Great teachers, as measured by test scores -- and changed lives
Do standardized tests have any meaning to students' lives? Well, yes, they do, according to a groundbreaking study from professors at Harvard and Columbia universities, and as reported Friday by the New York Times.
Teachers who are effective at raising student scores on those annual tests appear to have a much bigger effect on students' lives than just a number on a piece of paper. Their students are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers and more likely to go on to college, and even to earn more money. In other words, the learning as measured by the tests means something -- to students' sense of self-worth, to their ability to handle college work and, as a result, their ability to move into better-paying jobs.
It's worth noting that these measures of teacher value have various holes. So-called value-added measurements -- the improvement in a student's scores beyond what should have been expected based on previous performance -- are more effective at singling out the highest-performing teachers, and the lowest, than at assessing the majority in between.
This study looked at what happened to the students of those very effective teachers and found -- no surprise -- that great teachers matter tremendously to students. They change lives. What wasn't clear before was whether you could measure that greatness by test scores. The answer appears to be yes.
It's not a matter of whether teachers are working at low-performing schools with students who face considerable obstacles, or at middle-class schools. Value-added doesn't measure teachers by the actual student score but rather the real versus expected growth of any student over time.
Sadly, the topic has immediately turned to firing all the teachers who don't get outstanding results, which is both unfair and unhelpful. Get rid of 75% of teachers? Where are all the supremely qualified people who are willing to work for relatively low wages to try to match those top performers -- and be fired if they don't?
More helpful would be a qualitative study of what these remarkable teachers do, so that their secrets can be taught to others.
Photo: Kathleen Bellas assigns homework at Grant Elementary in Santa Ana. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times