Good Teachers Are Made, Not Born
In their paper arguing against using test scores to evaluate teachers, Ravich et. al. included this observation:
"… a teacher who appears to be very ineffective in one year might havea dramatically different result the following year. The same dramatic fluctuations were found for teachers ranked at the bottom in the first year of analysis. This runs counter to most people’s notions that the true quality of a teacher is likely to change very little over time [my italics] and raises questions about whether what is measured is largely a “teacher effect” or the effect of a wide variety of other factors."
Of course scores will vary year to year based on outside factors. That’s why I always insist that principals take the long view: What do a teacher’s scores look like over 3 years? Over 5 years? Over 7? I doubt if anyone is foolish enough to believe that one year of test scores reveals anything about the efficacy of an individual teacher.
But it’s the assumption that "most people” believe that the “true quality of a teacher is likely to change very little over time” that I find remarkable. If that were true, what is professional development all about? Why have teacher improvement plans? Why wait for several years to award tenure if the “true quality of a teacher” really doesn’t change?
I admit it’s true that some rookies seem to show glimpses of real ability their first year. But the problem for nearly all of them is classroom management. Learning to handle groups of students with varying abilities and attention spans is tricky for just about all new teachers. Likewise, lack of classroom management skills can make a nervous rookie look worse than she really is. I’ve advised many a new teacher (and administrator): “The good news is you only have to do the first year once.” Good teachers look a lot different their second year (and maybe their third, fourth, fifth year and longer) as they hone their skills and learn the job.
Part of a teacher’s growth should be looking at an item analysis of tests administered to her students and making the appropriate curricular adjustments for the next year. After all, consistently poor test scores for individual teachers is an indictment of the district leadership as well.