On Measuring Student Learning

“Student learning should be part of teacher evaluation, but it should only be one part of the whole picture.”  Though I’ve heard this statement many times before, it gave me pause and I started thinking… What else would I want my evaluation to be based on, exactly? My effort? My punctuality? My daily aims?

I’m becoming increasingly troubled by the whole notion of teacher evaluation lately. The truth is, I measure my own strength as a teacher by what I observe in my students (and to some degree my ability to collaborate with colleagues and make other contributions to my school).  But overall, student learning is exactly what I think my value as a teacher should be based on; it’s not just “part of the whole picture” of what I do.

For the last two days, I’ve been at conference hosted by Pearson on “The Professionalization of Teaching,” where I got to introduce the concept of teacherpreneurship and my own work as a teacherpreneur.  The range of speakers was quite interesting, and I was one of just two practicing teachers to present.  It felt good to give a dose of on-the-ground reality with a heavy sprinkle of optimism to the audience of academics, district administrators, and policy makers.

At one point, Governor Jim Hunt of NC, who made a lot of impressive and heartfelt points about education policy and teacher leadership, said something along the lines of, “Student learning should be part of teacher evaluation, but it should only be one part of the whole picture.”  Though I’ve heard this statement many times before, it gave me pause and I started thinking… What else would I want my evaluation to be based on, exactly? My effort? My punctuality? My daily aims?

I’m becoming increasingly troubled by the whole notion of teacher evaluation lately.  The truth is, I measure my own strength as a teacher by what I observe in my students (and to some degree my ability to collaborate with colleagues and make other contributions to my school).  But overall, student learning is exactly what I think my value as a teacher should be based on; it’s not just “part of the whole picture” of what I do.  Everything else, in fact, is  secondary to me.

The sticky part is what we define as learning and how we measure it. 

Studens are learning so many different things from us in a given moment. For example, if a class is orderly, students may be learning something about order, discipline and organization. They may also be learning to keep their mouths shut and do what they are told.  There is a huge difference there! Neither of these things is measured on standardized tests or even in state standards.  But organization and also speaking your mind in a context-appropriate manner, are both incredibly important to students’ success in life, as scholars, as citizens and in careers.  If these points were clearly laid out in state standards, how would we measure them?

I’m not on board with the general framework I see lately for defining the learning that happens in schools. And I’m even less on board with how we are measuring this.  Because of the multitiude of things students are learning all the time from their teachers, classmates, parents and environment, and the difficulty of accurately separating out and measuring these things, I’m doubtful that we could ever come up with a teacher evaluation system that is based on measures of student learning. And if we’re not measuring student learning, what are we measuring and why?

Confused…