Sunday, April 17, 2011

Beware the Forty-Percent Rule

Virginia has recently passed a new expectation for Teacher Evaluations.
Normally we are assessed in six areas.
The new ruling adds a seventh area of evaluation: Student Growth.
Though it is the seventh category, a full forty percent of our evaluations are now dependent on evidence of Student Growth.  Twenty percent of the evaluation must be tied to the student's SOL scores.  The other twenty percent will be left for Districts to determine.
This is a bad idea.
It will be bad for children.
Why?
This means that every teacher in every subject and grade must find a way to measure student growth.
Think for a moment on that.
Kindergarten teachers, art teachers, phys. ed teachers---all must collect some sort of data at both the beginning of the year and the end of the year in order to prove some growth.
No one knows what this will look like, but in the case of SOL tests this means a beginning of the year assessment followed by a state test at the end.
But if you are an insecure teacher, this may also mean many other standardized smaller tests throughout the year in order to gauge how well students will do at the end of year test--because your performance relies upon theirs.
Picture yourself as a child facing a battery of tests implemented at every turn throughout the days, weeks, and months of the school year.  Start with the image of a five-year-old sitting still for one assessment after another.
Now imagine the listless, passive graduates who manage to survive such a mind-numbing thirteen years in a test-driven system.

This also means that all the grownups will now be focusing like a laser on how well their students will do on these assessments.
Please note: People's livelihood will depend on how well children test.
If that is not a recipe for corruption, I don't know what is.

Finally, the district must come up with some equitable formula for the other 20% of teacher evaluation.  This will likely take the form of some quick and dirty test.  (I recently sat in on a meeting where purchasing a test for our assessment of that twenty percent was mentioned.)  That will cost money.  That will be a part of the limited funds available to districts that will not be spent on instruction.

Again.

Putting all other arguments aside, this will be BAD for CHILDREN.

Standardized tests are now being asked to perform a function they were never designed for and the tests are wagging the entire teaching dog.  We have entered into a national experiment where the future of our children is hanging on the outcome of an unproven, widespread trial that includes four and five-year-olds as the experimental subjects.

But surely somebody can benefit from measuring and weighing our students at regular intervals.  Oh, wait, this is good for the Testing Industry.  My guess is the stock is going up.

There is an answer:

  • Prepare teachers well. Currently billions is spent on "teacher proofing" schools rather than trusting the professionals. (Think of the entire education industry from textbooks, to outside professional development, to standardized tests.  All are predicated on the idea that we can staff our schools with anyone and everyone, and it will all be OK for kids if we put enough rules in place.)
  • Leave the assessment to teams of teachers. (This works well in high performing nations like Finland, South Korea, Singapore, and the province of Ontario.) 
  • Stop outsourcing the intellectual property of teachers to distant, impersonal, child insensitive, profit-making enterprises.