Evaluating teachers by student performance is fantasy

April 29, 2010

There were two articles in The Sun's April 28th edition ("Bullying debate rises across city, nation" and "Grasmick proposal seeks to alter Md. teacher evaluations") that make me wonder how those people who are in support of linking student achievement to teacher evaluations would fare in evaluations of themselves if they worked in today's public school classrooms day-in and day-out, with all of the responsibilities and expectations on their shoulders that they want to place on actual classroom teachers.

The statistics that are quoted about 118,834 suspensions/expulsions during the 2007-2008 school year in Maryland' s public schools do not include the numbers of times that those who were suspended or expelled had created disruptions prior to having those consequences meted out. (Often, school policies require at least three warnings prior to suspensions.) For each inappropriate behavior resulting in suspension/expulsion, consider how many other students are affected and how the effectiveness of the best teacher's lessons can be diminished. Yes, depending on the situations in which they are placed, even the finest of teachers can sometimes find it an overwhelming task to ensure that all, or even a majority, of their students meet with academic success.

Certainly, it is crucial that all teachers provide the necessary behavior modifications to establish excellent learning atmospheres.

Equally crucial is the need for all teachers to provide well-planned instruction that meets the needs of those in their charge. Students may be autistic, gifted-and-talented, dyslexic, highly independent, highly dependent, bi-polar, ADD/ADHD, depressed, parentally neglected, incredibly creative, incredibly lethargic, victims of poverty, substance abusers … the list goes on.

It would be fantastic for teachers to rise above all of the classroom-related challenges that are ever-present and meet the expectations for all students to be academically successful. Related to the word "fantastic" is "fantasy." Please, let us be realistic and face facts that teachers can be incredibly successful with some students, yet not with others, through no fault of their own. That, along with the difficulty of how to actually determine "success," the subject of much more discourse than there is room here, should make it clear that requiring student achievement to make up at least half of teacher evaluations is a very bad idea and could easily lead to excellent teachers leaving the classroom.

Janet Steinberg

The writer taught for 34 years in Baltimore city and county schools.

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