A study funded by Bill Gates' foundation warned against weighing… (Pius Utomi Ekpei / AFP/Getty…)
Re "Gates' warning on test scores," Editorial, April 11
Bill Gates has figured out what those of us in education have known all along: Standardized tests are pretty good at identifying students' academic strengths and weaknesses, one of them being test-taking skills. But using them to evaluate teachers is cheap and lazy.
The best ways to evaluate teachers can be time-consuming and expensive. As you mention, a good start would be to ask students and parents who the good teachers are. And how can there be any real reform without discussing what makes a good teacher?
Those who believed that standardized tests are reliable indicators of a wide range of conditions in schools have admitted that the research hasn't shown that to be true. The Obama administration insists that testing equals reform. And it wasn't very long ago that The Times unwisely published the "value added" scores of public school teachers in L.A.
Still, it's never too late to abandon bad policy.
The study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said that test scores should make up no more than 50% of a teacher's total evaluation and that schools should use a multi-measure teacher evaluation system that includes these scores and other measures of quality.
The Los Angeles Unified School District and many others base none of their teacher evaluations on test scores; all that matters is seniority. Using the study to confirm what teachers unions have said is like saying a study showing that eating only vegetables isn't the best diet proves that eating more vegetables isn't the answer for better nutrition. America needs more of both — vegetables and teacher accountability.
In my 18 years of teaching, I saw many educators who didn't belong in front of students; I also met many skilled, motivated young teachers who could not get a job because bad teachers rarely get fired.
Thanks to people like Gates, parents, politicians and school districts fell for the idea that test scores indicate teacher effectiveness. Now Gates, one of the most vocal and wealthiest proponents for testing as a key part of education reform, warns us not to weigh those results too heavily. This, after many districts and the federal government jumped into the testing pool head first.
The only thing left for Gates and his foundation to say is, "Oops, my bad."
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