The Alabama State Department of Education is in downtown Montgomery in the Gordon Persons Building.  About 300 yards southwest of this building is the Statehouse, home of the legislature.

For reasons unknown to me, those in the Statehouse seem intent on continually introducing bills that drastically impact public education–but they rarely bother to get input from the professional educators just 300 yards away.  The result are such creatures as the infamous RAISE/PREP act that is bound and determined to measure the value of Alabama teachers with a process know as VAM (Value Added Model), even though research has cast doubt on the reliability of this methodology time after time.

Then lawmakers throw up their hands and wonder why the pipeline of young folks choosing education as a career is growing smaller and smaller when all they need to do is look in the mirror.

The public education advocacy group, The Network for Public Education, has just released a great report that gives an overview of the impact of present teacher evaluation programs on workforce morale.  They surveyed nearly 3,000 educators in all 48 states.

In a nutshell, the education policy “wannabes” who think everything can be broken down into numbers are killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

Here are some of the more salient points made in this report.

Teachers choose the teaching profession because of their love of children and their desire to help them grow and blossom as learners.  Across the nation, however, far too many educators are leaving the classroom.  Headlines report teacher shortages in nearly every state.  One factor reported in almost every story is the discouragement teachers feel from a reform movement that is increasing pressure to raise student test scores, while reducing support.

This pressure dramatically increased with the inclusion of student test scores in teacher evaluation, with some states using them to account for as much as 50% of evaluation scores.  When combined with frameworks, rubrics, and high-stake consequences, the nature of teacher evaluation has dramatically changed, and narratives from educators across the United States document that it has changed for the worse.

Here is what NPE learned:

Teachers and principals believe that evaluations based on student test scores, especially Value-Added Measures (VAM), are neither valid nor reliable measures of their work.  They believe VAM scores punish teachers who work with the most vulnerable students.  Of the respondents, 83% indicated that the use of test scores in evaluation has had a negative impact on instruction, and 88% said that more time is spent on test prep than ever before.

The emphasis on improving test scores has overwhelmed every aspect of teachers’ work, forcing them to spend precious collaborative time poring over student data rather than having conversation about students and instruction.  Sixty-six percent of respondents reported a negative impact on relationships with their students as a result of the pressure to focus on test scores.

Over half of the respondents (52.08%) reported witnessing evidence of bias against veteran educators.  This supports evidence that evaluations are having a disparate impact, contributing to a decline in teachers of color, veteran teachers, and those serving students in poverty.

Teacher professional development tied to the evaluation process is having a stifling effect on teachers, by undermining their sense of autonomy, and limiting their capacity for real professional growth.  Eighty-five percent of respondents indicated that high quality professional development is not connected to their evaluations, and 84% reported a negative effect on conversation between teachers and supervisors.

And here are NPE’s six recommendations:

An immediate halt to the use of test scores as any part of teacher evaluation.

Teacher collaboration not be tied to evaluation but instead, be a teacher-led cooperative process that focuses on their students’ and their own professional learning.

The observation process focus on improving instruction–resulting in reflection and dialogue between teacher and observer–the result should be a narrative, not a number.

Evaluation require less paperwork and documentation so that more time can be spent on reflection and improvement of instruction.

An immediate review of the impact that evaluations have had on teachers of color and veteran teachers.

Teachers not be “scored” on professional development activities nor that professional development be dictated by evaluation scores rather than teacher needs.

Education, like any profession, is complex.  By its nature, it can not be readily quantified by only data points. It is as much art as it is science.  A great teacher is more like a conductor of an orchestra than someone on an assembly line endlessly tightening the same bolt on a truck frame.

The sooner some lawmakers understand that, the better our schools will become.