Should Teachers Lose Their Jobs Based on Student Performance?

Should Teachers Lose Their Jobs Based on Student Performance?

As No Child Left Behind gets a makeover, it is under consideration to hold teacher’s accountable for their students’ low performance. Houston is one city which has already taken a bold stance by saying they will fire teachers whose students do not perform up to standards.

According to Eliza Krigman at the National Journal, “Despite fierce opposition from the local teachers union, the Houston Independent School District approved a policy last week to use value-added test scores, a statistical method used to measure teachers’ and schools’ impact on students’ academic progress rates from year to year, as one of the criteria for teacher evaluation and teacher dismissal…”

The National Education Association (NEA) has made this statement, “The White House this weekend unveiled its proposal for reauthorizing the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind law but the result is a disappointing outline for more of the same focus on testing. As a result the NEA cannot support the plan as released, President Dennis Van Roekel said.”

As a teacher for many years I have to say, I agree with the NEA. There are several problems I see with holding teachers responsible for students’ performance on state tests:

Student’s low test scores are not solely due to the teacher’s behavior. There are at least three components which contribute to a student’s performance. One is the teacher. A teacher must provide a non-threatening atmosphere in which the child can feel challenged, yet comfortable working at their own rate.

If the child is learning at the expected acceptable rate, the teacher’s role is to keep the child progressing while continuing to monitor the child’s progress. If the child is not performing as expected, then the teacher must go back to step one and reassess and adjust as necessary so the child will learn.

The second important component which contributes to a child’s performance and success is the parent. Parents who provide a healthy physical and emotional environment are much more likely to have a child who succeeds in school.

It is important here to note that if the fundamental needs of the child are not met or if these needs become significantly neglected throughout the early school years, it is all but impossible for the child to perform to their full potential. Unfortunately, the teacher has no influence upon how a child was reared and at best, modest influence on how the parents provide for the child during the school year.

The third, yet equally important component influencing the child’s success in school is the student. The emotionally healthy child has a role to play by choosing to follow instructions, ask for help, follow the rules, complete tasks and get along with peers. The child who learns early in life to act the way they know is acceptable does better in school than the child who acts the way they feel.

Failure by any one of the above three components can cause under-performance in school, regardless of the efforts of the other two components to compensate. The educational system cannot control parents’ behavior which may affect the child’s performance and the school has limited influence over the child, who may choose to perform poorly, despite the best efforts of parents and teacher. Therefore, the educational system has significant influence on only one component of the three, and that is the teacher.

The teacher is often blamed for the unsuccessful student when the fault may actually be due to the parent or student. The educational system has limited ability to hold parents and students accountable, so it appears our system has chosen to assign blame to the only person they have authority to blame, the teacher.

Such a blind system is unfair to the teacher, ignores poor parenting and betrays the student who the system exists for in the first place. So, what are the consequences to the child if the teacher is held totally responsible for the success and failure of the student?

From my own experience I believe this type of system is asking for teachers to teach to the test in order to hold onto their job.

For example, I once knew a teacher who admitted to me she copied the state test, although this was strictly forbidden. She felt the pressure of making sure her students performed up to standards. With a copy of the test she could build her lesson plans around the questions and hopefully ensure her students would score well.

Holding teachers solely responsible for test scores is not going to solve what is wrong in education. Teachers are already held accountable through a strict evaluation process, typically conducted by the principal. Our energy would be better spent by investing in early education of the parents, teaching parents strategies to raise a motivated child, who wants to strive towards their personal best.

I recently spoke to a third grade student who was suffering anxiety about the upcoming state test due to comments made by the teacher. The mother reminded the boy the purpose of the test was to show how his school and teacher were doing compared to other schools in the state. If he did his best, it would help his school and teacher to get a “good report card”. This comment helped to take some of the undo pressure off the child and he seemed determined to try his best. The boy told me, “I want to help my teacher get a good report card”.

With the current economy most school districts are looking to trim their budgets; however we need to keep in mind the child’s welfare and support the professionals we have entrusted with the education of our children.

Do we want teachers who are concerned for the students’ love of learning, or teachers who are concerned how their students’ performance could impact their job?

Eliza Krigman at
Cynthia McCabeThe National Education Association

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