Joe Robertson | Evaluating teachers is tricky

Imagine all the complexities of your job reduced to a single measuring point.

Imagine your score displayed with the click of a mouse to anyone in the world.

“I felt my heart stopping,” said Alicia Herald, who happened to spend two years as a fourth-grade teacher in Los Angeles.

Her roommate during those LA years had sent Herald a link to the Los Angeles Times’ expanded database that rates the effectiveness of some 11,500 teachers who taught third, fourth or fifth grade since 2004.

“What’s it going to tell me?” Herald, now the Kansas City director of Teach for America, wondered in that moment, poised to click.

Missouri, like most states, is working with its public school districts to better measure growth in student performance and connect it to their teachers.

Herald has been attending workshops for a pilot project to develop a prototype for more thorough teacher evaluations.

Included within this work is the kind of test data that the LA Times boiled into its teacher effectiveness ratings.

Earlier this year, New York City’s Education Department decided to release similar performance rankings of 18,000 public school teachers.

There are many reasons school districts want to link test performance data to teachers.

You identify strengths. You identify areas where teachers need to improve.

And, when teachers’ data is grouped by the education schools they attended, then the universities preparing teachers can judge themselves as well.

But there are just as many reasons educators hate to see public isolations of test scores.

It drives even more teaching for the test. It makes an already difficult job more onerous.

Furthermore, determining a method to show genuine “value-added” influence of a teacher is an imperfect science.

Missouri has a state team working on that as well.

Teacher evaluations require multiple measures, said Paul Katnik, director of the Office of Educator Quality for Missouri.

Most schools have or are creating sophisticated observation tools for principals. They also usually develop surveys of parents and students.

The state’s work — which would be voluntary for schools to use — respects this complexity, Katnik said.

The LA Times determined that parents should be able to see its test performance ratings and act accordingly.

Herald, it turned out, saw herself rated in the category of “most effective.”

She believes public schools and their teachers should be held accountable.

But if her score were weaker, would anyone care that she started a technology club at the school?

Or that she volunteer-tutored four days a week after school?

Or that she made home visits to make sure she knew every student’s parent?