Evaluating What?

If only they spent this much time worrying about adequately funding our schools. The state Department of Education just released a complicated new formula for evaluating teachers that will take effect next fall. One of the new components is a “building score” that will account for 15% of each teacher’s evaluation. That score includes a variety of measures, including students’ PSSA scores, graduation rates, attendance, and whether or not the school offers Advanced Placement courses. Half of every teacher’s score will be based on direct observation, 20% will come from locally developed factors (approved by the state), and 15% from “correlation data based on teacher level measures.” [Post-Gazette, 10-29-12] Whatever that means.

Do I think teachers ought to be evaluated? Sure. And I’m glad to see the state urging the use of more than just students’ standardized test scores. But there is still cause for concern here, especially with that new building score. The state proposes using a detailed accounting to arrive at that score: 30% based on student test scores, 10% for whether the school is closing the racial achievement gap, 2.5% for third grade reading scores, 5% for promotion rates at K-8 schools … and on and on. The idea is that the quality of a school can be exactly measured with these scores.

The very premise assumes that individual teachers should be held responsible for things largely outside their control. State deputy education secretary Carolyn Dumaresq says this will make education more of a “team sport,” where everyone shares responsibility. But that’s not quite accurate. Other than attendance rates, where is the student accountability for their own education here? Student motivation, completing homework, paying attention in class – these things matter a great deal to learning. And where is family accountability in this equation? Making sure students get to class, supporting their learning at home, and parental engagement are probably the most important factors in student achievement, but they are not being measured here.

Missing entirely from this quantification is a sense of what really matters in education: real student learning (not just learning how to take standardized tests). Well rounded knowledge outside basic reading and math skills. (Where is art, music, science, history?) Character development. Citizenship. The building score misses the point of education. Yet the state intends to make these scores public and then evaluate teachers on them.

Which begs the question, why does the Department of Education plan to exempt charter schools from this teacher evaluation plan? Charters are quite fond of claiming they are public schools, so why shouldn’t building scores apply to them?

I hate the idea of assigning each school what amounts to a grade. But if we’re going to do that, why don’t we turn this into what education historian Diane Ravitch calls “positive accountability”: use those grades to support and improve schools. What if every building that receives the equivalent of a “D” or “F” score immediately receives extra resources from the state and offers of help, instead of effectively undermining the careers of the teachers working in our most struggling schools?

Good teaching matters. It’s just that this is a terribly difficult thing to quantify as the state is trying to do. Especially with standardized tests that were designed to measure a student’s performance, not the teacher’s. All this hyperventilating about teaching effectiveness masks the other giants in the room impacting student learning: massive state budget cuts, the loss of 20,000 Pennsylvania teachers over the past two years, the elimination of tutoring and summer school programs, the erosion of school libraries, slashing of the arts, and serious reduction of early childhood education and Kindergarten.

So do I think teaching evaluation is important? Of course. Are there a few poor teachers in the system? You bet. But when I look around at public education today, teachers do not strike me as the real problem. What if Governor Corbett and his Department of Education spent half that much time worrying about ways to adequately and equitably fund our public schools? What if we evaluate how effective our legislators are in supporting real improvement in public education? Now there’s one score I’d like to see made public.

7 thoughts on “Evaluating What?

  1. Sadly, this methodology will not improve teaching and learning. In fact, we will see more focus on testing and teaching to the test. And less focus on the components we can’t easily measure like developing a child’s love of learning and creating enthusiasm for school.
    It’s happened already.
    Take a look at what Kindergarten has become– no time for play-based learning and teaching of social and emotional skills to develop critical interpersonal aptitude. If math and language proficiency are the only skills tested, you can bet math and language will be the only things taught.
    Yet, we expect our kids to ‘behave’ in Kindergarten and meet expectations required to be ‘ready to learn’ the math and language necessary to achieve high scores on the standardized tests– to evaluate the teachers. It’s ludicrous!
    Our children are assessed more than ever before. This year PPS 6th graders will take 23 assessments- 9 more than last year. Do you know how much funding is allocated to testing? Funding that could be allocated elsewhere? (Librarians, social workers, counselors, etc.)

    • Pam, you are absolutely right. “Teaching effectiveness” is part of the No Child Left Behind mantra of accountability that has done far more to harm our schools than to help them. Testing is out of control and damaging public education.

  2. It’s enough to make a talented and motivated teacher want to seriously consider changing careers. The game is stacked against us, and sometimes it feels as if teachers can’t win.

  3. I’m a retired Buffalo teacher and I thought our State Ed Department was hallucinating about evaluations. I really empathize with you folks. Your State Ed. is insane !
    Perhaps the insanity started in D. C. ten years ago, and everybody there has drunk the purple kool-aid, or been paid off by “the Billionaire boys clubs”.
    Professional Educational leaders had better develop spines and stop this stuff before every kook , cult, club, gang etc starts a Charter school. We’ll have a million schools with no one in charge of the mess they create, and no honest person keeping track of the money they are stealing from taxpayers..

    Did you read about Pearson joining forces with a bigger German publishing firm? Aargh!

  4. Even though the “other 50%” is supposed to be an assortment of multiple measures the reality is that test score data sliced and diced and distributed different ways still accounts for the majority of “multiple measures” in the 50%.

    Reality. We are being duped by even discussing some acceptable use of test score data to evaluate teachers.

    There is no acceptable use of high stakes test data in the evaluation of teachers!

  5. The point here is that any teacher who cares about his/her evaluations will run away from schools and districts that show poor scores and low attendance.

    I work hard and take pride in the work I do. If I am to receive a poor score due to factors beyond my control, I’m out of there.

    I’m not going to throw my talent and hard work into an inner-city then get punished for poor results. My salary and career may end up depending on it.

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