luxury of mixing and matching
75 could just as easily have been a 64
letter is fuzzy, a bit out of focus. Any-
teachers to optimize their children’s
or an 89, or that the teacher classified
thing else is bad fiction. EL
achievement. A teacher who is system-
as developing might actually be effective.
atically better than another on all of the We can always construct rules and
Chapman, B., Lesser, B., & Fanelli, J. (2012,
February 24). More than a dozen teachers
earned lowest scores on controversial
rankings. New York Daily News. Retrieved
from www.nydailynews.com/news/a-dozen-teachers-earned-lowest-scores-controversial-rankings-article- 1.1028113
Corcoran, S. P. (2010). Can teachers be evaluated by their students’ test scores? Should
they be? The use of value-added measures of
teacher effectiveness in policy and practice.
Providence, RI: Annenberg Institute for
School Reform at Brown University.
Gardner, W. (2010, October 1). Suicide of
teacher and published rankings. [blog
post]. Retrieved from Walt Gardner’s
Reality Check at http://blogs.edweek
Hancock, L. (2011, March/April). Tested:
Covering schools in the age of micro-measurement. Columbia Journalism
Review. Retrieved from www.cjr.org/
Macintosh, J. (2012, February 25). Teachers
who got zero ratings. New York Post.
Retrieved from www.nypost.com/p/news/
New York State Education Department.
(2012). Guidance on New York State’s
Annual Professional Performance Review for
teachers and principals to implement Edu-
cation Law 3012-c and the commissioner’s
regulations. Albany, NY: Author.
Pallas, A. (2012, May 15). The worst eighth-grade math teacher in New York City.
[blog post]. Retrieved from A sociological
eye on education at http://eyeoned.org/
Roberts, G. (2012, February 26). Queens
parents demand answers following
teacher’s low grades. New York Post.
Retrieved from www.nypost.com/p/news/
dimensions that a parent might judge
algorithms that will assign someone
important would be a rarity.
an unequivocal rating, but without the
appropriate context, this rating will
appear to be much more precise than it
Public education is shifting from a
system of perfunctory evaluations, with
In spite of the inherent uncertainty
few consequences for teachers and
in teacher evaluations, policymakers
schools, to evaluations that are used
want to treat the evaluation measures as
to support high-stakes decisions about
though they are infallible and use them
teachers’ employment prospects.
to place teachers in rigid boxes, labeling
The problem with making such
them as good teachers or poor teachers.
evaluations public is that virtually all
Policymakers and the media treat these
methods of evaluating teachers have
labels as definitive, but the raw material
both random and nonrandom errors
being stuffed into the boxes will rarely
that may mask a teacher’s true perfor-
fit in one box without spilling over into
mance. Accurate classroom observa-
the adjacent ones.
tions, for example, require extensive
If states and school districts insist on
training of observers (more than most
publicizing individual teachers’ evalu-
school districts now provide); and even ation scores—slapping a metaphorical
assuming expert evaluators, how well a scarlet A on some teachers and a stamp
class session goes can vary substantially of approval on others—the only fair
from day to day.
thing to do is to admit that the scarlet
Student test scores are even more
problematic: Even if we really believed
that a state’s 4th grade math tests
covered all of the mathematics that
students should learn in that grade
(and does anyone really believe this?),
any effort to use students’ test scores to
compare one teacher with another will
be imprecise because the comparisons
are based on small samples of students
and curricular content.
The state of New York has now
passed a law requiring its school districts to publicly report teachers’ composite effectiveness scores ranging from
0 to 100 as well as their final rating of
highly effective, effective, developing, or
ineffective (New York State Education
Department, 2012). Variations of this
approach have been adopted in many
other states and school districts. But
a score of 75 out of 100 points on an
annual evaluation, or a summary grade
of developing, may not convey that that
Aaron M. Pallas ( firstname.lastname@example.org
.edu) is a professor of sociology and education in the Department of Education
Policy and Social Analysis, Teachers
College, Columbia University, New York.