John Thompson has an excellent post on Anthony Cody’s blog, trying to figure out why the architects of Race to the Top ignored a wealth of social science evidence by demanding more test-based accountability than even No Child Left Behind.

He notes that both Elaine Weiss of the Bolder Broader Approach and the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) take a dim view of RTTT.

Elaine Weiss reviewed the evidence and found that RTTT was not likely to meet its lofty goals. States made promises they could not keep, and RTTT has been accompanied by punitive strategies, conflict, and deprofessionalization of teaching. “Districts heavily serving low-income and minority students, especially large urban districts, face some of the most severe challenges. Tight timelines and lack of resources compound RTTT’s failure to address poverty related impediments to learning. Heightened pressure on districts to produce impossible gains from an overly narrow policy agenda has made implementation difficult and often counterproductive.”

The GAO report found that implementation of teacher and principal evaluation systems were proceeding slowly and problematically. Some districts report that the cost of implementation exceed the value of the award. No one can say with assurance that education has been improved by the DOE’s demand to put even higher stakes on testing.

Of course, test-based evaluation of professionals is bound to be challenging because most teachers are not teaching tested subjects; many are “evaluated” by the scores of their school, or by the scores registered by students in subjects the teachers don’t teach. This is not only a challenge, it is nonsensical.

I have been searching, but I can’t find another nation in the world that is pursuing this means of evaluating teachers. If anyone who reads this knows of one, please let me know.

I am aware of several books that will be published over the next year explaining why teachers should not be evaluated by test scores. Of course, the U.S. Department of Education was warned not to do it. It was warned in a strong letter written by the National Academies of Sciences Board on Testing and Assessment. Here is a key paragraph, warning that value-added measures (VAM) were not ready to be used to evaluate teachers:

In sum, value-added methodologies should be used only after careful consideration of their appropriateness for the data that are available, and if used, should be subjected to rigorous evaluation. At present, the best use of VAM techniques is in closely studied pilot projects. Even in pilot projects, VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness should not be used as the sole or primary basis for making operational decisions because the extent to which the measures reflect the contribution of teachers themselves, rather than other factors, is not understood. Even in pilot projects, VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness should not be used to make operational decisions for teachers with students who have achievement levels that are too high or too low to be measured by the available tests because the estimates for such teachers will be essentially meaningless. Even in pilot projects, VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness that are based on data for a single class of students should not used to make operational decisions because such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable. 

The U.S. Department of Education ignored the advice of testing experts, and now, three years after handing out $4.35 billion, there is no evidence that Race to the Top has accomplished anything other than to create massive demoralization among teachers and principals.