Here is my 10-year prediction about the use of value-added measures to evaluate K-12 teachers. Judging the effectiveness of teachers based on student test scores will get ratcheted downward in many districts’ efforts to come up with measures to determine how effective teachers are in their classrooms. The technical objections —instability in year-to-year scores and measurement error–added to the strong and abiding perception among teachers that such a measure is inherently unfair, plus the obvious fact that a majority of teachers still do not have student test scores in math and English/reading to even be judged will shrink the use of student scores. And do not forget with the advent of Common Core standards and new tests even further delays will occur in using student test scores to judge teacher performance.
Other measures, however, will be added such as classroom observations, older elementary school and secondary student evaluations, and ones district officials allow or have been negotiated into contracts. Examples are teachers proposing different measures for determining their effectiveness such as growth in student writing and progress in student work over the course of year. Over the next decade, I predict, most districts will come to use multiple measures to judge teacher performance. Student test scores, however, shrunken in influence, will continue to be one of those measures.
Nothing like the changes roiling K-12 teacher evaluation will occur, however, for professors. University and college teacher evaluation differ dramatically from what occurs in K-12 schools. Professors’ effectiveness is largely judged by research and non-research publications, grants received, services rendered to the field, and other criteria. When it comes to teaching, it is clearly subordinate to research and publication. Moreover, there are no standardized tests for undergraduates or graduates to take and no scores to use. On occasion, when recommendations for determining what students learn after four years of undergraduate courses or such tests are given to students, college presidents, professors, and higher education researchers scold those who endorse such policies. They decry the design of the tests and the conclusions reached . Especially if the results about student performance are startling as occurred recently. No chance of value-added measures entering higher education.
So how are professors evaluated on their teaching? No university-wide tests of student learning across undergraduate years are administered other than what individual professors give students for their courses. Some colleges and university departments do occasional classroom observations. A few offer professors the chance to create teaching portfolios. Some encourage professors to have their classes videotaped. What counts most in judging professorial performance, however, are student evaluations. And even their worth is contested (Observations on the Folly of Using Student Evaluations of College).
Nonetheless, they do matter to university administrators when it comes to judging the quality of faculty teaching for purposes of awarding salary raises and, occasionally, promotion. Without department heads, administrators, or peers directly observing lectures and seminars, there are only student evaluations. They are given great weight. And these evaluation forms are generally multiple choice with some space for comments. They are often short and scored by Scantron.
Such a system of evaluating teaching and student learning that depends wholly on student responses to a handful of multiple choice questions mixed with a few open-ended ones captures the general low-status of teaching in higher education. Few professors believe such a system of evaluating their performance is either accurate or fair. There are, of course, scattered institutions across the country, both private and public, that do, indeed, prize both teaching and student learning. These places have more than one measure of performance and provide support for improved teaching. But they are only a tiny fraction of higher education institutions.
My earlier prediction for K-12 teacher evaluation forecasts less use of student tests as a metric for judging teaching quality and a growing reliance on the use of mixed measures including student evaluations. For higher education, however, judging the quality of teaching will continue in its low status—as compared to research and publication–and student evaluations will weigh even more heavily in sorting out college and university adjuncts and tenure-line faculty insofar as salary increases and job longevity. With the current frenzy over online courses in higher education, evaluating teaching and learning will depend even more on student evaluations.
Thus, evaluating effective teaching in K-12 classrooms travels a very different trajectory than in higher education. Neither has yet garnered the affection nor respect of teachers or professors. Neither captures the complexity of teaching.