Since the Obama Administration took office in 2009, the teaching profession has undergone some major changes. Gone are the days when college credentials and the occasional pop-by classroom observation guaranteed satisfactory evaluations. Today’s teachers face new accountability measures that call for proof of their effectiveness.
According to the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)’s “State Teacher Policy Yearbook 2011,” as recently as 2009, only four states looked at student achievement data when assessing teacher performance. Thanks to the Race to the Top competition, 24 states passed laws requiring educator evaluations to be based in part on student results.
So what do teachers think of these new assessments? Are they fair, accurate, and effective? Do they promote better practice and enhance academic achievement?
TakePart contacted educators in Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, and Nevada for their take on the newly implemented accountability measures.
BURDEN OF PROOF
Michael Smith worked in schools as a teacher, a coach, and a principal. For the past five years, he’s been a Superintendent in Tuscola, Illinois. Smith’s home state will gradually begin factoring student growth measures into teacher assessments beginning this fall. “It’s probably not a perfect system,” Smith shared with TakePart, “but no doubt better than what we presently have.”
He said that teachers in his district were “a little nervous” about the upcoming changes, but “everyone understands we need to do better.”
Scott Snyder is a high school English teacher in Pennsylvania with over 16 years of classroom experience. Though his home state didn’t tie teacher evaluations to test scores yet, Snyder saw nothing wrong with that assessment method, as long as “teachers carry similar loads and types of students.”
“In other words, teachers should teach classes of all ability levels so no one is saddled with ‘the worst’ kids,” he said.
A K-5 teacher and literacy coach working in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Mathew Needleman is also an Apple Distinguished Educator and blogger who produces mobile applications for improving literacy.
Needleman told TakePart that test scores played no part in the evaluation of California teachers, but he thought they should. “I believe they could be used as a small piece of the complex evaluation puzzle,” he explained.
“Test scores should be considered in evaluations but should be no more than 10 to 20 percent of the consideration. I know teachers with high test scores who do nothing to foster a love of learning, and I wouldn’t want my own children (once they’re born) in their class. I know other teachers with lower test scores who nurture and challenge students but don’t teach to the test. Their students are learning, but it doesn’t quite translate to a multiple choice test.”
Needleman also cautioned against using teacher assessment as a smokescreen to distract from the real issue at the heart of America’s education crisis: poverty.
“The national push to tie teacher evaluations to test scores is largely a successful attempt by both political parties to draw attention away from vast income disparities among populations and place the burden of poverty on the backs of teachers,” he remarked.
Brian Crosby agreed. An award-winning elementary school teacher in Nevada with over 30 years experience, he told TakePart that the push to tie teacher evaluations to test scores “ignores poverty and lack of health care and other issues as contributors to the problem.”
...the push to tie teacher evaluations to test scores ignores poverty and lack of health care and other issues as contributors to the problem.
“No one says that poverty means that these kids can’t learn,” he added, “but that is the meme that is promoted. Instead, we need to recognize the problem, and like America has always been admired for, take it head on and solve the problem.”
Crosby’s school will begin incorporating student test scores into teacher assessments this year. Unlike Smith, Snyder, and Needleman, Crosby remained unconvinced that these new evaluations were a good idea.
“[They’re] based on little to no research,” he argued. “The top scoring countries in the world on international assessments like PISA don’t use test scores to rate their teachers. They support teachers with professional development that the teachers design, and give them time and resources to plan with their peers and improve. That is what is proven to make a difference.”
A BETTER CHOICE
If experienced teachers could design their own evaluation measures, what would they look like? TakePart posed that question to the four educators interviewed, and surprisingly, three of them gave the same answer.
“Teachers would evaluate teachers,” said Smith. “Too often, once a person starts teaching they spend the next 35 years having no idea what the person down the hall is doing. I think we could learn a lot from one another.”
Crosby shared the same sentiments. “I’d like to have more time to see my peers teach and for them to observe me,” he remarked. “They are the real experts. They have the training and the experience and the understanding…If teachers become the major evaluators and professional development support for each other, and additionally are given the time to do so well, that would go a long way to improving the profession and student achievement.” Needleman commented that “contrary to public opinion, there aren’t that many bad teachers out there. But there are a few. Teachers know who those bad teachers are. If teachers had the power to identify those bad teachers I think they would do a very good job of it. An ideal evaluation system would involve the input of other teachers, administrators, and parents in a system of checks and balances.”