Student Performance Determines Teacher Success – Fair or Not?

The primary difficulty I have with student performance determining teacher performance is that natural ability seems to play a role in this phenomenon. My experience as a teacher for sixteen years has shown me a few things.

  • I taught 8th graders in an affluent district with kids who had always been successful on our state tests. Parents ran the school with an administration that let kids get away with almost anything for fear of parent interference, the principal was fired (actually promoted to the district offices), and the students did not seem to learn as well as I would have liked. I worked hard that year trying to get 8th grade math into their brains, but did not feel as successful as I had in the past or in the future with that endeavor. In the end, almost all of my students passed the state test that year.
  • I taught Pre-AP Algebra 2 students for four years. I had virtually 100% pass the state tests year after year.
  • I have taught in a dropout recovery program for the last six years. The state test has become easier, and I have become better at working with the students¬†over the years. While there are years when there are great successes and times when things do not go as well, we are still able to get about 80% of the students to eventually pass the state tests. These are mostly kids who would have skipped the state tests at their home campus or failed, some with a record of failing the state math test every single year since they started taking the tests (usually third grade). My feeling is that every kid that passes should be a celebration, but if I happen to run into a semester with a 50% failing rate (which will eventually become 80% or so), that could be devastating to my performance review.

The second issue I have stems from the preceding information. Why would I want to work with the most challenging students to find some success when I could simply work with the best kids in the best districts and cruise through state testing results regardless of how much education was going on? Teachers will fight for the best kids in the best districts. Teachers will fight to get rid of kids on their rosters who have shown a lack of success over the years. Teachers will lie, cheat, and steal to give the appearance of student learning through a state test, especially in lower grades where science and social studies are not tested, for example. How does the fifth grade teacher who is responsible for kids passing a science test for the first time deal with the fact that the third and fourth grade teachers did not teach science to focus on math, which was being tested? Why would I share my teaching strategies that have shown success with my peers (competitors) because my successes will improve my chances of getting the better classes and not helping the other teachers will help weed them out? Why would I help a new teacher who is essentially trying to get my job when I have a track record of success with the GT kids?

Ultimately the only fair way to assess teachers’ effectiveness through student learning is to be able to determine exactly what each student has learned in the past, determine exactly what knowledge and skills have been added purely from that teacher’s efforts, and compare each students potential to the realization of that potential each year. I am pretty sure none of that is possible, let alone through a mostly multiple choice state test given on one day of the year.

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6 thoughts on “Student Performance Determines Teacher Success – Fair or Not?

  1. Wendy Tahill

    Wow. TM Honesty! Teachers really think like this? Whoa. Isn’t student success more important than who gets the credit?

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  2. brettrubicristian Post author

    Hi Wendy!

    Of course, student success is the most important thing, but forcing teachers to compete will create a world of… competition. This is much as the world of education seems to have become nowadays with charter schools, vouchers, etc. Competition often leads to amazing things, but the journey can be ugly. If we are trying to invent the light bulb, competition can be helpful. In educating children, I fear it will lead to lost educations for many.

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    1. Wendy Tahill

      that is a shame! why does it have to be that way? why isn’t there a spirit of collaboration for the betterment of education?

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  3. brettrubicristian Post author

    Funny you should mention that, Wendy. In my Master’s and Doctoral programs, collaboration in the ranks of education is heavily emphasized. Teachers doing research, reporting their findings, sharing experiences – all expected to improve education. This competition concept, I fear, will crush that movement, however.

    Another idea to add to the concept of paying/evaluating teachers based on the performance of students is that education builds on itself. If I teach a true year of algebra to one student in ninth grade, I would be remiss in assuming it is all my doing. The first 8 math teachers had something to do with this student learning. Likewise, if I fail to provide that same year of learning to a struggling student, am I solely to blame? I barely understand the value-added approach to this, though I realize it exists. BUT, if you send me a junior in high school who literally operates mathematically on the third grade level, I would argue the progress made in his Algebra 2 understanding will not be evaluated correctly in the testing process. When 11 years of math learning is taken into consideration, how can you fairly evaluate one teacher.

    If we agree in any way about this last paragraph, you can walk yourself backwards to first grade and make a similar argument.

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    1. Wendy Tahill

      yeah, but can’t you do a preassessment and then assess and see growth? wouldn’t this show what the teacher was able to convey in the “limited” time he or she had with this particular child?

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      1. brettrubicristian Post author

        I assume we are talking about my junior student example. What would the preassessment look like? Are you going to preassess 3rd-4th grade learning expectations? Are you going to preassess Algebra 2 level understandings? Professionally, my responsibility would be to teach and give credit for Algebra 2, which is a seemingly impossible task with this student. As a human, my responsibility would probably appear to be to teach a 17-year-old, in an Algebra 2 class, 4th-grade math. I cannot fathom in which scenario any preassessment process would effectively evaluate a teacher’s worth to this student’s progress.

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