How Much Should Parents Care About Teacher Ranks?

Many parents are understandably concerned when their child brings home a 'D' or an 'F', but should they worry about the grades their child's teachers are receiving? Though of course most schools perform teacher evaluations, the results are typically private. But if such records were made available, how much, if at all, should parents care about them?

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Parents React

New York City schools made headlines in February 2012 when fourth- through eighth-grade teacher rankings were made available to the public. For the first time, parents got to see how these teachers scored on evaluations.

Some weren't happy with the results. A few parents even told the New York Post that they planned on pulling their kids out of those schools where teachers ranked lowest.

But is this type of reaction akin to a witch hunt? Teachers' scores depend on several factors, not all of which parents truly realize or understand. Are teachers being unfairly persecuted?

Not a True Reflection

The teachers' scores are based on one-day student tests that likely are not accurate pictures of how good or bad a teacher is in the classroom throughout the year. One PTA president in New York called the ratings 'unfair'.

So did some parents and, as expected, teachers. Maura Callahan, a fourth-grade teacher in Brooklyn, told The Wall Street Journal in February: 'I do believe in evaluating teachers but not on how a 10-year old is going to perform on that one day test. I don't feel that shows my effectiveness as a teacher.'

She's probably right. After all, some students might do well in the classroom but perform poorly on standardized tests, possibly labeling them as 'bad students' even though they may be intelligent and hard-working.

What's more, teacher rankings take into account so many other factors, including student race and gender, attendance, suspensions, whether a student is in special education and even if they qualify for free or reduced lunches! Does any of that truly reflect how teachers perform in the classroom?

Don't Take Ranking Information 'Too Seriously'

Parent reaction to these rankings begs the question: what did these parents think of their children's teachers before they became privy to the ratings? Are they letting a number dictate their feelings or were they unhappy with the teacher's performance before gaining this knowledge?

PTA President Demetrius Lawrence of P.S. 161 in New York reviewed the teaching ratings and implored parents 'not to take the information too seriously.'

Heeding that advice, many parents - probably wisely - put little stock in the ranking information, focusing instead on classroom behavior and their child's success. In other words, they relied on what they saw on a daily basis.

As one father told The New York Times: 'I look in the teacher's eyes.' When it comes to parents, that interaction, and how well their children are doing in school, might be the best evaluation tool they can utilize.

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