Chicago academics warn against using student test scores to rate teachers

In an open letter to the mayor, schools CEO and school board, education professors say new teachers evaluation process should be taken slowly.

March 26, 2012

Dozens of Chicago-area education professors are raising concerns about using student test scores to judge teachers in city schools.

Chicago Public Schools is currently in negotiations with the teachers union over a new evaluation system, which state law requires be in place in at least 300 CPS schools by fall.

Eighty-eight academics from 15 universities, including many that run teacher education programs, warned in an open letter Monday that relying heavily on student test scores to evaluate teachers will negatively impact students.

“We have already seen the results of placing increased value on tests, such as a more narrow curriculum, less cooperation between teachers, less desire to work with students with special needs — who would bring down the scores, right? This overemphasis on test scores results not in increased success for students, but the opposite,” UIC professor Kevin Kumashiro said at a news conference that included researchers from the University of Chicago, the School of the Art Institute and DePaul University.

The professors said the standardized tests students take were never intended to evaluate teachers, and aren't reliable measures of teacher effectiveness. They’re worried about inaccurate assessments and a demoralized workforce. They want the district to pilot its evaluation system and then make adjustments — and allow the researchers to provide “scholarly and practical expertise.”

A 2010 state law requires every district in Illinois to sit down with its local teachers union and come up with a new way to evaluate teachers. The law says student growth must be considered as a “significant factor” in the evaluation. The state has defined “significant” as 25-30 percent of a teacher’s grade.

Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler says the district is "committed to creating a fair and transparent evaluation system that provides teachers with meaningful and actionable feedback to help them improve their practice and drive student learning."