So I’ve finally stolen a few minutes from my incredibly hectic life to poke through a new report titled Making Teacher Evaluation Work for Students that was crafted by the 32 accomplished practitioners in the Denver New Millennium Initiative (DNMI).

With the help of the Center for Teaching Quality—my blog’s sponsors and long-time professional mentors—these teachers spent a solid chunk of time studying the ins-and-outs of teacher evaluation with some real heavyweights including Linda Darling-Hammond, Jennifer Jennings, and Tom Kane.

Then, they offered a series of policy suggestions to Colorado legislators on ways in which the Ensuring Quality Instruction Through Educator Effectiveness Act—statewide legislation that requires student growth to count for at least 50% of a teacher’s annual evaluation—can be implemented effectively at the school level.

My first reaction to the report is a great big HOO-RAH.

The way I figure, it’s about time that teachers asserted themselves when it comes to the choices being made that govern our profession.

After all, I haven’t met a legislator yet who has any idea what schools are really like, so spoon-feeding a bit of classroom truth to those who are crafting policies that will impact the lives of our nation’s kids CAN’T be a bad thing.

Overall, the report is brilliant.  Perhaps most importantly, the DNMI team make it perfectly clear that comprehensive teacher evaluation policies are a heck of a lot more complicated than most political blowhards think.

Specifically, they point to four areas that are going to need to be addressed before Colorado’s teacher evaluation policy will pay any real dividends for students.

They are:

  • Developing meaningful measures of student growth, including in nontested areas.
  • Defining qualifications and training for evaluators.
  • Determining how to account for school conditions and student factors in a teacher’s evaluation.
  • Designing an evaluation system that informs both employment decisions and professional growth and learning.

That’s good stuff, isn’t it?

All too often, legislators whip up policies on teacher evaluation without thinking through ANY of those factors—and then act surprised when teachers push back against their half-baked plans.

Essentially, the Denver New Millennium Initiative team is saying to their elected officials, “Your plans for holding us accountable can work.  Let us show you how.”

I like that.

The only hiccup for me comes as the DNMI team details their suggestions for developing meaningful measures of student growth that can be used in teacher evaluations.

They rightly argue that teachers in tested subjects should be held accountable for more than just results on standardized tests—and they also argue that students should be given pre and post tests to paint an accurate picture of the gains that students make during a school year.

That’s significant simply because looking at results from year-to-year fails to take into account the impact that two months off have—positively or negatively—on a student’s academic performance.

But a part of me wonders whether teachers should ever argue for the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations.

After all, we know:

  1. That using standardized tests as indicators in teacher evaluation policies results in more mind numbing teach-to-the-test practices.
  2. That standardized tests in their current iterations are limited at best, focusing on nothing more than the kinds of basic skills that can be measured by bubbles.
  3. That tying standardized tests to evaluations creates incentives for teachers to lie about student performance. (See: Michelle Rhee.)

NONE of those truths make schools any better for students, y’all.  And neither has nearly a decade of high-stakes standardized testing in American education.

Now, don’t get me wrong:  The DNMI team ISN’T arguing for standardized tests as a sole measure of a teacher effectiveness. 

What’s more, their report makes it perfectly clear that more complex performance assessments developed with input from practitioners are necessary if we are really serious about preparing kids for a complex and poorly defined future.

Finally, their report also makes it perfectly clear that teachers should be held accountable for developing—and measuring progress towards—two individual growth goals that are tied to their school’s improvement plans.

Both steps would be incredible improvements over the test-em-till-their-dead policies that Tea Party Nation seems set on supporting—and on shoving down our throats until we choke.

I also get that incorporating standardized testing measures in teacher evaluations might just be a non-negotiable in today’s ed policy world.  Compromise DOES matter, after all.

But I am starting to believe—along with passionate folks like Alice Mercer, Anthony Cody, and Diane Ravitch—that there are some things that just aren’t worth compromising on.

So whaddya’ think?

Does it make sense for teachers to work within the boundaries of current education policies—accepting standardized tests while simultaneously suggesting changes to our systems for measuring student performance?

Or is it time to take off the gloves and take a stand against any attempts to tie standardized tests to high stakes evaluations for teachers OR students?

Looking forward to your replies.  This is one I’m a struggling with.

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