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Testing Kids To Rate Teachers? There’s A Better Way

Standardized exams didn’t become the high-intensity debate that it is now until New York State exam achievement was tied to teacher evaluation through the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) law. 

 

Unfortunately, no discussion currently underway addresses the genesis of the problem.  

 

The purpose of teacher evaluations is to improve teacher performance. However, a review of APPR reveals that the system was not designed to achieve that purpose. Consider the following:

 

• The same system was imposed upon all teachers across the state without any differentiation. No consideration was given to how a teacher or district was performing.

 

• The tests used to assess teacher performance are similar to using a patient’s blood work to determine the efficacy of a doctor. There are too many variables to establish a direct correlation.

 

• Even in the face of universal agreement that the common core standards have been poorly implemented, there were those who insist that teacher evaluation continue in unmodified fashion simply because it is time to do so.

 

• The implementation of lower scores on the tests used to evaluate teacher performance makes obvious the alternative motives at work.

 

Each special interest group—including private corporations that see financial opportunity in creating and scoring tests—has attempted to explain this disconnect. Perhaps by painting public education as a failure, certain groups or elected officials will find it easier to privatize. The failure to address the obvious flaws lends credibility to this argument. 

No one who has been paying attention to the drama surrounding the teacher evaluation debate over the last few years believes that the system that has been designed will provide meaningful performance reviews.

 

The convoluted system currently in place essentially tests children to assess adults. The traditional 3-8 state exams (as required by federal law) represent scores for approximately 20 percent of the state’s teachers. In order to evaluate the remaining 80 percent of teachers, many districts implemented additional exams. Districts had to submit and obtain approval on Student Learning Objectives that demonstrated how each teacher would be assessed for 20 percent local and 20 percent state exams (areas for which a state exam didn’t exist the district created one). The over-testing of children was inevitable; more importantly it was unnecessary.  

 

A more productive process would gather data over a period of time. To determine whether a teacher retains certification, reviewers should consider live teaching observations, student achievement and teacher certification exams over a five-year period. The current requirement of 175 development hours is loosely constructed and offers little teacher assessment.  

 

The law should group teachers into two categories: 1) classroom teachers whose students take a state exam and 2) all others. Sixty percent of the evaluation for both groups should be based on classroom observation and performance. For test-year teachers, the remaining 40 percent should be 20 percent student achievement and 20 percent content exam, developed by an outside vendor. All inputs should be averaged over five years to determine recertification, and teachers who fail should get a year to address deficiencies. In category two, no student achievement data need be considered. That 20 percent should be replaced with an additional certification exam for the teacher. 

 

This proposal can be tweaked and adjusted but the critical piece is simple: stop testing children to rate adults. This scenario eases parental concerns about high stake testing and allows teachers a five-year window to demonstrate that they are effective. Isn’t this a win-win for everyone involved? 

 

For the full version of this column, visit “Nagler’s Notions” at http://blog.mineola.k12.ny.us/