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President's Message

Performance Evaluation and Accountability: Are You at the Table?

By Kathleen M. Minke

A couple of years ago I attended a talk by Jane West from the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE). One of the things she said was this: If you are not at the table, you are on the menu. This saying resonated with me so well that I cheerfully filched it for my own talks. As school psychologists, we often are not at the table when important decisions are made that affect students, families, schools, and our own professional lives. For some of us, just keeping one step ahead of mandated time lines makes it difficult to consider participating in school policy or governance issues. Others of us simply don’t see ourselves as leaders within the school or district and fail to recognize opportunities to participate. Still others of us feel intentionally excluded from school improvement efforts at the district and state levels and may not feel empowered to resist such marginalization. Whatever the situation you find yourself in, it is essential that the voices of school psychologists are part of the conversations around reform and improvement because critical decisions are being made ... with or without us.

One of the most frequent inquiries we are receiving at the NASP office is from school psychologists whose states are embarking on revised systems of teacher evaluation and accountability. There are lots of different names like “value added” evaluation, pay for performance systems, and so on, but these systems all incorporate student achievement outcomes in some way to measure teacher quality, and frequently, to make decisions regarding teacher retention and pay. Many questions have been raised about the reliability and validity of these approaches for classroom teachers. However, even once the technical hurdles are successfully addressed, there are important policy and ethical questions about how the data will be used. Last summer, the Los Angeles Times conducted its own analysis of value-added data and then published the results, labeling individual teachers as effective or ineffective based on a single data source. This decision had devastating emotional consequences to many teachers and probably increased resistance to even the appropriate use of value-added data. It is clear that single data sources are not adequate for decision-making.

The situation is exponentially more complicated when we consider the use of student achievement data to evaluate our work as school psychologists because it is less directly tied to a particular classroom. Nevertheless, there are a growing number of places where student achievement data are being used to evaluate school psychologists’ performance. For example, in the District of Columbia’s IMPACT system, 10% of the evaluation is based on school-wide achievement levels. In Tennessee, 50% of the evaluation is based on student achievement data, including 35% based on student growth data. In theory, holding everyone accountable for student achievement will encourage collaboration among educators and produce better outcomes (Steele, Hamilton, & Stecher, 2010). There is agreement, however, even among the most ardent proponents of these efforts, that we have much to learn and that experimentation and ongoing research will be needed to maximize the potential of these evaluation methods (e.g., Glazerman et al., 2010).

The question and challenge for us as school psychologists is this: Are we at the table helping schools, districts, and legislators make wise policy decisions? With respect to our own performance, we need to be part of the decision-making regarding ways that we will be held accountable for student achievement and standards by which we will be assessed. As an example, we can link the domains of the NASP Practice Model to evaluation efforts through the use of single-case designs. If you do not feel you have the requisite knowledge to promote these efforts, this is an excellent area for your own continuing professional development plans.

We cannot be on the side of resisting accountability. Such a stance is a disservice to our children and our profession. We can and must be on the side of careful and deliberate development of accountability systems, thorough evaluation of intended and unintended consequences, and support for continual adjustments and improvements based on data. At NASP, volunteer leaders from the Professional Advocacy and Professional Standards program areas are working together to develop resources and recommendations that will be valuable in helping you shape the accountability system for school psychologists in your district. We also are working with our colleagues through the National Alliance of Pupil Service Organizations (NAPSO) on a position statement. Keep an eye on the NASP webpage for more information and resources. And, as always, thank you for the work you do every day to improve the lives of children.

Glazerman, S., Loeb, S., Goldhaber, D., Staiger, D., Raudenbush, S., & Whitehurst, G. (2010). Evaluating teachers: The important role of value-added. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

Steele, J. L., Hamilton, L. S., & Stecher, B. M. (2010). Incorporating student performance measures into teacher evaluation systems. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

Kathleen M. Minke, PhD, NCSP, is a professor of education at the University of Delaware.