Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Effective Teaching Task Force

The Governor of New Mexico created a group called the Effective Teaching Task Force and assigned them to come up with a way that teacher evaluations could be altered to be based 50% on student performance.  They invited public commentary today, in person, in Santa Fe (I couldn't attend) or in writing.  Here's the email that I sent.  I'm not sure how far along they are or whether the invitation is anything more than just a chance for people to speak their mind before the task force does whatever they wanted in the first place.  Anyway, here's the email that I sent:

I'd like to start by saying that I'm glad that a group of interested parties has been meeting to discuss improving education in New Mexico.  Regarding the idea that student performance become 50% of a teacher's evaluation - here are my comments: 

1. I think it is important to be clear what the purpose of using student performance in teacher evaluations is.  Is it to provide incentives to teachers who perform well? To punish/reform teachers who perform poorly? To simply broaden the current conversation about test scores belonging to whole schools rather than individual educators?  Educators are so often blamed for the current state of affairs; I hope that using student performance as part of NM teacher evaluations does not become just another way to put educators down.  The NMSBA has all sorts of punitive repercussions for poor performance and no incentives for growth and/or good performance.  When designing new teacher evaluations, please consider ways to reward and motivate educators for even small successes.  

2. Most teachers who are currently in place in NM schools were told they were good enough to be there by their passing scores on NMTA tests and by receiving their degrees and licenses in education from NM universities.  If student performance is to become part of teacher evaluations, the state really needs to start reconsidering how it recruits, hires and trains teachers.  In fact, I think this should come before changing teacher evaluations.  If we were to begin firing teachers for poor performance, who would replace them?  How can we get motivated, energetic, creative, and intelligent people into the teaching profession, and how can we train them to really affect student test performance?  

3. In my limited experience, teacher evaluations are fairly meaningless when it comes to actually making changes in my classroom.  Every year I choose a few competencies to work on, set a few goals, and then forget about them until I have to write a reflection toward the end of the year. That's not to say I'm not a good teacher and don't try to make positive changes in my classroom based on the needs of my students.  It's just that goals don't mean anything when they aren't publicized and worked toward every day. How can student performance be woven into daily conversations in schools... department meetings, staff meetings, parent-teacher conferences, etc. instead of just another part of a meaningless ritual of paperwork that must be completed each year. 

4. It seems to me that the assessment techniques currently used in most classrooms in NM don't provide timely enough or user-friendly enough data to really help teachers make positive changes in their classrooms.  It's great that teachers and administrators will be asked to more closely examine student performance as it relates to what happens on a daily basis in a classroom, but the more important piece is what comes next. "Ok, so your scores aren't where we'd like them to be.... "  What is the task force putting in place to help foster positive changes?  Without next steps for professional development in place, this could just turn into another version of NMSBA scores, where teachers know their students aren't performing well but aren't sure what to do about it. 

5. Using student performance as a part of teacher evaluations won't work unless teachers and administrators trust and value the data from the assessments.  I'm not exactly sure how to increase buy-in from all stake-holders, but I am sure that building in methods and time to do so are necessary.  One possibility would be to give schools more autonomy in selecting their methods of assessment and their goals for their students.  If this new teacher evaluation is to work and is to have any staying power, schools MUST be convinced that it is good for students and it is good for teachers.  I believe that, during the first couple years of the new evaluations, buy-in is more important than being strict or even consistent.  Teachers need to feel that if they work hard toward a goal they care about, then they can affect the outcome of their students' performance.  Currently, I think teachers don't value test data - in part because have no control over anything about the test and in part because they feel that no matter what they do on their classrooms, it won't change the outcome.  A change in teachers' attitude toward assessment will do much more to improve student performance than shoving poor test scores in teachers' faces and telling them they need to do better. 

Thanks for your time.  Good luck in putting together your list of recommendations for the state. 

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