of merit pay is an insult.

    Yes, I need to be paid. I, like the vast majority of my colleagues, work hard for my salary. And thanks to my school district’s negotiated pay schedule, I don’t have to compete with my fellow teachers for my paycheck. I can share my materials and the things that I learn with them without fearing they might show me up. I don’t have to butter up the principal for a good evaluation. I don’t have to fear having hard-to-teach students in my class because they might bring down my test scores.

    So then, why am I motivated to spend my summers and my money to get ready to teach my new students in the fall? It really is no mystery. In the fall there will be thirty reasons for my motivation who will walk into my classroom, take their seats and begin to learn.

    When will politicos realize that certain professions draw people who care more about making a difference than making a buck?

  39. If linking student achievement to merit pay and evaluations are to be successfully negotiated we need to appeal to both sides of the issue and truly compromise. Because of the great influence of teachers on the general public, those blessed with the jobs must be qualified and capable.

    Teachers must be protected by a reasonable salary base and termed contracts (2-6 years, like in politics). The achievement must be measured by mastery level that will demonstrate that the teacher’s students are capable to an acceptable level, with merit pay being earned for high achievements. At the same time, poor performance will be considered in contract renegotiations with the schools providing high quality professional development and post-graduate education for teachers (especially, those who need assistance in boosting student performance–grades for these classes could also reflect on the evaluations).

    We cannot reasonably support tenure, because tenure is next to nepotism. The schools need teachers who can teach properly and guide the students towards success.

    It is reasonable to be weary of unmotivated students. However, if a teacher accepts the responsibility to develop these skills within the students, then that teacher must live up to that responsibility. Nonetheless, this could also be reflected in the evaluations as not to skew results too greatly–although, I find it personally demeaning to the children in question. (Special Education teachers would possibly even be exempt from such standards as they are working with students who truly may be physiologically incapable.)

    I hope these suggestions do not fall upon deaf ears. Public education was built on ideals of equality, but if it is to compete with private institutions, we must make critical improvements in how we educate America’s youth.

  40. I agree with the group of respondents who believe that NCLB- inspired, standardized tests are useless if not actively harmful. I agree that they should not even be used to evaluate students.

    I do believe, however, that assessment of both students and teachers is necessary in this world. However, just as the “real world” generally doesn’t rely for evaluating performance on a single instrument based on ridiculous standards; neither should the world of education. In both arenas, performance should be evaluated based on standards that reflect knowledge and skills that are truly needed.

    In addition, teachers and students should be evaluated based on the progress (whatever THAT is) made from the beginning of a class or semester. It is entirely irrational to assume that all 9th grade students, for example, begin a school year having the same knowledge and skills. A student and her teacher should be rewarded for how far they have come from where they really were, rather than from some imaginary and fallacious starting point.

    Is anybody listening to us teachers?? It seems like so many of us keep telling policy-makers the same thing over and over!

  41. No. It is a ridiculous idea to tie teacher performance to test scores. One of the many reasons centers around the highly inadequate tests. Additionally, these tests literally destroy the educational process by forcing teachers and students to concentrate on the tests and by preventing the teachers from really attending to the true educational needs of the each individual class. No one holds the parents, with their attitudes and influence responsible for their own children. No one holds the community at large responsible. There is simply the fact that everyone in the country is blaming all teachers for all problems. Both government and business are trying to run the educational system; they are collectively ruining the system. Teachers have not created this problem; the huge mass-produced schools constantly interferred with by the government have. If people would allow teachers to teach, and stop intefering, things might have a chance of working again. First, however, get rid of the interminable, time-wasting tests.

  42. Student test scores should be considered in teacher evaluations ONLY if the teacher has had a direct input in creating and implementing the assessment.

  43. When doctors are paid solely by those patients who are healed, and lawyers are paid only for the cases they win, it may be possible for teachers to be paid according to test results.

  44. I am very alarmed by this speech. I work in a school in which the majority of incoming ninth grade students read at or below third grade level, with a large number of those actually reading at or below kindergarten level. Yet, these students are expected to pass a ninth-grade English/Language Arts exam that tests their reading. The fact that all of my students increased their reading levels by an average of five to six years in one year was not considered success because the majority of them failed the exam…many by only one to three points. On paper, I look like a failure, but in reality, I feel that I was a success. When I see a child who can’t read simple words leave my class reading newspapers, magazines,manuals, short stories, and young adult books (although they are usually very short), I feel a sense of pride. However, in the eyes of a remote government agency that only looks at test scores, I am a failure, my students are a failure, and my school is a failure. If we are going to judge according to test scores,then let us judge how much individual students progress from point A to point B. Let us take into consideration the number of days that student has missed school (absenteeism is a problem at my school), how many days that child is late to class causing him/her to miss half of a lesson, and also consider how many days that child is so tired from being kept awake by home situations that prevent proper rest that he/she cannot keep their eyes open. The speaker admits to not having been in front of a class. Until you are in front of a class, and preferably one in a proverty ridden inner city school such as mine, you don’t have the right to say what needs to be done to improve education.

  45. If educators can choose the “natural resources” we receive, then yes, it is fair to assess according to student performance. However, parents currently send us the “best resources” they have; educators don’t have a choice nor quality control to deny these “resources” access.

  46. Are any of these educational “leaders” willing to tie THEIR pay to the results of one test? I don’t see Mr. Duncan putting his paycheck (which, I’m sure, is a bit more substantial than mine) where his mouth is. When these folks are ready to lead the way by actually doing what they want me to do, then they can tie my pay to any standard they wish.

    Having given or proctored standardized (who’s standards??) tests for many years, I can tell you I do not want my pay tied to kids who sleep during most of the test, bubble in butterfly designs, refuse to take it, or are too stressed to keep their breakfast down. During every test I proctored last year, over half of the students didn’t even bring a pencil!

    Frankly, I’m tired of being the bad person. Education is a four-point structure: parents, students, teachers, and administrators. When one of the points refuse their share of the work, then where does that leave the other three??

  47. Teaching is a second career for me, having seen manufacturing decline as a quality manager. I used data for corrective action and to monitor THE PROCESS, not necessarily the operator or employee. Data is very rarely analyzed in Education for corrective action or for any reason other than results from a single test or inspection after the fact. I often plot my students scores to identify the CAUSE of my students low or high scores. My goal is to continuously improve all of my students by eliminating or utilizing the out layers on a control chart. Merit pay reminds me of when I worked for a company who had a bonus system based on “Time Trials”. In the late eighties, this was deemed inefficient and often resulted in poor quality. It did increase productivity but lost business in a competitive market which strived for quality and reliability. Big business fought this new philosophy of quality improvement because it affected the bottom line. They were short sighted. As we see today, although the American worker is the most productive in the world, it products are inefficient and unreliable. Management refused to use statistical methods and the cost of quality to control processes. Instead they use marketing strategies to sell poor quality and lay-off or downsize the workers. Thereby big business plans on doing the same thing with education. We must use the data to improve the process of education, not as an inspection after the fact, it’s too late. Merit pay will result in more students being graduated who can’t make change or fill out an application. It will become a marketing strategy used by big business to push their products and destroy the last, vital to the middle class and all workers, labor union. America must become the world leader in Education, not with marketing new big business programs and test scores which are short sighted. Give control back to the teachers, but give them the ability to utilize the data along with their ability to know what their students need. The number one job of a teacher is to know their students. They consider many factors, along with the methods of data analysis, nothing can match this ability nor measure it. If more observations of teachers were done, no one would ever blame a teacher for the state of education today.

  48. Even after 30+ years of teaching I still know that all classes of learners are not made the same. Some years the stars must have smiled because children born that year seem more interested and able to learn. Other years, the stars take a vacation. Most are in between.

    And when does the teacher work hardest? With those whose stars were dim or missing. AND that is when teachers should be praised. On the constellation years (aah, we hope for plural here) why should the teacher be rewarded? The year is reward enough.

    I recommend Herbert Kohl’s small but powerful book, “I Won’t Learn from You!: The Role of Assent in Learning.”

Comments are closed.