Putting Teachers to the Test

Carl Bialik

My print column this week examines the debate over so-called value-added measures for teachers, which evaluate their performance based on how much they improve their students’ standardized test scores.
Douglas Harris, associate professor of educational policy and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin, is a cautious advocate of these measures, but points out that concerns about teaching to the test could be heightened if teachers, as well as principals and school districts, are evaluated based on test results. “Teacher can generate high value-added measures by drilling the test over and over,” Harris said.
If these measures catch on, they could also encourage more teachers to cheat. “If we start to place a lot of weight on these things, [you] have to expect some degree of malfeasance,” said Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “You want the benefits to outweigh the costs, and you want to police it in a smart way.”
Will the benefits outweigh the costs? “That’s the big unknown,” Michael Hansen, a researcher in the Urban Institute’s Education Policy Center in Washington, D.C., wrote in an email. “What is known is that the way most districts currently hire, evaluate, and pay teachers is misaligned with the public goal of increasing overall student learning.”