REAL REFORM for Holding Teachers Accountable

This is my response to the Times-Picayune editorial of September 17 - "Holding Louisiana teachers accountable: An editorial" I have asked for guest editorial space in the newspaper. . .

Every classroom should have well-educated, professional teachers, and school systems should recruit, prepare and retain teachers who are qualified to do the job. These are three sorely lacking practices in Louisiana's current "reform" design for K-12 education.

American public schools generally do a poor job of systematically developing their teachers after placement. On the contrary, our state policymakers hang on to the erroneous belief that teachers will be more motivated to improve student learning if they are evaluated or monetarily rewarded for student test score gains.

According to the highly esteemed 2010 Economic Policy Institute Briefing Paper #278 , there is broad agreement among statisticians, psychometricians, and economists that student test scores alone are not sufficiently reliable and valid indicators of teacher effectiveness to be used in high-stakes personnel decisions even when the most sophisticated statistical applications such as value-added modeling are employed.

The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences stated, ". . . VAM (Value Added Measures) estimates of teacher effectiveness should not be used to make operational decisions because such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable."

RAND Corporation researchers reported that, "The research base is currently insufficient to support the use of VAM for high-stakes decisions about individual teachers or schools."

Educational Testing Service's Policy Information Center concluded, "VAM results should not serve as the principal basis for making consequential decisions about teachers."

Research shows that the use of these high stakes standardized tests to measure student learning creates an excessive focus on basic math and reading scores and leads to narrowing and over simplication of the curriculum to only the subjects and formats that are tested, reducing the attention to science, history, the arts, civics, and foreign language as well as to writing, research and more complex problem-solving tasks. There is a self-perpetuating downward spiral of performance by our students.

Other approaches have been found to not only identify differences in teachers' effectiveness but to actually improve teachers' practice. They include observation protocols that include videotapes of classroom practice, teacher interviews, and artifacts such as lesson plans, assignments, and samples of student work. We must analyze student learning over time in relation to a teacher's instruction rather than a single standardized test score.

The Economic Policy Institute warns that: "Adopting an invalid teacher evaluation system and tying it to rewards and sanctions is likely to lead to inaccurate personnel decisions and to demoralize teachers, causing talented teachers to avoid high-needs students and schools, or to leave the profession entirely. Legislatures should not mandate a test-based approach to teacher evaluation that is unproven and likely to harm not only teachers, but also the children they instruct."

Until the Department of Education moves its focus from the data mania it created with the use of costly high stakes testing to creating policy that will ensure effective teaching and improved learning in the classroom, the "miraculous" gains the RSD claims will continue to stagnate and our children, schools and teachers will continue to be labeled failures. The Louisiana Association of Educators' proposal for reworking the Act No. 54 teacher evaluation process has merit because the LAE represents the collective minds of highly qualified, certified Louisiana teachers who would otherwise have no voice.

The state policy making body (BESE) that oversees recommendations by the Department of Education needs to be heavily weighted with qualified education leaders and members who are not timid about questioning the validity of the so-called innovative practices presented to them.

The new superintendent BESE will select should certainly be held to high standards and qualifications.

That new superintendent will be appointed by BESE. Cast your vote on October 22 for a highly qualified educator to serve in District 1. Vote for Lee Barrios

Quality Education Requires Quality Leadership

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