Evaluating Teachers and Students; Two Tests Better Than One

We’ve all had them. We’ve all had ones that we love, ones that we hate and a lot that fall in-between. They’re underappreciated, underpaid and undervalued in general. And yet, many of them are paid way too much for too little work and effort.

I’m talking about teachers. In most of the current pay systems, the teachers union has set it up so that teachers simply get paid more the longer they teach. For those who simply fell into the profession and have no real interest in shaping the minds of our youth – or for those that have burnt out over the years – this is a terrible way to determine pay.

Many solutions have been proposed to this problem all around the globe, many of which tie teacher pay to some sort of measuring stick.

But what should that stick measure? And how high should the rewards be placed?

These are issues that economics professor Derek Neal of the University of Chicago recently sought to address in a new paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research as well as in the upcoming book Handbook of Economics in Education.

The answer, Neal contends, is a two-test approach.

He approaches the topic of subjective evaluations, but eventually dismisses the idea. The problem is finding an evaluator not tied to the outcome. Using other teachers – those best suited to evaluate another teacher – often ends up in pay raises for everyone rather than true evaluations. Plus, you’d have to implement Big Brother to get a sense of all the behind-the-scenes effort and non-cognitive teaching that goes on in a good teacher’s classroom.

And nobody is going to go for that.

However, basing teacher’s pay on students’ performance of a test simply leads to coaching rather than teaching. Students sit in chairs and practice the five paragraph essay for hours rather than learning how to actually formulate a thought and put it down in a cohesive and interesting way. I myself couldn’t write any other way when I got to college. Other teachers might avoid historically under-performing schools or worse, teachers cheat in order to inflate their student’s test scores so that they can get ahead.

Instead, Neal argues that teachers should be given a well-defined curriculum of material to teach their students. However, the annual test that the students take should be substantially different each year so that it is impossible to just coach the test. “The best response is not to coach but to teach in ways that build true mastery of the intended domain,” he writes.

Of course, this would make it difficult to determine how students are improving on a yearly basis. There would be no measuring stick to compare 2015 students to 2010 to see how teachers, schools and the education system in general is faring.

For this, Neal suggests another test that is very similar each year, but has absolutely no consequences. Nobody’s pay, nobody’s graduation from a grade and no school’s funding would be tied to it. With nothing on the line – he argues – we’d get a true sense of how the students are doing.

I don’t know if it would work or not, but I do believe something needs to be done. A gym teacher shouldn’t be the highest paid employee of a school, which was the case at my middle school.

About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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