Microsoft chief Bill Gates made a strong argument last week that, while teachers should be evaluated in part on the value they add to their students’ test scores, those ratings shouldn’t be made public.
“Value-added ratings are one important piece of a complete personnel system,” Gates wrote in the New York Times. “But student test scores alone aren’t a sensitive enough measure to gauge effective teaching, nor are they diagnostic enough to identify areas of improvement. Teaching is multifaceted, complex work. A reliable evaluation system must incorporate other measures of effectiveness …”
This is interesting because Gates, through the education research and advocacy efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has arguably done more than just about anyone to promote the belief that teachers should be evaluated on whether they improve student test scores. A majority of states, including Indiana, have latched onto the idea, adopting evaluation schemes that rely on test results.
But Gates, responding to a New York court decision, said it would be “a big mistake” to let just anyone know the results. “Developing a systematic way to help teachers get better is the most powerful idea in education today,” he wrote. “The surest way to weaken it is to twist it into a capricious exercise in public shaming.”
The argument for publicizing the ratings is that public schools are, well, public, and taxpayers have a right to information about how they’re being run, including evidence of the effectiveness of teachers. Advocates say teacher ratings may not be perfect, but parents and the public should be trusted with the information, just as they are with imperfect ratings for schools.
On the other hand, it’s commonly thought that certain individual information should be confidential. Under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act, “personnel files of public employees” are among the records that don’t have to be made available for inspection and copying by citizens.
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett seemed to come down on the side of disclosure in his 2010 state of education address. “By next fall,” he said, “parents will be able to see the growth history for their child’s teacher so they will know how successful that adult has been in helping students grow academically. What a powerful tool for parents!”
Maybe he changed his mind. As Indiana has moved to implement teacher evaluations based significantly on student test results, there hasn’t been any talk of disclosing teachers’ ratings. The teacher evaluation law approved by the legislature in 2011 said individual evaluations wouldn’t be made public.
Of course, as School Matters has pointed out, it will be easy enough to figure out which teachers had positive reviews. The law says all Indiana teachers will be rated highly effective, effective, improvement necessary or ineffective. Those in either of the two lower categories won’t get raises. So anyone can compare the year-to-year salaries of teachers – which unquestionably are public in Indiana – to determine if they got a raise, which says they were rated effective or highly effective.