Seeing teachers as technicians ignores what else they give students: confidence, moral support and inspiration

Spurred by federal policy, many states, including Georgia, want to move to evaluations that consider student progress on tests. But a rising chorus is challenging the reliability of testing to define a good teacher.

Spurred by federal policy, many states, including Georgia, are moving to teacher evaluations that consider student progress on tests. But a rising chorus is challenging the reliance on testing to define a good teacher. (AJC photo)

Frequent blog contributor Peter Smagorinsky is Distinguished Research Professor of English Education at the University of Georgia and recipient of the 2012 Sylvia Scribner Award from the American Educational Research Association for conducting scholarship that has influenced thinking and research of learning and instruction and that represents a significant advancement in the field’s understanding.

Here is a thoughtful piece he wrote on teacher evaluations.

By Peter Smagorinsky

When I was a kid growing up in Fairfax County, Va., my father became head of the school PTA at one point. Among his goals was to institute a merit pay system to reward the school’s best teachers.

Around the house, he’d say, “There’s no one more overpaid than a bad teacher, and no one more underpaid than a good one.” But as my father found then, the question of how to reward the best teachers and get rid of the worst is much easier to achieve on paper than in the real, teeming, highly subjective, and political world of public education.

He never got his merit pay system, and for many of the same reasons that the issue remains contentious today: Identifying what is meritorious, what is normal, and what is inferior remains difficult in light of the many perspectives available on teaching and teachers, especially in a job so complex that a teacher might excel in some areas and struggle in others.

One thing that people of divergent perspectives might all agree on is the adage, “What you assess is what you get.” The evaluative means and process for assessing teaching will provide the endpoint toward which teachers work. It matters a great deal, then, how teachers are assessed; and assessing teachers according to their students’ standardized test scores is the fad of the day. Relying so heavily on test scores, however, is fundamentally damaging to the teaching profession in that it reduces teaching, and in turn student learning, to tasks that bear little resemblance to the sorts of complex disciplinary thinking that a field of study requires.

Although standardized tests were never meant to measure teacher effectiveness, they increasingly are used to terminate the teachers of students with low scores. These tests, as they are used in Arne Duncan’s Race To the Top initiative, now serve as the Obama administrations’ educational drone strikes, designed to wipe out teachers whose students test poorly but aimed so broadly that they create widespread collateral damage to the whole of the teaching profession and the communities they serve.

In order for a teacher evaluation system to be legitimate, it should have a related set of qualities that go well beyond the simplistic approach imposed by the U.S. Department of Education. A credible evaluation system is valid (it has buy-in from multiple stakeholders’ perspectives, including the teachers for whom it is developed); it is reliable (similar results would be available from different assessors); it has utility for all participants regardless of the outcome of the evaluation (including those who are found deficient); it fosters the development of better teachers; it provides data that contribute to this development by attending to multiple facets of faculty performance; and it is conducted respectfully in terms of the magnitude of the job and the resources provided to undertake it.

In current policy, what matters most in assessment is the teacher as technician. Few would argue with the idea that teachers ideally have pedagogical skill, even though beliefs about effective instruction vary. The problem is that teaching involves more than good technique. For example, it’s common for people to say that they appreciated a teacher from their education who gave them the confidence to take a risk, or encouraged them to persist with their learning, or opened up new pathways through support and reassurance. Such actions get little recognition in most teacher assessment programs, because it’s highly unlikely that they produce immediate measurable outcomes.

A student in English who reconsiders his or her beliefs about a successful life after studying “Death of a Salesman,” or one whose study of biology leads to reflection on the interactions between people and their environment, or one who begins to inquire beneath historical myths and narratives after studying a problematic political era, may not produce evidence that satisfies evaluators, even though the student’s life may be changed, and the world along with it. Teachers, while being careful not to impose a particular political agenda on such issues, can provide the setting in which such inquiries unfold and are enriched. This impact is neither visible nor valued in the current corporate and product-oriented approach to teacher evaluation.

Teachers can also have an effect on students in vital areas that are not part of the official curriculum. An enduring image I have of my school visits concerns an English teacher who had a great reputation as an AP teacher. I was walking down the corridor to visit a class, and came across her in the hallway, where she was comforting a girl who was emotionally distraught and crying helplessly. My immediate thought was this: Now I know why she’s beloved. She really, really cares about these kids and will pause in her instruction to help out a student going through a personal crisis.

As a coveted AP teacher in a college town high school, she had already passed the profession’s primary sniff test, that of producing students with high test scores. What made her such a great asset to the school, however, was that she went beyond such “objective” measures and nurtured her students in many other areas, a matter of great importance as students endure the capriciousness of adolescence and its developmental and emotional challenges. Although schools typically claim to have a commitment to caring for children in their mission statements, it’s hard to see how that dedication is evident when test scores drive teacher assessment.

Teachers also contribute to schools in many ways outside the classroom, from taking on extracurricular activities for a pittance of salary relative to the time invested, to bridging schools with communities, to linking classroom learning to learning in the broader conduct of life, to providing students with personal guidance in times of need, to spending time before and after school helping kids with schoolwork, to learning about the obstacles facing struggling learners and designing classrooms that help them achieve, and to embracing other aspects of a faculty member’s role in the whole operation of a school.

I have outlined one proposal for teacher evaluation, far too detailed to report in this space (but available upon request), that I’m presenting to my professional association at a conference this summer and later to be published in its scholarly journal, English Education. This proposal departs from most of what I read about teacher evaluation in several regards.

First, it takes into account multiple factors in a faculty member’s responsibilities in the whole school, rather than one reductive consequence of classroom teaching.

Second, it is two-tiered, providing annual evaluations designed to improve teaching and periodic evaluations at 3-5 years for high-stakes assessment. Teachers would not, in this system, be at the mercy of annual fluctuations in test scores that typically follow from their students’ life circumstances outside school rather than being a direct consequence of classroom instruction.

Nor would they be granted lifetime employment. Rather, every year an effort would be made, school-wide, to improve teaching through assessments that are developmental in nature; and every few years, teachers would be evaluated on whether they should be retained or dismissed, based on their performance over multiple years. Because teachers’ start times would be staggered, every year would involve both developmental and high-stakes assessments across the whole faculty.

This system would resemble the university post-tenure review system. Universities grant tenure after a trial period of 5-6 years, then conduct post-tenure reviews at 5-year intervals to determine either continued employment, a plan of improvement, or a decision to terminate. A review system of the sort I’ve described would build on this model, using different review criteria given that schools are not publish-or-perish environments, with the fundamental purpose of improving learning and instruction and building a better school in all its many dimensions.

I also think that the university system would benefit from more consequential post-tenure reviews, but that’s an issue for another time.

A final element of this approach would be that the evaluations, both the annual developmental review and the periodic high-stakes review, would be conducted by teams that include teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders, including perhaps parents and others with an understanding of the educational process (known in some forms as Professional Learning Communities). Such an approach would involve more people in the process, reduce the possibility that individual animosity or loyalty would play a role in high-stakes personnel decisions, and provide a greater range of perspectives on any one teacher’s performance.

Will this system work? It’s never been tried, so I can only guess. I’ll take my chances on this approach, however, rather than what passes for teacher assessment under the Duncan Department of Education.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

144 comments Add your comment

Mary Elizabeth

April 3rd, 2013
1:40 am

Excellent commentary. Professor Smagorinsky’s ideas are well-developed and have, obviously, been carefully thought through. I would like to offer Professor Smagorinsky one minor suggestion. It is a matter of the naming of the second of his two-tiered teacher evaluation instruments.

I have posted comments, recently, about the high anxiety levels created in teachers and in students by the misguided use of standardized tests. High anxiety levels cannot possibly foster healthy learning environments in classrooms, which are meant to be “havens for nurturing joyous learning.” My suggestion to Professor Smagorinsky is that he not use the name “Periodic High-Stakes Assessment,” when he actually gives each evaluation instrument a name, but instead simply use the name “Periodic Assessment,” for the second of his two-tiered evaluation instruments. The word combination “High-Stakes” will induce fear and undue anxiety in teachers, in my opinion. I believe that – even without the word combination “High-Stakes” – teachers will quickly realize that that particular part of their continuing evaluation process will be very important to their continuing job security, without underscoring that point through the naming of that part of the assessment instrument “High-Stakes.”

Kudos to you, Professor Smagorinsky, for developing a multi-faceted means for assessing teachers because, as you correctly state, “Teachers would not, in this system, be at the mercy of annual fluctuations in test scores that typically follow from their students’ life circumstances outside school rather than being a direct consequence of classroom instruction.”

Two meaningful excerpts from of Professor Smagorinsky’s article that I wish to highlight are below:

“A student in English who reconsiders his or her beliefs about a successful life after studying ‘Death of a Salesman,’ or one whose study of biology leads to reflection on the interactions between people and their environment, or one who begins to inquire beneath historical myths and narratives after studying a problematic political era, may not produce evidence that satisfies evaluators, even though the student’s life may be changed, and the world along with it.”

“An enduring image I have of my school visits concerns an English teacher who had a great reputation as an AP teacher. I was walking down the corridor to visit a class, and came across her in the hallway, where she was comforting a girl who was emotionally distraught and crying helplessly. My immediate thought was this: Now I know why she’s beloved. She really, really cares about these kids and will pause in her instruction to help out a student going through a personal crisis.”

Thank you, Professor Smagorinsky, for your acute sensibilities which recognize what being an excellent teacher embraces, in full.

home-tutoring parent

April 3rd, 2013
3:46 am

Another very interesting article by Maureen. When AJC starts charging people to read its articles, I’ll pay, to read her column. Professor Smagorinsky makes good points.

When we were home-schooling, I didn’t give my boys conventional tests. I gave them assignments, initially, and then suggestions for things to read, and write about. They liked their mom and dad. We had to come up with stuff that was fun for them. Your mom is spending 8 weeks working in Hawaii, you kids have to live with her. We’re going to Scandinavia for a couple weeks, you are coming. We’re going backpacking in Colorado, here is what you have to carry.
We’re all mules on this trip.

We guilt trip our kids. “Grandpa is sick, one of you has to go there and help.”

This stuff happened because I gave up a $400k job to be with my kids. Was giving up the money worth it? Yep. You only get one set of babies, they’re worth way more than money.

home-tutoring parent

April 3rd, 2013
4:10 am

You go to NZ consulate and get a visa. You arrive late, and miss your PanAm flight, but they let you take the next-day’s flight. You spend 6 weeks in a NZ mental hospital, What kind of mental hospital is this? Patients were working on flower gardens. Wow! Double Wow! The patients weren’t allowed to leave. They didn’t want to leave.

A person SMART enough to know.....

April 3rd, 2013
5:34 am

I guess you will not be able to Ban or Block posters when we have to pay for the On-line blogs. If you ban people then that means Advertiser will not be getting their money’s worth with fewer readers.


April 3rd, 2013
6:24 am

Under Smagorinsky’s approach, someone (administrator) is still going to have to conduct a subjective evaluation of the teacher. The failure of a significant percentage of administrators to conduct that task is one of the reasons we are having this discussion on metrics based evaluations.

It’s called Performance Management and it cannot be accomplished with one or two 30 minute observations. It is a daily activity and the eventual evaluation is comprised of thousands of these “data points.” Furthermore, any effective evaluation must have a feedback component from other teachers and yes, parents/students.

Bottom line is that we humans want the “magic pill” to lose weight. We want to be able to plug in some test scores and voila!, a computer spits out the teacher rating. No administrator has to get their hands dirty and if a teacher receives a bad evaluation, “Hey, it’s not me. I think you are a wonderful teacher. But the numbers came out this way. Don’t blame me”.

Sad that we don’t trust administrators to do the job we hired them to do. That in itself is a topic for another evaluation…..

bootney farnsworth

April 3rd, 2013
7:11 am

very well put.

I’ve said many times: we’re not opposed to being evaluated on our work, we just want a seat at the table to help set criteria

fed up teacher

April 3rd, 2013
7:11 am

“These tests, as they are used in Arne Duncan’s Race To the Top initiative, now serve as the Obama administrations’ educational drone strikes, designed to wipe out teachers whose students test poorly but aimed so broadly that they create widespread collateral damage to the whole of the teaching profession and the communities they serve.”


fed up teacher

April 3rd, 2013
7:21 am

I’ll say something else; TKES is not working. I receive no real feedback other than the “pre-packaged” responses that are found on TKES. I am never told what areas I need to improve on and no ideas or suggestions are ever given even after requesting them. Part of me doesn’t blame the APs because they have to do 30 min evals on all the teachers on their case load, handle discipline, and perform other duties. All TKES is to me is a quicker way to get my evaluation and the UI is a God awful platform for teachers and admins to use. This is not an effective way to evaluate your teachers.


April 3rd, 2013
7:31 am

Over thirty years heading non-public K-12 grade schools leads me to conclude “no argument with Smagorinsky’s points.” In fact quite the contrary – I have been involved in a program similar to that he espouses but had the additional motivator of including bonuses for those teachers who elected to participate. An additional part of the equation was the willingness on a participant’s part to be a mentor to beginning teachers. But I digress – because even though the pros of such a program far outweigh the cons, there are cons. The most obvious of which is the time and paperwork involved.

Beverly Fraud

April 3rd, 2013
7:32 am

Not even having seen the proposal it seems far more fair and equitable in terms of being a fair process, and being a process that all parties concerned could support.

But what does the instrument do to address administrative retaliation? I would contend, especially after what we have seen, that you cannot have a legitimate discussion of evaluation without discussing administrative retaliation.

It was part and parcel of the “Beverly Hall playbook.” How much sooner might this cheating had been exposed if the media had only highlight this “tool of intimidation” and the General Assembly passed legislation to curb it.

But then again, notice the first thing the General Assembly got rid of with the “new and improved” instrument; the provision for outside evaluators to observe, the one thing that might curb administrative retaliation.

Could it be that the single best thing to improve education in Georgia is to convince everybody who is thinking of entering the profession to flee because the only way “leaders” are going to change is from the pain of a massive, MASSIVE shortage of teachers?

Beverly Fraud

April 3rd, 2013
7:40 am

Did the new “B word” get me in moderation?

Peter it sounds like a much improve, more fair and equitable approach. But what provisions does it have to prevent administrative retaliation?

As we’ve seen, administrative retaliation was part and parcel of the “B word’s” playbook, as well as many others. We must ask ourselves if we can ever have a legitimate evaluation instrument without having protections in place against administrative retaliation.

Beverly Fraud

April 3rd, 2013
7:42 am

Much improved that is…


April 3rd, 2013
7:47 am

Personalities clash. Chemistry is either there or it’s not. Every teacher receives a spectrum of reaction from students from hate to love with most falling into the indifferent category. All this “new” approach to evaluation will do is not only foster more racketeering, but will also most likely give birth to conspiracies to “gerrymander” students in “smart and dumb” classes so that teachers will appear to have matched criteria for success when all that really happened was that they stuck the new teacher with the malnourished and the under-medicated.

Didn’t anybody get a load of the mug shots of the racketeers? Come on. Those folks aint foolin’ around. They are serious, hard core, corrupt thugs who scare the living daylights out of me. Some of them look like they were taken from the cast of bad girls club atlanta,(or wicked tuna). These women are so monstrous that I can’t close my eyes anymore without seeing those beady piercing hate-filled scornful eyes trying to rip my soul apart. I mean, if any of those criminals were my teacher, I’d bring an apple to school everyday just to secret a razor blade for protection!

I want my mommy again.

Clutch Cargo

April 3rd, 2013
7:58 am

Merit pay= Great idea. Only the bad and middlin teachers are opposed to it.


April 3rd, 2013
8:03 am

For the “core curriculum”, good teaching will always result in improved student test scores. The rest is great to have, but w/out this objective value add, it’s just another way to justify keeping and rewarding teachers who aren’t adding academic value to their students.

I love the line “There’s no one more overpaid than a bad teacher, and no one more underpaid than a good one.”. That in a nutshell describes one of the biggest issues that must be fixed….and w/out objective measures, it’s just not possible to fix.


April 3rd, 2013
8:05 am

Are there any penalties for not surrendering prior to the “deadline”, or do they only have to beat being served or caught with a bench warrant?

Just sayin'....

April 3rd, 2013
8:26 am

Maureen — Good topic for discussion (thank you!).

Google "NEA" and "union 101"

April 3rd, 2013
8:29 am

Unpaid union spokesperson Peter Smagorinsky is once again given center stage in unpaid union spokesperson Maureen Downey’s column to lament education reform.

And to tell us all’s well in public education—or in any case, cannot be fixed. And we should therefore give up trying to do so.

There’d just be too much “collateral damage.”

The Dixie Diarist

April 3rd, 2013
8:38 am


I tell my scholars all the time if you don’t know the answer to a multiple choice answer … don’t come ask me what the answer is … just guess. If it’s a question where you have to fill in the blank and you can’t remember the answer just give it your best shot and maybe you might get one of the words right or maybe even a letter correct, which would be nice, too. Like I keep saying, if you don’t try … you never know.

Or something like that. I think I might try too hard to convince them that trying feels good.

Anyhow, today’s the test on the Stealing Lincoln’s Body documentary we watched. Fifty-seven questions pulled from all those fascinating facts. At the end of the documentary, we got to see his tomb as it looks today … and up above the huge marble sarcophagus a message is inscribed on the wall … the words spoken by Secretary of War Edward Stanton when he died, or so some say … Now he belongs to the ages.

Powerful words.

In the tomb the passage is written in all capitals, like this: NOW HE BELONGS TO THE AGES. I like that better, because it is better looking. In the test the scholars were asked what was written on Lincoln’s tomb wall above the sarcophagus. You had to be paying attention to the TV screen when we were watching the documentary this week. Of course, the answer was also on their study guide.

Anyway, they were asked on the test, What was written up there. They all responded. Most got it right.

The ones who didn’t get it right got it marked as incorrect—I find myself more and more chuckling under my breath as I grade tests—but they got extra affection points for laying these four on me …

1. A house divided in itself will not stand
2, Once chance by another
3. Here lies the man who changed times
4. Whatever you are be a good one

Well, they’re all incorrect. I know it and they probably knew it, but they tried. They didn’t leave it blank.

Funny, I really can’t disagree with any of the four … wrong answers.

Mother of 2

April 3rd, 2013
8:38 am

I like the idea of evaluating teachers over time. It allows teachers to test their own methods of instruction to see what works and what doesn’t.

Truth in Moderation

April 3rd, 2013
8:41 am

Morning inspiration: “What a Wonderful World” by Jackie Evancho.
ht tp://
This was a great start to our home school day!
With free market education, the teacher evaluation issue goes away. Parents have an uncanny notion of what works best for THEIR children.

HS Math Teacher

April 3rd, 2013
8:41 am

A team approach to a “high stakes” observation does make sense. Parents would have to be chosen very carefully.

My opinion: Frequent, brief, walk-throughs by the Principal with a brief written account of what was observed should be included, or considered. A lot can be gleened by the sum of such visitations.

long time educator

April 3rd, 2013
8:42 am

This is a thoughtful idea that sounds very interesting. It probably has great application for improving teaching. As an administrator, I used a couple of different state evaluation instruments. The real problem is finding a way to get rid of folks who should not be teachers. In my experience, the real problem was individuals who did not work and play well with others, not academic incompetence. They could put on the dog and pony show when evaluated with a classroom observation, but continue to annoy parents and colleagues. A few teachers are very capable, but lazy; so they can ace a class observation, but do not make this effort consistently. There are so many variables in managing a school, that I would have welcomed the help of an evaluation team that looked at the last five years. One of the most frustrating things about the current evaluation system is that it ends every year. If you start documenting a problem one year and they improve, which you have to acknowledge on the annual evaluation, and it happens again next year, you start over. If a team could look at the totality of complaints over several years, it would be obvious what needed to happen. It is very hard to get rid of a mean, competent person.

jerry eads

April 3rd, 2013
8:44 am

Well done, Peter. As I note often, reliance on single shot test scores has been the go-to solution for naive and gullible policymakers (sorry, too often a redundancy) for more than three decades. We have known for much of that time the devastatingly negative effect such testing has had on education. Look at the current circus downtown for only one example.

Worse, many of those policymakers are OUR fault – during their advanced degree work we should have been able to provide them the technical understanding why single testings are not only little more than throwing darts blindfolded, they are TINY samples attempting to measure only one tiny part of the whole of education.

By far the worst outcome of the focus on single-shot testing is that we force schools to sacrifice their real purpose in our society: to help students to become citizens. Losing that, we lose our country.

Maureen Downey

April 3rd, 2013
8:51 am

@Morning all, I wanted to explain that I had the blog set for all comments going into moderation because of the number of comments yesterday going off the rails in response to APS stuff. I have now restored the blog to the normal setting that allows prior commenters to comment without moderation — although you will be moderated if you hit upon one of the triggers, some of which remain a mystery even to me. I will release those comments as I spot them.
A note to folks who expressed shock that I moderated so heavily this week and promised to continue to do so at the request of readers tired of the folks who monopolize the blog with nonsense.
As I have said, this blog is not a town square where all speech is allowed. It is a living room where the AJC invites you to join the discussion. Kick the dog or knock over the furniture and you will be uninvited.
And as for folks who believe that I won’t moderate because I want high comment counts, it’s readers that matter, not commenters. I have made this point many times but for the sake of clarity: readership is not reflected by comments. And readership is fine.


April 3rd, 2013
8:54 am

“ignores what else they give students: confidence, moral support and inspiration”

This happens only to a selected few and the others are expected to get it from their parents–right?

Maureen Downey

April 3rd, 2013
9:03 am

@A Smart Person: It’s readers that matter, not commenters. I have made this point many times but for the sake of clarity: readership is not reflected by comments. And readership is fine. There are many, many more readers that commenters. (We can measure readership hourly.)

Steven Zemelman

April 3rd, 2013
9:06 am

Peter (and fellow commenters)–
To see more specifics & research on factors that influence student success, but that aren’t measured by the test scores, read “Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Non-Cognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance,” published by the Chicago Consortium on School Research (at the U. of C.). It’s available on their website and it’s fascinating.
–Steve Zemelman

bootney farnsworth

April 3rd, 2013
9:07 am

@ wilie


the support, inspiration, ect is there for any student who wants it. but like so many other things in life, you gotta step up for it.

you have a problem with kids getting support from parents as a primary source?

bootney farnsworth

April 3rd, 2013
9:13 am

@ maureen

two questions about the new blog:

1-will the triggers be posted somewhere?

2-will people like google and pride & joy, who post under several different names, be limited to just the one?

10:10 am

April 3rd, 2013
9:13 am

If you were hoodwinked by the fawning intro Maureen provided this writer and his anti-reform opinions—she also has a bridge she’d love to sell you …


April 3rd, 2013
9:17 am

I would highlight a few athings the professor mentioned. His sixth paragraph talks about validity, reliability, and utility. For many, the reliability is a sticking point. If you have an incompetent or biased rater, you do not have validity, and many teachers have seen where this leads.

Secondly, I would note that Peter’s “What you look for is what you get” is true IF the person being evaluated has investment in the outcome. That is, the outcome has to have consequences for all. Here I am thinking about teachers who are evaluated based on test scores of students who have little or no motivation to do their best.

Finally, I would observe that the most personally rewarding, and yes, important feedback I get from former students is those very life-changing events. I believe I have done well when former students say things like, “you helped me develop self-confidence” or “in your class it seemed like we learned more than the three Rs.”


April 3rd, 2013
9:21 am

Multiple-choice tests are here to stay because they are easily scored and proide all sorts of statistical comparisons. For the most part, they are effective with average and above average students. The best and most accurate measure of academic success remains percapita income. There are improvements in testing that are more subjective, but those measures do not lend themselves to quick and inexpensive analysis. A somewhat effective use of standardized tests is to measure student gain over a year or semester. In most cases, teachers have a test score for each student at the beginning of an academic year or semester to be followed by a similar post test at the end of the period. In that manner, teachers and administrators can evaluate progress in the subject area. If test scores indicate an overall gain for the class, the teacher is probably doing an effective job. I used a system like this to evaluate my own effectiveness in remedial college courses, and I compared my numbers with other teachers in the department. If someone was producing particularly significant gains, I would try to see what they were doing in class so I might emulate them. Academic gains on standardized test are particularly dependent on the performance and knowledge of the student at the beginning of the academic period. Students with lower scores are certain to demonstrate smaller gains. For many students, any gain at all is positive. The kinds of gains APS demonstrated in low-performing schools are unlikely if not impossible. Tenure and post-tenure review in colleges and universities are based almost entirely on publications and service to the university through committees and other functions. These evaluations have little to do with teaching. Good teachers and coaches have an influence on students of all ages nearly equal to that of parents. Bad teachers also can have a lasting negative effect. A serious flaw in education today is a lack of leadership. Too many administrators, superintendents and college presidents are politicians and not educators and leaders. In WWII, Jimmy Doolittle, as a four star general, would frequently approach a bomber crew and take the place of a tail gunner. In doing that, he exposed himself to great danger, but he learned exactly what was going on at the lower level of his command. Even if Beverly Hall did not orchestrate the cheating, it was her responsibility as a leader to learn about it and stop it


April 3rd, 2013
9:30 am


I am glad to see that you have addressed post that are off the topic and vile. Will you also specifically address the racist IQ post that claim Blacks are inferior to Whites as it relates to IQ. Despite all the research proving that myth untrue those with a racist agenda post that nonsense daily on nearly every topic on this blog. Will that continue to be tolerated on this blog?


April 3rd, 2013
9:38 am

I don’t mind multiple choice tests for snapshots, but to really evaluate what a student knows – they are impractical. The EOCT for Economics has 80 questions – only 68 of which are actually scored (the other 12 are “field test” items). My course has 22 unique standards that must be covered in 15 to 16 weeks so that students can be prepared before the actual date of the test (14 if I want to have any review time). In addition, each of those standards are broken down into threads – which total 67. This does not include time to actually test students, deal with stuff like introductions to the course, etc. We have to move through quite quickly. I do usually have very good pass rates on EOCT – so I’m not overly worried about that. I *am* worried about the “growth model” that will be used since my course has very little if anything in common with the course that my students should show growth from.

The unfortunate thing for my students is that if they are struggling, unless they can take time to come see me after school, I have a hard time keeping up with the pacing guide – and heaven forbid I am not with my pacing guide – if I have to take the time to reteach a concept. What do I risk skipping? Is it ok that I don’t hit fiscal policy in the name of making sure they understand costs and benefits of using credit? Who knows. I’m not allowed to see the 68 question test that they are taking to judge my effectiveness as a teacher.

William Casey

April 3rd, 2013
9:46 am

Excellent essay! In1978 I published an article promoting merit merit pay in Phi Deltan Kappan entitled “Would Bear Bryant Teach in the Public Schools.” It’s thesis was the need to motivate teachers out of their comfort zones. I stand by that notion 35 years later. Alas, it seems today that the identification of merit seems to have been stood on its head, used to demotivate teachers. Non-educators in charge have decided to micro-manage and punish. The result will be that teachers will tend do the absolute minimum required under whatever system is emplaced and no more. They will become slaves in the cotton fields or drudges on the assembly line. Perhaps they’ll be able to produce enough worker bees for corporate America. Perhaps, not.

Some things to consider:

1. Teacher time and energy are finite resources. Spend them wisely.
2. Teaching is an art as well as a science. It cannot be standardized. It can be improved.
3. The true effects of good teaching aren’t evident until years down the road.
4. The best teacher produces students who can and will teach themselves.
5. Schooling is a 3-legged stool: student, parent and teacher.

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

April 3rd, 2013
9:47 am

@Clutch Cargo Merit pay= Great idea. Only the bad and middlin teachers are opposed to it.

You are mistaken. I would consider myself a good teacher, but I am against merit pay. Why? Because I am concerned about the ramifications. How would “merit” be decided? Right now, the focus appears to be “test scores” and little else, but “test scores” are not a reliable method of determining teacher performance.

I have worked in a variety of schools, some with low performing students, and some with high performing students. Did I somehow deserve merit pay when my students were strong, came from families that supported education and worked with their children, got them to school on time and fed them a good breakfast? And did I not deserve extra pay when my students came from homes with illiterate parents, low incomes, broken homes and disinterest parents? Was I somehow a better teacher some years and a poorer teacher other years? What about the year I was in a school where teachers were under pressure to get grant money, and so some of them gave students answers to test questions to raise the scores. Their students out scored mine. Did they deserve merit pay because their scores were higher because they “cheated”? What about teachers who teach non-core subjects? How would their pay be determined? Do you automatically give them all merit pay, or say they cannot get merit pay? Neither approach is fair.

Teachers are odd ducks. They didn’t go into teaching to be “rewarded” in the same way business folks look to competitive bonuses. That is not what drives us. Competition within a school for merit pay undermines the cooperative nature of teacher in which teachers work together for the betterment of all students. If I know I am competing with teacher A across the hall for merit pay, then I will be less willing to “share” my best lessons, or work cooperatively on a unit. Furthermore, I won’t want to take on a student teacher and turn the class over to him or her for part of the year. It might affect my scores, and thus my paycheck. Who is going to want to teach the lowest level students? The ones that struggle to make growth? Who is going to want to teach the highest level students? The ones who start out at the 99% and thus, cannot “grow” very much on test scores.

I have friends who work in a strong school in a district that implemented “merit pay”. The school had won numerous awards for high performance. The principal determined that all but one of her teachers was “excellent” and deserved merit bonuses. She was told that there was a formula. Only 25% of her teachers could be determined “excellent” and 10% of them had to be marked “needs improvement.” Her argument, that she had a superb faculty, built up over years of careful hiring, and did not have any “underachievers” was ignored. So then, she was left trying to decide which teachers needed to go into which categories, although the whole decision was arbitrary and not actually based upon teacher performance. It created a very negative atmosphere within the school, pitted teacher against teacher and turned faculty against the principal. In short, it took a well performing school with a cohesive supportive staff and tore it apart.

Merit pay sound good on paper, but the reality of it is very complicated and too easily manipulated or misapplied.

Until they come up with a valid measure of teacher performance, I vote no – and that coming from someone who would likely receive merit pay.

Maureen Downey

April 3rd, 2013
9:48 am

In my training, we didn’t cover the triggers beyond length and use of unacceptable language. The most notable difference on the new blog format — which all the sports blogs and entertainment blogs are already using — is the community censure ability. Now, “report” comments go to an AJC editor who either acts on them by removing the comment or sends me a note and leaves the decision to me.
That will not be the case now; the platform will hold those reports and delete the comment when enough complaints are made. This new format offers far less discretion to me as moderator, which is both good and bad. Frees up my time to work on my AJC print stuff but doesn’t allow me to help folks who end up with their comments deleted.


Maureen Downey

April 3rd, 2013
9:50 am

@teacher2, Those comments need to come down. If I don’t see them or don’t act soon enough — I may be covering something or working on a print story — please report the comment as the notes go to editors who can also take them down. The new blog platform will delete comments if enough posters complain.

Google "NEA" and "union 101"

April 3rd, 2013
10:16 am

@Maureen (9:48 am)

So readers will be able to “report” frequent column hogs like bootney and long-winded cut & paste types like Mary Elizabeth?


April 3rd, 2013
10:26 am

So this is the “perspective” us non-educators bring – captures the reason for the push for “value added testing” as a key factor in evaluating teachers perfectly. There is no chance that 95% plus of teachers are good to outstanding:

Teachers have come out looking pretty good—too good—in evaluations conducted by states across the country. According to the NYT, the new evaluations, instituted by education reformers to “weed out weak performers”, haven’t uncovered very many weeds:

In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations. In Tennessee, 98 percent of teachers were judged to be “at expectations.”

In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better.

Yet somehow, only 78.2 percent of American students graduated high school in 2010. Sixty-seven percent of all fourth graders could not read at grade level in 2009. And only 32 percent of eighth graders and 38 percent of twelfth graders were reading at or above grade level that same year. If all the teachers are above average, are students the problem?”

Mary Elizabeth

April 3rd, 2013
10:39 am

@dc, 10:26 am

Perhaps the content within the following link, from my blog, will help you to understand why there will always be students functioning on varied instructional levels within each grade level. My blog’s entry is entitled, “Why There Are Myriad Instructional Levels Within Each Grade Level.”

home-tutoring parent

April 3rd, 2013
10:40 am

Most of you people make interesting comments. I had a teacher, who got “She’s too hard” evaluations. I learned where she went to college, and I went there. In my first semester, I got a D. Ouch. It forced me to take notes, rewrite them, and study them.


April 3rd, 2013
10:43 am

So are you saying that,it will be possible to rig it so that if poster xyz doesn’t agree with me, she can complain multiple times and my comment will be automatically removed? Or will the removal requests be monitored for IP addresses the same as well?


April 3rd, 2013
10:43 am

@dc – Could you please explain then how you show added value when you are comparing standardized tests from unrelated courses? How do you account for added value for a teacher when they are responsible for multiple years of growth but were not the teachers for two of the three years they are responsible for showing growth in? I don’t have a problem if we use an authentic pre-test/post-test model, but I do have a problem with how we are going to show growth using current tests.

Looking for the truth

April 3rd, 2013
10:43 am

As a parent, my son had many excellent teachers. He worked hard. His best teachers were the ones who taught him about the world outside as well as algebra. That cannot be quantified on any document at any time. Test scores aren’t the only measure of a great teacher. A great teacher might have mediocre scores but the excitement for learning in their class is beyond measure.

Good teaching has some striking similarities to a definition of pornography that came out of a Supreme Court case. I know it when I see it.


April 3rd, 2013
10:46 am

Dc: Bingo. No matter how talented the teacher, there are things we have NO control over.


April 3rd, 2013
10:49 am

re measuring the impact of a teacher using value added testing, I actually don’t get the issue. You test kids coming in, test them leaving, and measure their progress. Schools are already using tests to measure the student’s progress…it seems pretty straightforward that we’d use this same approach to measure the effectiveness of a teacher, across a set of students.

And since the measure is the “increase in the individual student’s performance during that year”, then it should reflect well how effective the specific teacher has been during that year.

And while nothing is ever perfect, the fact that 95% of teachers are currently being rated good to great is clear evidence that the subjective approach being used today isn’t working.


April 3rd, 2013
10:51 am

Actually MANY things we have little or no control over.

Dr. John Trotter

April 3rd, 2013
10:51 am

Just about everyone starts from a false premise, viz., the students aren’t learning because the teachers aren’t teaching. A teacher can teach a student but a teacher can’t “learn” a student. First of all, there has to be three things in place for any learning to take place: (1) Discipline; (2) Aptitude; and (3) Motivation. So-called experts from educational think tanks (who almost always come from some Ivy League schools with no educational background), educrats, and business moguls like Bill Gates and Eli Broad start from the aforementioned premise that the problem in public education is a lack of good, effective teaching. Therefore, their solutions always start with “improving” teaching. More training is needed, they think. Also, let’s improve the evaluation process! Yes, this will work, they conclude. Make it more and more onerous to be a teacher! Put more stressors on teachers! Make all teachers teach from the same cookie-cutter formula teaching the same “common” curriculum (using Bill’s apps, of course). Yes, these things will improve public education (and make us a lot of money in the meantime).

Ah…the real ultimate solution is to pay the “best” teachers the most money. This ought to really contribute a lot to the collegiality of the workplace. Not. Teachers will be hording lesson plans, teaching materials, and techniques and strategies that really work. Oh, wait! I forgot. Different, creative, and workable techniques and strategies won’t really matter anymore because the educrats will tell the teachers what to teach, how to teach, and what materials are permitted to use. Yes, that’s it! Just turn the teachers into mindless robots. Well, maybe we can call them “technicians.” This sounds better.

Now if we can get the new evaluation systems passed in all 50 states with the teachers pay tied to the performance of the students and to the fickle dispositions of the administrator-evaluators, then the teachers will know that their survival in public education is dependent on two things: (1) Test Scores and (2) Becoming Groveling Sycophants to Petty and Power-hungry and Sometimes Sex-driven Administrators. But, at least these professional educators won’t be bucking us about this “Common Core” curriculum that we have essentially forced down the throats of 45 states thus far. Don’t worry…we will dangling enough money under the noses of Alaska, Texas, Virginia, Nebraska, and Minnesota to get these states to finally succumb. Hey, our buddy Arne Duncan has already thrown down the gauntlet that if a state wants to participate in Race to the Top and receive the millions of dollars in Federal grants, then they also have to participate in Bill Gates’s Common Core Curriculum.

Yes, Bill Gates has become the Educational Savior in this country today. He has given millions upon millions of dollars to the National Governors’ Conference and has lassoed nearly all of them into going along with the “common core” crap. Now he wants the “value added” evaluations in place all over the country. This sounds like a half-brother or first cousin to “merit pay.” Merit pay never has worked in the past, and it never will work in the future. I was an administrator in the only Georgia school system (and only one of two, I think, in the nation, according to Reader’s Digest back in the mid 1980s) which had merit pay. I saw who received the most “merit pay” in the school system. It essentially correlated to two things: (1) To whom the teacher was related or connected and (2) If the teacher was a kiss-up. Outspoken teachers who have integrity don’t receive merit pay. It is just that simple. Booger-eaters and kiss-ups who may be awful teachers will reap the benefits of “merit pay.” But, when all mouths are shut and all people in public education are clicking their boots in good goose-stepping fashion, then Bill and Melinda can keep their children at the Lakeside School in Seattle and enjoy the financial rewards of the nation’s public schools using Bill’s apps in their curriculum. Mission accomplished. © JRAT, April 3, 2013.