Brilliant: Ranking Teachers Accurately

If you don’t read this article, I’m coming after you!

What constitutes a good teacher?  The folks at the LA Times — that’s right, the liberal media right in the middle of the most liberal area of the U.S. — decided to take a statistical approach to evaluating teachers in the LA Unified School District.  That this story got published in the first place would be a major milestone in and of itself.  But that doesn’t compare to the findings.

Measuring teacher effectiveness would seem to be a very difficult task because there are so many uncontrollable variables, such as culture and income.  But the LA Times took a unique approach that, instead of looking at the average test score for a class, looked at the change in test scores for each individual student year over year, and then associated those changes in test scores with the teacher the student had that year.  I’ll let the Times explain:

The Times used a statistical approach known as value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students’ progress on standardized tests from year to year. Each student’s performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors.

That, dear readers, is what’s known as “brilliant”.  Finding a relatively easy way to get good information.  Now to the good part, the findings:

• Highly effective teachers routinely propel students from below grade level to advanced in a single year. There is a substantial gap at year’s end between students whose teachers were in the top 10% in effectiveness and the bottom 10%. The fortunate students ranked 17 percentile points higher in English and 25 points higher in math.

Some students landed in the classrooms of the poorest-performing instructors year after year — a potentially devastating setback that the district could have avoided. Over the period analyzed, more than 8,000 students got such a math or English teacher at least twice in a row.

• Contrary to popular belief, the best teachers were not concentrated in schools in the most affluent neighborhoods, nor were the weakest instructors bunched in poor areas. Rather, these teachers were scattered throughout the district. The quality of instruction typically varied far more within a school than between schools.

Although many parents fixate on picking the right school for their child, it matters far more which teacher the child gets. Teachers had three times as much influence on students’ academic development as the school they attend. Yet parents have no access to objective information about individual instructors, and they often have little say in which teacher their child gets.

• Many of the factors commonly assumed to be important to teachers’ effectiveness were not. Although teachers are paid more for experience, education and training, none of this had much bearing on whether they improved their students’ performance.

If this is accurate, and I think it probably is, it could turn the education business on its head.  That’s because it is so contrary to popular beliefs.  For instance, there is almost always a heavy focus on class size.  But class size doesn’t seem to be a factor here.

If you have kids in school, think about it.  There is always one teacher … one very special teacher … that gets more out of your child than anyone before or after.  The value-added method helps identify a way to measure what has been thus far immeasurable: finding those outstanding teachers in a school district as large as LA.

Naturally, the teacher union is calling for a boycott of the LA Times.  Figures.  Kill the messenger, right!

— uo

Published in: on September 4, 2010 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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