Test-Based Teacher Evaluations Are The Status Quo

We talk a lot about the “status quo” in our education debates. For instance, there is a common argument that the failure to use evidence of “student learning” (in practice, usually defined in terms of test scores) in teacher evaluations represents the “status quo” in this (very important) area.

Now, the implication that “anything is better than the status quo” is a rather massive fallacy in public policy, as it assumes that the costs of alternatives will outweigh benefits, and that there is no chance the replacement policy will have a negative impact (almost always an unsafe assumption). But, in the case of teacher evaluations, the “status quo” is no longer what people seem to think.

Not counting Puerto Rico and Hawaii, the ten largest school districts in the U.S. are (in order): New York City; Los Angeles; Chicago; Dade County (FL); Clark County (NV); Broward County (FL); Houston; Hillsborough (FL); Orange County (FL); and Palm Beach County (FL). Together, they serve about eight percent of all K-12 public school students in the U.S., and over one in ten of the nation’s low-income children.

Although details vary, every single one of them is either currently using test-based measures of effectiveness in its evaluations, or is in the process of designing/implementing these systems (most due to statewide legislation).

In fact, by my very rough tally, if you add up the total enrollment in all the states and districts with new policies, well over 40 percent of the nation’s public school students are enrolled in schools/districts that have or will soon have teacher evaluations based in part on testing results. This proportion is almost sure to increase further over the coming months and years.

So, by any reasonable definition of the term, it is no longer quite accurate to portray as the “status quo” the absence of evidence of “student learning” from teacher evaluations. Regardless of what you think about these policies (or the fact that they have never really been field tested prior to this proliferation), they are rapidly becoming the rule rather than the exception.

- Matt Di Carlo


What percentage of teachers in those districts are in tested grades/subjects? More than 20%?