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Expert: Linking pupil tests, teacher ratings risky

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -- Using student test scores to evaluate teachers is risky and potentially misjudges the work of otherwise good teachers, a leading testing expert says.

James Popham, an emeritus professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and other speakers at a University of Kansas conference on testing and instructional quality expressed concern that many high-stakes, standardized exams may test what students know without testing whether they have a good teacher or not, The Topeka Capital-Journal ( reported.

"Think of the terrible, bad things that can happen when a good teacher is thought to be un-good," Popham, who has three decades of experience developing and analyzing tests, said Thursday.

Kansas and many other states are moving toward new systems of teacher evaluation in which teachers are assessed based in part on student scores on annual mathematics and reading tests.

Popham said he isn't opposed to using test scores to evaluate teachers, but that valid tests must be used. There must be evidence the tests being used can evaluate teacher quality, not just student knowledge, he said, and this is a conversation many states and test developers aren't yet having.

Tests can reflect factors other than what a teacher teaches, he said. Some test questions actually evaluate student IQ, for example, so that a correct answer might reflect whether a student is smart or not, rather than whether his or her teacher is good.

Deputy education commissioner Brad Neuenswander said later Thursday that officials at the Kansas State Department of Education share Popham's concerns. Kansas is taking an approach to evaluations meant to address that, Neuenswander said, although doing so means the state still hasn't received full approval of its evaluations from the U.S. Department of Education.

"I don't want to say we are pushing back as a state, but we very much agree with where Jim Popham is at," he said.


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal,