Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pre-K Assessments Fall Short on Teacher Performance

Student achievement is playing an increasing role in teacher evaluations, even in the earliest years of school when children do not participate in state standardized testing. As a result, states and school districts are struggling to find sound methods to measure young students’ achievement and rushing to implement evaluation systems without thinking through the risks, according to a new report released today by the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative.

As of 2012, 20 states and D.C. require student learning to play a significant role in evaluating all teachers' performance. The report, “An Ocean of Unknowns” explains the risks and opportunities of current practices being used throughout the country to use student assessment to evaluate teachers in the early years of school. Many experiments are underway, but no clear best practice has emerged.

“The PreK-3rd grades lay the foundation for a student’s success throughout their years in school,” said Laura Bornfreund, author of the report and senior policy analyst for New America's Early Education Initiative. “The effectiveness of teachers in these grades is critically important, especially for children who are otherwise receiving limited support at home for their cognitive and social development. Taking the right approach to evaluating the work of these teachers is paramount to improving students’ learning not only in these grades but throughout the public education system.”

The report makes the following three recommendations, and puts forth nine additional issues states and districts should consider as they implement new evaluation systems that include measures of student achievement:

• Account for specific attributes of PreK-3rd teachers: The early grades have distinct challenges and should not be lumped in with the other untested grades and subjects. In these grades, teachers are essential for building a solid foundation for children’s future academic success and for developing non-academic skills that will remain critical throughout their lives.

• Pilot and evaluate: Before fully implementing new metrics and attaching high-stakes consequences, states and districts should pilot student learning measures and coordinate a staged implementation of the teacher evaluation system to address issues.

• Data from later grades should not be the sole measure for teachers in the early grades: Fifth-grade reading scores, for example, do not reflect a first grade teacher’s impact on her students' learning and growth, nor are they reflective of her talents or deficiencies.

The report identifies three approaches currently in practice, risks and benefits of each, and lists the considerations states/districts should keep in mind based on lessons from existing systems.

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