Measuring the worth of a teacher?
L.A. Unified School District’s Academic Growth Over Time measurement system, based on students’ progress on standardized tests, spurs debate over fairness, accuracy.
How to measure the worth of Los Angeles math teacher Kyle Hunsberger?
The teacher at Johnnie Cochran Jr. Middle School works 60-hour weeks, constantly searches for new teaching ideas and makes every minute count in class. During a fast-paced review of square roots and perfect numbers, he punctuated explanations with jokes, questioned his students to check their understanding and engaged them in group work.
His principal, Scott Schmerelson, praises him as a leader who heads the math department and started a campus program to give struggling students extra help.
Some of his students say he’s the best math teacher they’ve ever had — a caring, funny mentor who explains well, pushes on homework and most of all believes in them.
“He always tells us nothing will stop us from learning and nothing will stop him from teaching us,” said Edwin Perez, a gregarious 12-year-old, as three of his classmates nodded.
Yet, according to a key measure of teacher effectiveness used by the Los Angeles Unified School District, Hunsberger is average.
Two years ago, he said, he was rated above average. Then last year his ratings fell. He doesn’t know what changed and there’s nothing in his scores that will tell him.
The rating “didn’t tell me anything about how I can get better at teaching [weaker] students,” Hunsberger said. “The truth is, I don’t know and I would love to know.”
Hunsberger isn’t the only instructor questioning the results of the Los Angeles school system’s new approach to measuring teacher effectiveness. Academic Growth Over Time, as the district calls it, is based on students’ progress on standardized test scores. The method estimates how much teachers added to — or subtracted from — their students’ academic performance.
Whether it is a fair, accurate and useful assessment of educators is a heated issue in the nation’s second-largest school system. L.A. Unified is under court order to use test scores in teachers’ reviews by December, and officials are in negotiations with the teachers union.
United Teachers Los Angeles bitterly opposes the ratings as too unreliable for use in firing, tenure and other high-stakes decisions.
School districts in more than half the states have added students’ test scores along with other factors to their teacher reviews, a direction promoted by the Obama administration.
L.A. Unified began giving teachers their scores two years ago for informational purposes only.
But it is now pushing to use it in a new teacher-evaluation system, along with classroom observations, student and parent feedback and contributions to the school. About 700 teachers and administrators from 100 schools volunteered to test the new observation portion last year.
That will give teachers like Hunsberger specific information about where to improve and how.