"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Evaluating Teachers with Student Tests

Room for Debate in the NYTimes the other day was about Testing Students to Grade Teachers. It's not just in NY City. The Indiana Legislature passed a bill requiring schools to evaluate teachers using test scores. Does it matter if it doesn't work? Apparently not. Where are the "Local Control Republicans" now that we need them?

Here are some excerpts from the debate. Not only are the opinions interesting, but the comments are as well. By the way, there was one writer who was in favor of using tests to evaluate teachers. You can find his article here. If you read that you might also want to reread a little about the research showing that basing incentives (including evaluations) based on student test scores doesn't improve student achievement.

Linda Darling-Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education at Stanford University, where she is co-director of the Stanford Center on Opportunity Policy in Education. She was founding director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, and she led President Obama’s education policy transition team.
Recent research shows that test score gains are highly unstable and error-prone for measuring individual teachers, and that making high-stakes decisions based on these tests causes schools to reduce their teaching of important content and skills not measured by the tests. As a group of leading researchers warned last week before the New York Regents voted on such a scheme, we can expect teaching and curriculum to be narrowed further as teachers focus more intensely on these tests, and we can expect teachers to seek to avoid serving special education students, new English learners and others whose learning is poorly measured by the tests.

Paul Thomas is an associate professor of education at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. He is writing a book on poverty in the United States. You can follow his work at Radical Scholarship and on Twitter at @plthomasEdD.
Overwhelming evidence shows that student outcomes in education are connected to out-of-school factors -- from about 60 percent to as much as 86 percent. But admitting and accepting that student achievement and education quality are overwhelmed by cultural and social dynamics speaks against our idealized view of our culture and our enduring faith in rugged individualism. . .

. . . Focusing on tests, schools and teachers allows political discourse to keep our attention distracted from the social failures reflected in our schools, not caused by our schools.
Why do we cling to test scores and demonize our teachers and schools? To avoid facing the plight of poverty on our children and our schools.

Francesca Burns has taught at middle schools and elementary schools in New York City since 1989. She currently teaches literacy to third- and fourth-grade students.
This testing-students-to-grade-teachers initiative is not coming out of what people who actually work with children in schools know. It is not even research-based: reasonably intelligent outsiders to the field could still steer us in a sensible direction. Instead, the plans are based on politics and soundbites, corporate sleight of hand (who’s getting paid to design this flotilla of assessments and the materials districts, educators and parents will scramble to purchase to help children prepare for them?) and high talk. In short: nothing.

Molly Putnam has taught at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Brooklyn for eight years. She currently teaches government and economics in the social studies department.
So, why would New York City fall back on testing to assess its teachers? Because the real answer is too difficult and time consuming, and because it would require a cultural shift — from one that lays blame to one that encourages cooperation and support. 
This “Race to the Top” money could be spent on methods that have been proven to improve teacher quality and retention rates — like intensive student teaching and training in lesson planning, instruction and classroom management. A culture change would also mean having principals and senior teachers become even more engaged in mentoring and guiding younger teachers.
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