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Learning Curve

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Evaluating the evaluations

Indiana is on a fast track to tie teacher pay to evaluations tied to student test scores. But the state would be wise to slow down and pay attention to people who have studied the issue for more than five minutes.

One of them is Richard Rothstein, a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute and a long-time observer of education policy.

Here are a few of his cautionary words: "The necessary task of identifying good teachers and removing those who are inadequate requires more than student test score data. It requires a holistic approach, in which qualified experts observe teachers' lessons, evaluate the quality of their instruction, and examine a wide range of their students' work and how teachers respond to it. This requires a bigger investment of qualified supervisory time than most schools are prepared to make. Using student test scores as a shortcut will do great harm to American education.

"Making teacher quality the only centerpiece of a reform campaign distracts our attention from other equally and perhaps more important school areas needing improvement, areas such as leadership, curriculum, and practices of collaboration, mentioned above. Blaming teachers is easy. These other areas are more difficult to improve."

At the School Matters blog, Bloomington-based Steve Hinnefeld writes about the false claim on which Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent Tony Bennett are basing their teacher evaluation push. They both seem to understand that if you say something often enough you can convince people that it is true.

In this case, it's the claim that a teacher's influence on student achievement scores is 20 times greater than any other factor. Simply not true.

Rothstein also addresses that myth in this excellent piece.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at