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Sunday
Sep262010

Just how should educators be held responsible?

Financiers send the world into recession and don’t seem to suffer. Neighbors take on huge mortgages and then just walk away when they go underwater. Washington politicians avoid living within their means. Federal agencies fail and get rewarded with more responsibilities.

What the country is really looking for is a restoration of responsibility. David Brooks

I dislike intensely the current political emphasis on testing. Current tests are at best a crude measurement of minimal skills. They are used for discrediting public education, especially teachers - not for helping students grow. Teachers' effectiveness should not be judged on test scores - period.

Yet...

Parents, school boards, the larger community, and, I would argue, students themselves want and have a right to accountability by their districts, buildings and individual teachers. We rely on test scores because without them there would an accountability vacuum. We as professional educators have not produced alternative means of assessing educational effectiveness that are viewed as reliable, objective and meaningful.

As a parent, test scores didn't mean nearly as much to me as other factors including climate, extra-curricular offerings and good library/tech programs. And of course my own children's attitude toward school. of course. But as a citizen, I do have an interest in knowing how my country's, our state's, my district's and my children's "schools are doing."

Tests are crude and we all know PR is, well, usually just PR, so what is the alternative?

I have always been a big fan of authentic assessment tools to measure student performance. Checklists, rubrics, conferences, etc. help kids improve and achieve mastery. Correctly designed, they can be objective and result in some form of numerical data.

What I've not seen is a classroom, building or district aggregate this data to produce a score for groups of students. Such aggregation would result in both meaning and reliability.

Were you made the education emperor how would you have schools and teachers to demonstrate their effectiveness? Remember, you have to satisfy this demanding grandfather.

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Reader Comments (8)

This is something I have thought about a lot (I teach college writing at a large state university). I loathe standardized testing. I am a big fan of portfolios of student project and project-based learning. The work my students do is published online, and my courses are organized around the projects they create (I teach three courses, and here are the projects taking shape for this semester; links to past projects at the bottom of each page: Myth-Folklore - World Lit - Indian Epics). I'm not an assessment professional, but surely there is some kind of objective rubric which could be used to "numerate" these projects. I don't like rubrics, and I don't use them in my interactions with students - but I would gladly design my project-based learning within some kind of rubric scheme if that were required. Then, people who want numbers could look at the numbers generated by the rubric, but people who are really interested in LEARNING could also see the student work behind the numbers by looking at the portfolios. I wish all our learning and teaching took place in a more transparent environment. If I could choose just one improvement in our current assessment regime, it would be the development of online student portfolios. As a college teacher, I can have my students publish on the open Internet; maybe that is not viable for K-12, but the idea of online portfolios still has a strong applicability in K-12... and it would give proud grandpas something to enjoy looking at!

September 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Gibbs

I also am a big fan of utilizing authentic assessments! I particularly enjoy the portfolio projects as assessment tools, because you can truly see each child's growth and work. With standardized testing, there are just too many variables that alter the score and you only see a comparison percentage or other arbitrary number reflecting the child's performance. I can not accept that standardized testing is a true measure of a child's abilities (or the teacher's expertise). I also am disgusted with the route standardized tests are taking us, especially these scripted programs for reading and intervention. When did our superiors decide we are so dumb that we need every word dictated? If we are going to be told, word for word, how and what to teach we might as well forgo our 4 year education and allow anyone who can read to teach with these scripted programs. Insulting!
I truly believe we need to make a big push for changing this viewpoint on testing. I'm not sure how to go about it, but I believe if enough of us band together and come up with some real world solutions and examples, someone will eventually take note and help.

September 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrace

OMG. And have you seen the two days in a row now Post and Courier (Charleston, SC) articles about bad teachers (yeah, jornalists are definitely experts on teacher eval aren't they?) regarding the worst teachers in the district? They have named them by school and name. Their basis for information? MAP data. So, according to the articles, bad teachers only teach in grades 2 through 8 in reading and math in this district. All the rest of us are SAFE, SAFE, SAFE. Not.

I am astonished, stunned, and deeply saddened by the articles, and worse, the continuous comments flowing from them. The fallout from this has only just begun, and I'm predicting a major lawsuit against the P&C.

Sunday, September 26
Charleston's Lowest-Ranked Teachers
http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2010/sep/27/raising-the-bar-for-teachers/

Monday, September 27
Raising the Bar
http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2010/sep/27/raising-the-bar-for-teachers/

September 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Nelson

Like the definition of indecency, I know good teaching when I see it. The problem is that most parents, community members, administrators don't actually see teachers teaching. They see test scores.

Imagine a school where every teacher had a qualified assistant, state of the art technology, planning time to collaborate with other teachers, free tutors to work with students that needed extra help, parental support, small class sizes,made a living wage, opportunities for staff development to improve teaching practice, consulted about district programs that would impact the classroom. Just imagine how different things could be.

September 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDottie

Dottie, just as you said here, people need to SEE teachers teaching. I don't think things will change until that happens.

The things you listed that would make better schools sound great, but they are not things that will actually increase the transparency of teaching, allowing people to see education in action. Moreover, given the current climate of mistrust and frustration (a climate that seems to be getting dramatically worse for all kinds of reasons), I do not think all those other good things are going to happen UNTIL people - which means parents, administrators, politicians, and so on - can see more of what teachers are doing. If teachers want people to see more than just the test scores, they need to be actively pursuing ways to make that happen. For me, the key has been making good use of the Internet. I wish more teachers were proactive about that. It would benefit us all.

September 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Gibbs

Related article in the Washington Post about the corelation between poverty and student achievement. I personally have heard Arne Duncan say that this is an excuse. Gee Arne, I bet there are some teachers who would love to have you sub for them.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/race-to-the-top/the-elephant-obama-lauer-ignor.html?wprss=answer-sheet

September 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDottie

I'm not a teacher. I am an IT Director for a public school, so I don't claim to know all the answers to solve the education system, but I am a parent of a future student and I have some ideas that I think are a little different.

I am not a fan of standardized testing. I think a short 20-50 question test once per year or every other year tells us nothing useful in determining the success or failure of a school. I think the focus government and districts needs to take are different.

I think you can break it down into smaller pieces and it starts getting easier. So many people think evaluating teachers is the solution. Others think it's testing.

How about we begin by allowing teachers to evaluate their students at the beginning of the year based on a set of expectations kids should know when they start grade "X." As long as the evaluation format is the same for each grade level it doesn't matter what kind of document it is. This means that the 3rd grade teachers will evaluate where their class is at when they start 3rd grade. The success or failure of the students is directly related to the success of the 2nd grade teachers.

Now take that information and give it a rating system. Be it numeric or whatever and for the sake of the privacy of the staff and district create a score for the 2nd grade teachers at school X. If your 2nd grade teachers keep getting a group score lower than what the district deems appropriate a few things will hapen. Co-workers will begin helping each other to develop a stronger 2nd grade program and administration and 3rd grade teachers will also start to intervene.

Too many bad scores from the 2nd grade is surely going to start affecting the scores of the 3rd grade teachers and so on.

There is no need to create a master list and ranking all teachers. Education is not athletics and teachers certainly don't get paid enough to be subjected to public grading systems.

Certainly the government, at least on a state level, will have some guidlines and stipulations. They might even be the ones to develop the evaluation so all schools use the same one. They can maintain the database of evaluations and manage the analysis of the data.

If a grade level consistently misses the mark there should be viable reactions and consequences but it shouldn't be the state determining the termination of an employee. Let's face it... The state can barely manage state online testing right now.

One last idea is for schools to bring back the parents. Someone else indicated that parents need to see teachers teaching. I agree 100%. Parents need to get involved again. The problem in my opinion lies more with the parents than with the education system. Parents aren't as involved as they used to be. So lets get more parent teacher conference nights. Or a parent day where parents come to their kids school and spend the day with them as they learn.

Kids will love it and I think parents will love it. Even teachers I think will appreciate it as the parents can then see what a teachers day actually looks like.

This certainly isn't a foolproof idea and perhaps not possible, but it sure seems like the problem is much easier than many make it out to be.

September 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTechChucker (Matt)

Hi Matt,

Measuring individual student growth rather than comparing students against a norm is commonly called "value added" testing. To me it makes a lot of sense, but there are critics of it as well. I just don't think a lot of educators want to held accountable in any way, shape or form.

I'd agree that we need to get parents more involved in the evaluation of schools.

Doug

September 30, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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