William Mathis, University of Colorado Boulder
Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking
is a 10-part brief that takes up important policy issues and identifies policies supported byresearch. Each section focuses on a different issue, and its recommendations for policymakers are based on the latest scholarship. At a time of growing national recognition of the need for a policy shift to moresuccessful approaches to school reform, this multi-part brief identifiesaffirmative, research-based approaches to reform in areas including teacherevaluation, early childhood education, and school choice. In doing so, the briefs help to describe a forward-looking alternative to thecurrent over-reliance on test-based accountability, privatization and school choice.
Teachers are important, and policies mandating high-stakes evaluations of teachers are at
the forefront of popular school reforms. Today’s dominant approach labels teachers aseffective or ineffective based in large part on a statistical analysis of students’ test
-scoreperformance. Teachers judged effective are rewarded, and those found ineffective aresanctioned. While such
evaluations can be useful, lawmakers should be wary of approaches based in large part on test scores: the error in the measurements is large
which results inmany teachers being incorrectly labeled as effective or ineffective;
relevant test scores arenot available for the students taught by most teachers, given that only certain grade levelsand subject areas are tested; and the incentives created by high-stakes use of test scoresdrive undesirable teaching practices such as curriculum narrowing and teaching to thetest.
Summative initiatives should also be balanced with
approaches, which identify strengths and weaknesses of teachers and directly focus on developing and improving theirteaching. Measures that de-emphasize test scores are more labor intensive but have fargreater potential to enrich instruction and improve education.