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Determining True Value of Teachers Requires Multiple Measures, According to Bill and Melinda Gates

Posted October 23, 2011 2:22 PM by Mark Cutler

A recent survey by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Scholastic found that America's teachers are open to the idea of being held accountable for their students' progress through multiple measures. Bill and Melinda Gates describe those findings and the work their foundation is doing to help teachers improve their craft in an article in the Saturday, October 22, Wall Street Journal.

They make some great points about the difficulty in developing measures of the profession, or "craft" of teaching. "We have all known terrific teachers," the Gates' write. "You watch them at work for 10 minutes and you can tell how thoroughly they've mastered the craft. But nobody has been able to identify what, precisely, makes them so outstanding."

And, just like with any performance management system, if you can't measure what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong, it is very difficult to give them the right kind of support. "We can't evaluate teaching because we are not consistent in what we're looking for. We can't spread best practices because we can't capture them in the first place," they say.

That being said, the study asked teachers to what degree 10 proposed metrics should contribute to measuring their performance. The top five vote getters were:

(1) Student growth over the course of the academic year (85% a "great deal" or "moderate amount");

(2) Principal observation and review (82% a "great deal" or "moderate amount");

(3) Assessment of teacher's content-area knowledge (75% a "great deal" or "moderate amount");

(4) Formal self-evaluation (70% a "great deal" or "moderate amount"); and

(5) Teacher/peer observation and review (64% a "great deal" or "moderate amount").

Of course, how they would measure these metrics was not discussed--"student growth" is not as easy to measure as a standardized test score. However, only 26% of teachers said that standardized tests are an accurate reflection of student achievement.

"Some people think that teachers should be like commissioned salespeople, receiving pay based on end-of-year test scores," the Gates' go on to say. "We don't believe that. ... There are others who say that teaching is so nuanced that it is simply impossible to measure. We can't accept that either, because we know that just throwing up our hands is bad for students and for teachers."

I'm glad an organization with deep pockets is not going to take short cuts, but rather is committed, through its Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) research project, to come up with a solution to this national problem. I'll be waiting to see what they come up with.

For more information, the report "Primary Sources 2011: A First Look for Education Nation" is available online at http://www.scholastic.com/primarysources/pdfs/Gates_FullDraftR11TOVIEW.pdf