Op-ed: Teacher evaluations must be fair

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By Dave Wilkinson 
For The Charleston Gazette

I recently read in the Gazette about the school system’s plan to evaluate teachers based on their students’ test scores. My initial reaction was, “Why shouldn’t we do that?” After thinking about it, I decided this isn’t a fair evaluation. I’m very interested in the plight of our teachers because I think they often get a “bum rap.” I’m not a teacher, but my daughter has been a third-grade teacher in Texas for 12 years. I’ve personally put three grandchildren through grades 1 to 12 in Charleston and another who is currently in the 6th grade.

There are many things that impact test scores that teachers have little control over. Some things that come to mind are overcrowded classrooms, not enough text books, behavioral problems, students who are aloof and disinterested because of problems at home, students that have parents who don’t care about their well-being, and students that have parents who never look at, or review, their childrens’ homework.

My daughter told me about a student she had that entered the school year extremely nervous and apprehensive. She ended the year with self confidence because my daughter worked with her and showed her that she cared. The student kept in touch with my daughter after the school year was completed. I think that’s service over and beyond the call of duty. My daughter also told me that, sometimes children come to school without taking their medications, and she has to deal with that. She also has to deal with children who forget their glasses, and children who have asthma, and children who are upset because their parents are fighting and one is in jail. These things have nothing to do with test scores but definitely should be part of an evaluation because a teacher has to deal with it every day.

An evaluation system that is based on the students’ test scores misses the point. Sure, test scores are important, but that’s only one part of the equation. The improvement of a student isn’t always about test scores. A teacher’s passion for the job and caring about the students are extremely important factors that cannot be ignored. The teacher with the best test scores isn’t necessarily the best teacher.

A good teacher evaluation system must take into consideration the differences in the jobs of those being evaluated. If it doesn’t, we will continue to lose teachers at a rate as high, or higher, than we are now. We need good, passionate and compassionate teachers, and we should do everything we can to get them and keep them. Evaluating them fairly is extremely important and giving them raises commensurate with their evaluations is just as important.

Dave Wilkinson, of Charleston, is a retired senior analyst in information systems at Union Carbide.