Thursday, September 29, 2011

Daily Wonderings on Teacher Evaluations and Data

Yesterday I attended an event to discuss current ideas about effective teaching and the recommendations for NM's future teacher evaluation system.  Here are the recommendations.  For the record, I'm OK with student SBA performance making up 50% of my teacher evaluation.  I do think, to a great extent, that although test scores aren't perfect, kids who score well on the test also tend to possess even the skills that aren't tested and that will help a student be successful later in life.

What we didn't have a chance to talk about in our discussion, and what I wonder about day-in and day-out, is the "so what?"  What if a teacher gets a bad evaluation?  The evaluations may play the useful role of identifying teachers who are more and less effective, but most schools kind of already know who's who.  Will the evaluations be the documentation that convinces the teacher herself that she needs to be developed?  That gets the ball rolling?  And then WHAT WILL THE DEVELOPMENT LOOK LIKE?  Is there any consensus out there about what types of development will actually make teachers more effective on a day-to-day basis?  Who is going to hold the teacher accountable?  Colleagues?  Principals?  How can teachers help one another become more effective?

It's not going to happen that once I realize that my value-added test scores aren't equivalent to 1 year's growth, I think "oh, I'd better start doing my best now."  I think MOST teachers are already doing what they think is best for their students.  And it's really going to take some work to make a difference in the practice of those teachers who are doing their best and still aren't making 1 year's growth.

I also wanted to remark on something that happened today at my school: one of the college engagement directors ran a report that highlighted all of the students who were failing 1 and then 2 or more classes.  And I was astounded.  Never before, despite having had electronic grade books for years now, has someone in one of my schools run an analysis of students' grades.  How simple and how silly that this is the first time something like that has come across my desk.  And I bet there are many other schools out there that have never run a similar report, or really any report that helps teachers meaningfully look at student data.

Although SBA data has been used as a reason to blame the teaching profession for the ills of the world, data in and of itself is not something to be feared.  As long as we keep in mind that students are people and not just numbers, we shouldn't be afraid of data.  It can help us see the forest from the trees in a way that day-to-day teaching just can't.

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