Evaluate teachers on our ability to teach and test what really matters

Are we losing sight of the real prize? A broad vision of accountability prepares teachers to teach well, measure student learning accurately and ensure students are learning important information. Policy questions are raised on how to share with stakeholders.

Like educators in nations whose educational systems outperform ours, U.S. teachers should be evaluated on our ability to teach and test what really matters.

The more I think about the current rush to set up quick-and-dirty teacher evaluation systems based primarily on results of misused standardized testing data, the more I realize that we are losing sight of the real prize: our children’s learning of important things, and developing the professional expertise of our nation’s teachers. That expertise includes being able to teach well and to measure student learning accurately.

During the season of testing-induced madness around the country, I’m reflecting on something I wrote a while back that was also quoted in our new book, TEACHING 2030.

For years, one of my favorite classroom assessments has been to tie my opening activity fo the semester to my final exam (a composition). Students start the class by telling me (in writing) about their past experiences with writing, types of writing they have done (in and out of school), and their views on what constitutes good writing. For the final exam, I ask them to revisit that piece and explain what has changed as a result of their experiences in this class. They have to document examples of their own growth as writers. Thus, I have an exit essay that can be graded using the rubric adopted by the English faculty, but I also give the students a tool that guides them through a reflection of what they have learned and why. Student work samples like these (which can be digitized, stored, and analyzed over time) are also extremely valuable to me as evaluations of my own work and of how the class could be improved or changed.

The purpose of my classroom writing assessment is so students and I can measure the amoung of individual progress made by each writer. They all start from different points and end with various levels of proficiency as writers. I can generate reports, based on our school-adopted rubrics and learning outcomes, that show where each student is in relation to those outcomes and how far each student has moved over the course of the semester.

If the scoring instruments that I’m using within my classroom are of high quality, then I as an ethical professionally trained expert should be able to use those instruments to evaluate my students’ work accurately and fairly. [Hint to policymakers and pundits: This is what ‘good’ teachers do]. Why is that too big a leap for our society to make in thinking about what makes an effective classroom teacher? We make exactly the same assumption for doctors, professional sport referrees, and auto mechanics. Do some of them make mistakes in their judgments? Yes. Are some of them unscrupulous or inept. Yes. Do we question the entire enterprise because it includes imperfect assessmsents or some poor performers? No.

We’re asking the right policy question when we ask: “How can we better prepare the nation’s teachers to conduct, evaluate, and use classroom assessments (formative and summative)—and to share that information in a format usable by parents, schools, employers, and other interested parties. This is the broad vision of accountability that we need.