Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Testing, Testing

For teachers in my state, and many others, the real March Madness has begun. Now is the time of standardized testing, stressed-out students, altered schedules, classroom coverage, and get-a-good-night's-sleep-and-eat-a-healthy-breakfast admonitions, all in the name of meeting goal, and soon enough, also in the name of teacher evaluation.

My Governor, that unfriendly one whom I mentioned here, is making the rounds in town hall meetings to talk about his reform plan. His remarks about teachers thus far have been offensive (degrading the value of our work: "In today's system basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.") and incorrect (defending his proposal that links evaluation and certification: "This is the evaluation system that the teachers' unions negotiated through a two-year process.").

Here is what the unions have negotiated, and what will most likely be used in this state. We may not like certain aspects of the plan, and we may not know just how the plan will be implemented, but the plan (or one similar to it) will be here to stay.

45% Multiple student learning indicators (half, 22.5%, comes from standardized test scores)
  5% Whole-school student learning indicators or student feedback
40% Observations of teacher performance and practice
10%  Peer or parent feedback

But it's not using test scores (student learning indicators), particularly, that irks me about evaluations, though I cannot get my head around the application of this concept to specials teachers, library media specialists, school counselors, social workers, psychologists... you get it. In fact, I'm pretty okay with using test scores as such a small part of the evaluation process. What bothers me is the assumption that everything that's come before, everything we use now, is broken or wrong. That we've not been evaluated fairly, or adequately, or frequently enough. That it's our fault, or the unions' fault, that those few teachers who are unsuccessful (you know, "bad teachers," like they're rotten fruit) somehow remain on the job.

In fact, it's not our fault, nor is it the unions'. Under our current evaluation policies and tenure laws, bad teachers can be, and are, let go. Released. Counseled out. Fired. This happens when administrators have the time, talent, and skills to observe and evaluate their teachers. More times then not, though, administrators drop the ball, or don't have time, or aren't willing (or don't know how) to engage in the intensive supervision that might be required when a teacher is struggling. I'm not sure how this will change with any new evaluation tool.

Does it matter? We will still be subject to evaluation. I don't know a teacher who doesn't welcome evaluation, who doesn't want to improve and grow as a professional. Evaluation, in whatever form it takes, is our "test," our skills-based assessment that is hopefully authentic and meaningful. We want to meet goal, to achieve, to go beyond mastery. We want to succeed.

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