I AM DEEPLY CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT’S GOING ON IN NY - AND THEREFORE ELSEWHERE - WITH REGARDS TO TEACHER EVALUATION SYSTEMS AND RTTT. THIS POST IS MEANT TO DEFINE A PATH FORWARD THAT INCLUDES STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT DATA BUT MOVES AWAY FROM OBFUSCATED AND HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE VAM MODELS OF “DATA-DRIVEN TEACHER EVALUATIONS.” IF YOU WANT TO READ ABOUT THE CONTEXT FOR MY CONCERNS, PLEASE CLICK HERE AND FIND MY EARLIER POST.
I HOPE YOU’LL LEAVE SOME FEEDBACK AND CONTINUE THIS CONVERSATION. WE CAN TALK HERE OR ON TWITTER.
As always, I want to start my thinking with questions that need answering instead of solutions I’m hoping will fit. In this case, I’m wondering: What expectation(s) can schools actually and realistically have for teachers when it comes to students’ learning, including standardized testing results?
I know this sounds crazy to ask, and many of you are already thinking that I’m about to lower the bar and let teachers off the hook when students don’t achieve, but that’s not where I’m going. I am, though, very hesitant to back value-added models of evaluation that promote paranoia and professional doubt and suffer from flawed formulas, flawed philosophies, myopic accountability plans, and deep obfuscation. I also believe proactive and reactive action, not accountability, ought to be policy’s goal. Are we - as a culture and a profession - looking to blame people for a problem or prompt people to find a means of moving towards its solution(s)?
So, I need to hone the next phase of my initial question… Can schools ask teachers for:
1) an analysis of what the data from required standardized test(s) tell them about their students?
2) evidence of their ability to formatively and summatively assess their students so that they will create data for things they want to know about their students that aren’t portrayed by the standardized tests?
3) evidence that their curriculum and pedagogy continually reviewed and revised so that they are appropriately designed to move students from their current achievement levels to proficiency and mastery of the desired standards for the course?
Why do I like these questions?
1) They reinforce the idea that teachers’ work must be steeped in students’ learning. There is a non-negotiable connection between data, curriculum, and pedagogy.
2) They allow for teachers’ growth over the course of time instead of unrealistically expecting them to be experts at helping each students in each course as soon as they meet. Not doing this would be akin to telling doctors that they’re no good if they have to “run a test” to see what’s going on.
3) They allow for the application of data from local and standardized testing data without suggesting that one is more important than the other. There is no unilateral approach to improving teaching and learning. It’s why testing-based, standards based, and technology based reforms will all struggle until they include a bigger picture.
4) They recognize that it’s teaching appropriately that moves students forward, not “holding high expectations.” Without great teaching, holding high expectations is nothing but a bunch of soundbites.
5) They force conversations between evaluators and teachers and between teachers and students. Currently, VAM models can be - in fact, I believe almost all are - enforced by a computer in a room somewhere. Students get matched with a teacher. Scores go in. Teacher gets a grade in the mail. This model pushes teachers to get to know their students and their needs as well as administrators to deeply get to know their teachers’ work. It truly couldn’t be done remotely.
6) They provide a ton of room for a lot of supportive feedback loops and collaboration along the way. There are no surprises when you’re not hoping to get all of your answers from a one-time event like a major exam.
7) They support the very real idea that teachers are going to struggle and potentially even fail at times. It’s knowing how to recover and who to ask for help that’ll ultimately make them great at their work. If we’re being honest, we all know that that’s a truth for anyone.
Do I, then, believe that there’s a place for students’ actual scores in a teacher’s evaluation? Until I see some serious research about this working well at an aggregated level, I’m just going to say that even if it’s possible, it doesn’t seem to be worth the infighting and political capital it’ll take. It’s not worth the divisive and desperate culture that’s manifesting in our schools today. I also know that I do fully believe that if we get teachers working towards purposeful and researched classroom practices, the achievement we want will happen.
How can we move to this? It’s simple, I think. Let’s take out the pieces of states’ evaluation systems (in NY, it’s worth 40%) that account for testing scores, and instead create a rubric around the three questions of data-based practice I’ve outlined above. We’ll add it to whatever observation rubric is in use and move forward from there.