Teacher performance: Quite literally a matter of life or death

The Victorian Government this week finally took performance-related pay off the negotiating table in the long-running pay dispute with the State’s teachers. Hopefully this will pave the way for some meaningful progress to be made in recognising teachers’ professionalism and existing productivity.

However, NAPLAN is still very much in the headlines, and news of other education systems where teacher performance is heavily scrutinised has filtered through from the US, where it has emerged that a Los Angeles teacher committed suicide following the publication of teacher performance rankings in that city’s main newspaper.

More surprising perhaps, is that despite this dreadful occurrence you are still able to view individual teachers’ performance rankings on the newspaper’s website. Take a look for yourself and see whether you’d like to be judged by those who have no context of your teaching conditions, students, available resources etc.

The argument in favour of publishing any league tables is that it puts pressure on under-performing schools (in the case of Australia’s MySchool) or individuals to lift their game. In addition, the rankings are not standardised, but rather represent a value-added score ‘based on his or her students’ progress on the California Standards Tests for English and Math. The difference between a student’s expected growth and actual performance is the “value” a teacher added or subtracted during the year. A school’s value-added rating is based on the performance of all students tested there’. The argument extends that value-added data removes socio-economic factors from students’ performance and puts all learners, and therefore their teachers, on a level playing field. It is a fact that some independent schools in Australia are trying to work out the very same data in order to reward or develop their best/worst performing staff.

Certainly in Australia at the moment, it would take a robust person to argue that academic outcomes are totally independent of socio-economic factors: Many would agree that educational outcomes are unfortunately a self-fulfilling social prophecy, where students from more affluent families who value education do better than those from a poorer background, living in poorer suburbs with less well-funded and managed schools. A generalisation, sure, but not without some basis, as the Gonski recommendations recognise and seek to redress.

As most teachers will attest, there are countless more ways to measure the effectiveness of a teacher than test scores. NAPLAN has been so controversial because of schools’ ability to manipulate results. Increased scrutiny and public awareness of individual teachers’ class test scores will surely result in similar controversy and with the added possibility of highly effective and popular teachers feeling neglected, persecuted and possibly suicidal.

For this reason, we do not support performance-related pay in the teaching profession, much less the publication of highly sensitive and potentially damaging information in the public domain.

This content has been sourced from articles on the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post and TES websites.

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