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Obama Wants Teacher Accountability, But Are Test Scores Reliable?

Today, President Obama addressed the National Urban League just days after that organization and several others criticized his administrations' education policies for leaving behind low income and minority children. While standing up for his agenda, he also took time out to try and court teachers, who (along with their unions) have felt like the scapegoats of the education reform movement.

Asked yesterday by the ladies of The View if he knew who Snooki was, Obama plead ignorance. Today, he said that it's less important to know some MTV personality than to venerate our teachers. "The question is: Who are we lifting up?," he asked. "Who are we promoting? Who are we saying is important?"

In exchange for his praise, Obama asked teachers for some accountability to make sure our nation's students are getting the education they rightly deserve. He argued that his administration's support of Common Core Standards is a step in that direction. He also discussed revamping standardized tests so they better gauge what students are learning, and thus offer metrics for how much value a teacher is adding. (I am extrapolating a little there.)

Because of Race to the Top, states are also finding innovative ways to move beyond having just a snapshot of where students are, and towards a real-time picture that shows how far they’ve come and how far they have to go. And armed with this information, teachers can get what amounts to a game tape that they can study to enhance their teaching and their focus on areas where students need help the most.


On The Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog, Valerie Strauss points out a new study from the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (pdf). It reports a significant error rate in using test score gains in measuring teacher performance. If a one-year snapshot is taken—which Obama said is something we need to "move beyond"—there's a 35 percent chance a teacher could be misidentified as below average when, in fact, he or she is average. If three years of data are taken into account, that number only falls to 25 percent.

That's a lot when it's a person's livelihood we're talking about—even if it's only 40 percent of a teacher's overall evaluation.

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