EDITORIALS

Teach your children well

Posted Sept. 13, 2011, at 6:38 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 13, 2011, at 9:39 p.m.
Students from Oceanside High School in Rockland load on to buses after the first day of school last month.
BDN file photo
Students from Oceanside High School in Rockland load on to buses after the first day of school last month.

For years, there has been talk of tying teacher pay to student performance. As the LePage administration takes steps to move from talk to action, it faces stiff opposition from the state teachers’ union.

Rather than throwing up roadblocks, education union leaders would do better to join in the work to develop fair and reasonable ways to measure teacher performance.

Eighteen Maine schools are participating in a $16 million federally funded pilot program designed to enhance training for teachers and to develop standards for evaluating them. The pilot project in Maine and at schools in Richmond, Va., is being operated in conjunction with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Incentive Fund.

This is the first year students at the schools can earn incentives based on student performance.

Late last month, the Maine Department of Education listed several ways teachers might be evaluated, including student SAT scores, classroom assessments and classroom observations.

The Maine Education Association roundly criticizes the work.

“We’re not in favor of merit pay,” the association’s president, Chris Galgay said recently. “People seem to think that offering a carrot is the way to make teachers work harder. To me, it’s insulting to think teachers aren’t giving 100 percent every day and that you have to add in incentives.”

He went on to say there was no student assessment that should be used to judge teacher performance.

Assessing teacher effectiveness is difficult, but not impossible. It is also necessary.

At a time when Maine’s and America’s education rankings are slipping and far too few students are deemed proficient in core academic areas, new approaches are needed.

Teachers, of course, do have to deal with many variables outside their control such as a child who is dealing with abuse or a divorce at home, students who aren’t fluent in English and those who don’t have enough to eat.

Still, it is the job of teachers to ensure students leave their classroom with more knowledge than when they entered it. Education union officials are right that simply looking at what classrooms score well on tests is the wrong way to measure teacher effectiveness. This has been a major shortcoming of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Clearly, a classroom full of high achievers will do better than a class with many students for whom English is a second language.

There are numerous ways around this. Many teachers and schools already give students the same test at the beginning of the year and at the end. There are many assessments, some as simple as a brief quiz or an essay, along the way. Teachers routinely use this information to see if what they are doing in the classroom is working.

Looking at such measures over time — to compensate for years with difficult students and uninvolved parents, for example — is necessary, rather than emphasis on testing results from year to year.

This is a starting point for a fuller discussion of measuring teacher performance.

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