Teacher Effectiveness and Student Ability

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Teacher Effectiveness and Student Ability

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An op-ed in this morning’s Chicago Tribune holds that the way student learning is measured is flawed because it assumes that all students come with the same cognitive ability to learn.  That is, indeed, a fundamental problem with most education today.   In fact, we know that students come to classrooms with widely varying cognitive abilities.

The writer of the op-ed then advocates for universal cognitive testing so that student ability to learn can be taken into consideration when evaluating teacher effectiveness.  This becomes especially important when student achievement scores are used for teacher evaluations, and possibly for teacher compensation.

Unfortunately, the op-ed writer leaves the story there.  She seems to imply that teachers who instruct slow students and help them make slow progress should be rewarded just as teacher who instruct “bright” students and help them make exemplary progress should be rewarded.

What this ignores is that cognitive ability is not fixed.  Students are not just slow or bright.  All the mental processes that make up intelligence can be developed.  What teachers really should be demanding is that schools ensure that every student who comes to their classrooms has the capacity to learn at the level that we expect.  When all students can learn, then effective teachers can all deliver great student results.