K-12 Assessments and Teacher Evaluation: Putting Students First

By: Dr. Raymond Yeagley
I believe the highest value of student assessment is to provide data and information that can support and facilitate stronger instruction and increased student learning. As we develop assessments, whether teacher-created tests for a single classroom or large-scale assessments given to millions of students (frequently referred to as standardized tests), it is crucial that we keep student benefit in the forefront of our thinking.
We do this, of course, at a time when assessments – virtually all assessments – are coming under attack.  While challenging, it is important we determine the right amount and kind of assessment needed for a school or classroom.  To get there, we must understand test purposes and identify appropriate uses of the test. In a 2012 study conducted for the Northwest Evaluation Association by Grunwald Associates, parents, teachers and administrators saw great value in assessment that helps to monitor individual student progress over time and provides information to the teacher early enough to inform instructional planning.
There are large-scale assessments designed with a purpose of tracking growth over time and of providing the teacher with almost immediate information on individual student achievement and growth. These data can facilitate temporary grouping, differentiation of instruction based on student need, and can give evidence of content coverage at the school and district level as related to state content standards. These tests have been validated for this purpose and have established a track record for reliability and usefulness in informing instruction.
When these tests are used for purposes not intended in the original test design, such as teacher evaluation, there is a new challenge. That challenge is to establish, with research evidence, whether the test is valid for the new purpose and whether that purpose has value for students.
Those who develop assessments have a responsibility to share the evidence that established validity and reliability for the test purposes they support. They also have a responsibility to respond to questions about whether their tests have been validated for other purposes.  But they must be mindful that states and school districts have the right to decide how to use their own student data. If the tests are to be used for purposes not currently supported by empirical evidence, as is the case with using previously developed student assessments to determine educator effectiveness, then the users share in the responsibility of providing the evidence of validity for the other purposes and for creating or securing the tools needed to implement the new purpose in a responsible way.
In the current debates about appropriate testing in the schools, those on both sides of the issue need to take a careful look, not only at the quality of the tests, but also at how those tests are to be used. Rhetoric that a particular test is not valid often ignores the question, “valid for what?”
If increased student learning is our shared top priority, we must ensure that teachers have all of the tools deemed useful to the process.  Used correctly, high quality assessment is such a tool, empowering teachers and guiding student learning.
Dr. Raymond Yeagley is Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at NWEA. Prior to joining NWEA in 2005, Raymond enjoyed a twenty-nine year career as teacher, principal and superintendent of schools. 

Student Data and Educator Evaluation: Focus on Learning and Professional Growth
Across the country, school districts have responded to state and federal calls for heightened accountability in part by reshaping educator evaluation systems. Increasingly, district leaders are introducing student assessment data into the formulas used to inform these processes. In this three-part guest series, leaders at the not-for-profit Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) consider the impact of using data from tests designed for instructional purposes to guide educator evaluations and call for a renewed focus on student learning and professional growth for teachers.

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Will Richardson

Can you please share your definition of "increased student learning"? What, exactly, is increasing? Thanks.


I am routinly bothered by the phrase 'putting students first " in this on-going debate , and I applaud any attempt to truly put students first, if that attempt is actually genuine. But I agree that research should be conducted to put this controversy to rest.
It's hard to trust the current players in the debate. Both sides claim they are acting in the students best interests and yet I question whether each side is committed to that principle. In looking at other issues, it's hard to see proof that either side has the ability to put the needs of students first on a consistent basis, other factors always seem to be at play. Teacher Unions --who certainly are not the enemy they have been made out to be in recent years--have a conflict of interest , and when push comes to shove, have routinely sided with job security over changes to school design which clearly would benefit student learning Whlie they may take these stances out of necessity, the notion of putting students first should not be the shield which they hide behind on every issue The same holds true for school districts: smaller classrooms, proper staffing including specialists and counserlors are all very costly and the current pressure on school funding leads to decisons which clearly do not put students first--including the layoff of thousands of teachers or the crumbling infracs tructure seen in many sschool distritcts across the country. While school districts are not the monsters union leaders often make them out to be, at the end of the day putting studetns first is often a principle which must be compromised out of economic necessity.
So on this issue of teacher and administrator evaluation, I question the use of the phrase putting students first and I wish both sides would come clean on their true motives: unions want school districts to provide job security and train teachers who are underperforming, and school districts want to be able to remove teachers so they can avoid the costs associated wtih doing so. Both sides claim each point of view is in the best interests of students, but it sure seems like there are other motives at play other than what is actually best for students. So maybe it's time for the research to do some talking and shine some useful light on this topic and perhaps put this debate to rest.


I believe that these formative assessments can work 2 fold and totally agree that the test should not be the "tool" for teacher evaluation...however should be used to help guide further instruction. In our district we use these evaluative tools to to teacher mentoring, re-evaluate curriculum maps and lesson plans. We look at the the scores on both the macro and micro level. Those teachers whose students "knock it out the park" ...so to speak, we review "what they did, lessons they taught etc. and share best practices across the content team. You are right this can not be a measuring stick to teachers value or performance because there's too many "factors, and variables." But is used in the right way this can be a valuable tool for students and teachers alike.

Olivia Pearson

I really like how you talked about how important it is to use assessments that help monitor individual student progress over time, to help the teacher inform instructional planning. I think this is so important because this will help teachers in public schools teach to the needs of the students, focusing on their growth and improvement throughout the year. We just moved to a new area, and my husband and I are trying to choose the best school system for our kids. After reading this article, we will definitely look for a public education system in our area that offers a personalized and individualistic approach to teaching in the classroom, and that values the effort and improvement of each student.

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