Day 3 prompt (Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge): Discuss one “observation” area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation.
There’s been a lot of talk in the news the past years about teacher evaluations. Every state does it differently. Some even tie it to “merit pay”, which is terrible idea in my opinion.
I don’t think teachers have any problem being evaluated. All employees receive evaluations that lead to stagnation or movement (and hopefully improvement) in their careers. And in lots of careers, that movement does come with more pay. You do well, you are rewarded.
That’s probably why the general public can’t figure out why teachers are so against it.
Well…it has to do with trust. And equality.
If I have an honors class that performs well on the state test (they probably could have passed it their first day…without my instruction)…I come out looking good. My evaluations are good. I make more money. Yippee!
If I have a regular class and work hard with them…75% of them pass…I look okay. I might make a few extra dollars for having scores that surpass the state. No one bothers to look and see that 5 of those students missed more than 50 days of the school year each. But, I’m being held responsible for their learning, so if they don’t show up, I’d better work harder when they ARE there. Also, no one bothers to see that I’m willing to take the mainstreamed special ed kiddos who are working as hard as they can. They have improved, but they still can’t bring their 4th grade level reading to 7th grade standards. Even with accommodations, only 1 of them passes. I’ve spent lunch hours tutoring them, hours in meetings with their case-workers and parents, hours reading books or going to professional workshops trying to figure out ways to help them do the impossible. No matter what…even though I’ve worked my hardest…75% just doesn’t match the teacher with the honors class who makes 100% without even trying.
So, this evaluation/merit pay thing isn’t about good teaching. It’s about good scores. Or at least that’s what teachers fear it will be. And the problem with that is it will lead to competition, distrust, and inequality. Why wouldn’t I want to fight for the honors classes and avoid teaching those with special needs? If I’m liable to have my name printed in the local paper as a “failing” teacher (because they do that, you know) if my scores aren’t up to par, I’m going to do everything I can to stack my class with kids who are going to PASS.
That is bad juju for education.
Instead, evaluations (and, yes…merit pay, if you must - I’m not against a little extra cash!) should measure progress and improvement. That way, any teacher, with any population of students, can achieve their goals. My 7th graders with 4th grade reading ability? If they can make at least 1-1.5 grades’ worth of improvement, that should be celebrated. No, they are not likely to pass the state test, but they HAVE learned. And this is evidence of good teaching. That means data collection and portfolios have to be a part of the package, not just test scores.
I get the point of standardized tests. But we put far too much importance on them. When one test, taken once a year, determines our whole next year’s funding and whether or not we are labeled a failing school…somewhere we have gone terribly wrong. That’s like Julia Child having one ugly batch of cookies and being put on probation in the kitchen for a year until she could get that same batch of cookies to look better (we aren’t concerned with what’s inside the cookies or what made the batch bad in the first place…we only care what they look like on the day of the test).
Our school is in that position. We’ve received the Washington State Achievement Award 4 years running. Our scores bypass the state’s every year. By a lot. People actually move to our city for the special education program. We have amazing teachers who work hard. And, yet, last year, under the new guidelines, our school was labeled “emerging” because one group of kids didn’t meet standard. We still go the achievement award. We still outscored the state, and here we were - in the paper, labeled as a failing school. Really?
Here’s the article…
And this year, we had to send out a notice to all families telling them so.. making sure they knew they could send their kids to any other area school if they didn’t want to ruin their kids by sending them to us.
Luckily, a significant portion of our population actually have brains and can see past the bureaucracy. Notice how the article mentions that 100% requirement. Anyone with a brain will understand that 100% is impossible, when we are talking about kids. Too many other factors get in the way of that number…
I’m not saying we shouldn’t TRY for 100%. But, I think it’s safe to say, we’ll never actually meet it, unless we stop educating EVERYONE - only let in kids who can achieve the standard, start punishing parents who don’t get their kids to school (seriously…when you let kids miss 20 days in a row without medical reason…it’s neglect, people!), and keep them the whole year (boarding school?) where we can control their out-of-school activities.
With that in mind, I’m currently considering my evaluation goals. Yay!
Actually, I’m blessed to be in a school and district that “gets it.” Our state chose the Danielson Model (teacher-speak for “really complex way of defining good teaching and a really good way for one lady to make a boat-load of cash packaging a program to sell to states across the nation”). There were two other choices for states to consider.
As if that weren’t comprehensive enough, Washington also added its own criteria called the State 8 (cute, eh?).
Every 4 years, teachers have to be evaluated on all 8 criteria. In the other years, they choose one focus area. I can’t imagine having an administrator who had to evaluate all of his/her staff on all 8 criteria every year. Not that principals shouldn’t be evaluating their staff. But, seriously…they have dozens of other jobs to do, too. And the data collection, pre-conferences, post-conferences, observations, paperwork…it takes a lot of time.
I’ll admit, since we started this…my evaluation conferences have been more productive and focused. But the accompanying paperwork and evidence collection DOES take a lot of time away from my normal planning and teaching. And it does make sure that my state test scores are NOT the measure of my teaching ability…or the abilities of the students. I do think, after a few years of implementing this, I’ll find that I’m spending far less time preparing for it. It helps me to actually PROVE that I’m doing my job…well. I’m not just saying it. I have evidence to back it up.
With ALL OF THAT in mind…I’m on the comprehensive plan this year (by choice…I wanted to get it out of the way). So these are my goals, in summation:
Criteria 1 - Classroom Environment & Instruction: This year, I’m trying student data folders. I’ve also stream-lined my website and am incorporating a weekly homework packet with a newsletter home, rather than having sporadic/intermittent homework. The concept here is routine and habit with clear expectations. Also, I will continue to focus on pace and variety in lesson plans (multiple intelligences, brain-based instruction, gifted & talented, differentiation).
Criteria 2 - Demonstrating Effective Teaching Practices: Basically, the focus here is questioning and discussion techniques. As I team pretty closely with the science teacher, I’ll be working with the same Next Generation Science discussion norms. Also, my goal is to have the kids designing and controlling more of their learning.
Criteria 3 and 6 - Recognizing Individual Student Needs & Developing Strategies to Address those Needs/Using Multiple Student Data Elements to Modify Instruction & Improvement Student Learning: That’s really just reading records, pre-assessing, and then instructing at differentiated levels…then using formative assessments (observations/assignments) to guide re-instruction. It might also mean grouping students in particular ways, providing alternate materials, and being sensitive to student interests (surveys). This is also where the student data folders with come into play…with student reflection based on goals set by the kids (with help from me). I usually keep spreadsheets of data.
Criteria 4 - Providing Clear & Intentional on Subject Matter Content & Curriculum: Lesson planning, my friends. Knowing what you want them to learn and then designing the units backwards from there, with the goal in mind. It’s simple UBD (understanding by design). This takes a clear understanding of CCSS (common core state standards). I even gave the kids their own CCSS checklist this year, just like the one I use to track my own progress in teaching the concepts.
Criteria 5 - Fostering a Safe, Positive Learning Environment: I try to keep the room clean and interesting, with clear expectations for sharing, risk-taking, and making mistakes. From the posters on the wall, to classroom discussion and group work norms, my intention is to make sure all students feel like they are part of the classroom family. This means trying to talk to each student (one-on-one) each week - about personal things rather than school things. I have to be approachable…and make sure that all the students know that my expectation is that the be tolerant.
Criteria 7 - Communicating & Collaborating with Parents and Community: Weekly newsletter and classroom website.
Criteria 8 - Exhibiting Collaborative & Collegial Practices Focused on Improving Instructional Practice and Student Learning: Working with my team…designing shared assignments and rubrics with Science, attending committee meetings and sharing with department.
Interestingly enough…I’m supposed to have my TPEP (teacher/principal evaluation project) paperwork/goals done by next week. So, all I have to do is transfer this into the form.