In an editorial appearing in the May 11 Intelligencer titled "Evaluating Ohio's Teachers," the editor endorses merit pay for teachers, recommending that Gov. Kasich and his cohorts create a valid teacher evaluation system based on student progress.
Because I have an interest in teacher evaluation programs, I keep current by reading about new systems. In my opinion, at the present time there is no useful system that can be used to evaluate teachers fairly for the purpose of merit pay, nor does the development of one seem likely in the near future.
The methods that appear to hold the most promise are the Value-Added Models, of which there are more than 30 different models. The term "value-added" comes from economic and business literature. In business, value-added estimates answer the question, "How much value in terms of money was added to raw materials after being processed by the factory?" Statisticians and economists have tried to apply the value-added concepts to education, where the school represents the factory, the teachers the workers, and the students the raw materials. In education, value-added estimates attempt to answer the question, "How much did the student learn in terms of test scores as the result of being with a particular teacher?"
Value-added models have potential for improving education for two reasons. First, the VAMs could be used to separate the effects of the formal education a student receives in school from the informal learning the student acquires out of school. This separation of the formal from the informal learning is essential to make any accountability system work as intended. Second, VAMs could be used to identify the characteristics of successful teachers; if this can be done, the effect on improving educational achievement would be significant.
However, in their present state of development VAMs are problematic. Many technical, measurement, implementation, and policy issues need to be resolved before value-added estimates can be a part of "high stakes" decisions.
Some experts recommend that value added estimates be made a part of teacher evaluation systems, accounting for as much as 50 percent of the final rating. This proportion is too high. The goals of education are diverse, and only some of them can be measured by testing. The proportion of educational goals that can be successfully tested has not been determined. Therefore, the 50 percent proportion represents an arbitrary figure. Secondly, there is too much room for error in use of the present VAMs. It is possible for great mistakes to occur in the evaluation of teachers, over rating or under rating performance by significant amounts.
It has been said that mankind is in search of three elusive goals: the Fountain of Youth, the Holy Grail and the perfect teacher evaluation system. DeSoto hunted for the Fountain of youth; Indiana Jones and the knights pursued the Holy Grail; Gov. Kasich is now searching for the perfect evaluation system.
The development of a valid teacher evaluation program for the purpose of making high-stakes decisions, such as merit pay, is a complex process and may not be possible.
John T. Myers