Efforts to revamp public education are increasingly focused on evaluating teachers using student test scores, but school districts nationwide are only beginning to deal with the practical challenges of implementing those changes.
Only an estimated 30% of classroom teachers in the U.S. work in grades or subjects covered by state standardized tests. Currently, most states test students only in math and reading in third through eighth grades and once in high school, as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Few states test students in other core subjects, such as science and social studies, and for many other subjects there is no testing at all.
Rolling out systemwide tests and devising ways to measure educator effectiveness require additional spending for states and districts, many already low on cash. And some parents and teachers complain that the effort has translated into more testing for children, taking away from classroom learning.
"Nothing like this has ever been done on this scale, and states and districts have to ensure it's done in a rigorous way so we feel confident the information actually reflects how well teachers are helping students learn," said Mariann Lemke, a researcher with the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, a federally funded research group that advises states.