ERIC Number: EJ1002843
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2012-Nov
Reference Count: 8
The Fuzzy Scarlet Letter
Pallas, Aaron M.
Educational Leadership, v70 n3 p54-57 Nov 2012
Critics of the public release of teacher evaluation scores sometimes liken these ratings to the scarlet letter worn by Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel. The comparison is apt. But public school teachers who are subjected to public shaming because of their students' test scores can rarely expect the opportunities for redemption offered to Prynne, whose humility and good works over time changed the meaning of her scarlet A from "Adulteress" to "Able." U.S. political and economic leaders say that serious problems require bold action. In the realm of public education, this has meant a rapid expansion of systems intended to hold schools and teachers accountable for student performance. Such accountability has been applied to schools for 10 years under No Child Left Behind. But there is still considerable debate over whether individual teachers should face public accountability for the results of their evaluations. After all, personnel evaluations in most sectors of the economy are viewed as a private matter between employer and employee. Should it be any different for teachers? In this article, the author points out that the public release of teacher evaluation scores is unfair and misleading--and it provides little useful information for parents. In spite of the inherent uncertainty in teacher evaluations, policymakers want to treat the evaluation measures as though they are infallible and use them to place teachers in rigid boxes, labeling them as good teachers or poor teachers. Policymakers and the media treat these labels as definitive, but the raw material being stuffed into the boxes will rarely fit in one box without spilling over into the adjacent ones. If states and school districts insist on publicizing individual teachers' evaluation scores--slapping a metaphorical scarlet A on some teachers and a stamp of approval on others--the only fair thing to do is to admit that the scarlet letter is fuzzy, a bit out of focus. Anything else is bad fiction.
Descriptors: Accountability, Public School Teachers, Classics (Literature), Public Education, Federal Legislation, Educational Legislation, Teacher Evaluation, Scores, Academic Achievement, Comparative Analysis, School Districts, Grade 4, Elementary School Students, Reading Teachers
ASCD. 1703 North Beauregard Street, Alexandria, VA 22311-1714. Tel: 800-933-2723; Tel: 703-578-9600; Fax: 703-575-5400; Web site: http://www.ascd.org
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Elementary Education
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: New York
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: No Child Left Behind Act 2001