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A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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Podcast: Rating Early Elementary Teachers When Reliable Data Don't Readily Exist

Published:  May 13, 2013
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Hear more New America podcasts here, and visit our archive of podcasts from 2010 to 2012 focused on early education.

As a sneak peek to her policy paper to be released this week, we talked late last week with senior policy analyst Laura Bornfreund about how schools are experimenting with rating teachers' effectiveness in the PreK-3rd grades.

Despite a dearth of reliable data on children's progress in those grades, school districts and states are moving ahead with new systems for evaluating teachers that require the inclusion of data on students' outcomes. The experiments are already underway as part of a national push to use students' test scores as one of multiple measures of how well teachers are doing their jobs. In the early grades -- pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first and second -- this is problematic, given that standardized testing data does not exist for such young children, and what does exist is primarily focused on basic literacy skills. Getting good data is also difficult in third grade, because even though statewide tests exist for the end of the year, there is no baseline data available. Therefore, districts are trying to find new methods for including assessments of how students in all of these grades have progressed from the beginning to the end of the year.

The forthcoming paper is titled An Ocean of Unknowns to provide a sense of the vastness of the questions now facing school districts and teachers.  The risks are many, but as Bornfreund's paper will show, some opportunities lie ahead as well. Our podcast conversation includes comments from our guest Elliott Regenstein, senior vice president for advocacy and policy with the Ounce of Prevention Fund, who reviewed an early version of the paper. As Regenstein says, to consider new teacher evaluation systems, one should ask: "Is this calculated to help us improve teaching? And is this calculated to help us improve student learning?" The paper, he says, highlights some approaches that are more focused on the individual child and some that are more standardized, "and reasonable people can differ on which is the higher value.... that is the conversation we should be having."

You can listen to the podcast by clicking here.

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