A pitched battle raged in my hometown of Seattle this fall. Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and the Seattle Public Schools district fought with the Seattle Education Association over their most recent teachers’ union contract. At the heart of the dispute: Should teacher evaluations be based in part on student scores on standardized tests?
Seattle is not unique in this struggle, and it is clear that Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson takes her cue from what is happening nationally.
In August, for instance, the Los Angeles Times printed a massive study in which LA student test scores were used to rate individual teacher effectiveness. The study was based on a statistical model referred to as value-added measurement (VAM). As part of the story, the Times published the names of roughly 6,000 teachers and their VAM ratings (see sidebar, p. 37).
In October the New York City Department of Education followed suit, publicizing plans to release the VAM scores for nearly 12,000 public school teachers. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan lauded both the Times study and the NYC Department of Education plans, a stance consistent with Race to the Top guidelines and President Obama’s support for using test scores to evaluate teachers and determine merit pay.
Current and former leaders of many major urban school districts, including Washington, D.C.’s Michelle Rhee and New Orleans’ Paul Vallas, have sought to use tests to evaluate teachers. In fact, the use of high-stakes standardized tests to evaluate teacher performance à la VAM has become one of the cornerstones of current efforts to reshape public education along the lines of the free market.