A swath of teacher-authored letters in The New York Times recently lamented the reliance on standardized testing as a guiding force behind quality educational outcomes.
No doubt, as one teacher put it: “If I must be judged on scores, and not on my ability to inspire students to love learning, to love literature and learn about life from it, and to find their writer’s voice, it’s a sad day for all of us.”
Parents have known the truth for ages: Classroom teachers help determine student success.
So, what’s fair in measuring teacher performance? What matrix and weight should be assessed to grades, standardized test scores, district-issued and peer evaluations?
These questions dog the education world nationwide, from politicians to parents.
Parent-centric concerns were one component of a multi-issue survey commissioned by UPforEd which found teacher quality to be of great importance to parents.
Yet, San Diego Unified avoided dealing with this issue when it passed on applying for the Obama administration’s Race to the Top funding, which required teacher assessment.
However, the surge of this national discussion may force the district to deal with this ubiquitous issue.
A recent story in The Christian Science Monitor, “Surprise: Teachers crave evaluation,” suggests that teachers actually desire a meaningful evaluation system.
Additionally, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation surveyed more than 10,000 teachers on a variety of issues and found the same conclusion: teachers asked for more formalized self-evaluations, more evaluations from principals and district leaders, and more assessments of their knowledge on the subjects they teach.
“A lot of people think teachers don’t want (evaluations),” said Margery Mayer, president of Scholastic Education. “They do want that, but in a way that’s fair and thoughtful.”
Again, the surveyed teachers said standardized tests just don’t cut the mustard when evaluating classroom effectiveness.
So what does?
The Gates Foundation study found that “[t]eachers overwhelmingly agree that student growth over the course of an academic year is the most important metric in measuring their performance; 85% of teachers say this should contribute a great deal or a moderate amount to measuring their performance, with 43% giving this a rating of a ‘great deal.'” Other measures include assessments of their own work from a variety of sources, including in-class observations and performance reviews from principals, peers and maybe even students.
However, teachers stipulated that student progress is a team effort: students must be supported both inside the classroom and outside the school system.
While basing teacher effectiveness on testing might not give the complete picture, it certainly gives a snapshot.
According to the recent Competitive Edge survey, access to University of California and California State University prep courses is the top concern for San Diego parents.
In 2011, UC San Diego only admitted 18,234 of 53,455 freshmen applicants in 2011 with an average GPA of 4.09 and an average SAT score of 1968, while San Diego State University received almost 60,000 undergraduate applications for about 6,174 undergraduate slots. Admitted SDSU freshmen had an average GPA of 3.78 with an average SAT score of 1148.
So, while we examine ways to fairly measure teacher performance, we cannot simply ignore the importance of student test-taking as a means of judging the effect on our children’s futures. But teachers and parents both agree it cannot be the only way.
We want our children to be in classrooms that are dynamic, filled with critical thinking, engaged students and relevant learning. Our greatest assets are high-quality teachers providing this rich experience.
The search for effective assessment often begins with teachers themselves. The New Teacher Project, Educators for Excellence, Accomplished California Teachers, and the Hillsborough County School District, are just a few groups aiming to implement fair and rigorous evaluation systems.
Mayors and governors are also leading the charge, as seen in New York, Chicago and Louisiana, to establish evaluations using student growth in concert with multiple observations of classroom teachers as measuring sticks for effectiveness.
Perhaps these new ideas could replace the antiquated and test-heavy No Child Left Behind, which many education experts believe dumbed down the public school system and focused too heavily on “teaching to the test.”
Such progress across the nation provides a glimmer of hope that, here in San Diego, stakeholders will have the difficult conversation about teacher assessment geared toward instructional quality and educational excellence.
Clearly, it’s an issue that’s near and dear to the hearts of parents.
Shelli Kurth is the executive director of UPforEd, an independent source for San Diego Unified School District parents who advocate for children getting a better education.
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