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Better Ways to Evaluate Teaching and Learning

Across the country, parents, teachers, and students are beginning to pushback—hard—against the misuses and abuses of standardized testing in our educational system.

First, most people do not understand what standardized achievement tests are actually designed to measure. They are not designed to measure what students have “learned” over a specific period of time or from a specific teacher. Therefore, attempts to use them for that purpose are at best misguided, at worst, deceptive.  For more on this point, I recommend listening to the recent interview of Jim Popham by Steve Hargadon at Future of Education.

An expert on tests and testing, Popham reminds us that standardized tests by nature of their design sort students based on socio-economic backgrounds, not academic accomplishments.

Because our federal and state governments have tied such high-stakes to the results of these misused tests, we have created additional crisis situations for students and teachers, particularly for those already facing the most challenges, as my colleague NYC teacher Jose Vilson reminds us.

I cannot do justice here to the many aspects of the testing/evaluation issue, or to the far-reaching debate over it among teachers and students around the country. That debate is yielding some important ideas, however, that deserve closer attention. In a series of articles sponsored by Education Week’s Teacher Magazine, several teacher-leaders connected with the Center for Teaching Quality have offered some much needed clarity and advice on better ways to assess what students are learning and how teachers are teaching. In one of those series, Testing at the Crossroads, teachers look at the growing resistance to standardized testing starting with the much publicized refusal of teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School.  In another series, another group of outstanding teachers offer ideas from the field on how to better measure student learning.  

Likewise, my teacher colleagues and I have long been examining the issue of how to improve teacher evaluations. Back in 2011, I made this still pertinent observation on teacher evaluation:

How can we evaluate such rich complexity with all the varying levels of performance and experience they represent across the largest profession in America—with a few five-minute walk-bys and a checklist? Hardly. The old factory evaluation model, which was never a good fit for education, will be even less so as we move further into the potential of immersed learning and interconnected teaching. One principal trying to evaluate an entire faculty whose members practice a dizzying variety of pedagogical skills will be painfully ineffective. Like our students, teachers need assessment of our work based on a combination of measures and reviewers, with teachers taking responsibility for our own professional growth based on mutually established, student-centered goals.

To get there from here will require transformed thinking and some significant power shifts, neither of which, history reminds us, come easily. But I believe we are on the verge of such a shift as teaching finally morphs into a true profession. One of the trademarks of a profession is peer review of each other’s' work against high standards established by the profession.

Some of America’s best teachers have been offering up our expertise on how to improve assessment of students and teachers for quite a while now. Thankfully, there are signs that those valuable ideas are gaining well-deserved attention, but the fight against politically expedient assessment and evaluation must continue.

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 Cross-posted at National Journal: Education Experts

 

 

 

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