We’ve passed the halfway point of the school year and that means one thing for teachers: mid-year evaluation meetings!
I prepare as any high school English teacher would — by updating my Excel spreadsheets, chock full of student scores.
Truth be told, I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time on spreadsheets, but it is something I must address regularly as part of my professional evaluation. In fact, 45 percent of my annual review requires measurable improvement from my students during the school year.
Little did I know 25 years ago when I became an English teacher that I would need to quantify my passion for literature and media with student data. But here I am.
I get it. Teachers are public employees who should be held accountable, so school systems have created common benchmarks for all teachers.
For example, Abby Dolliver, superintendent in Norwich, recently “increased the mandated number of students at each grade level who must meet the ‘proficient’ benchmark on standardized tests from 75 percent to 85 percent.”
Teachers balked, citing the superintendent’s decision to raise the bar without their input: “A June teacher evaluation plan does include language suggesting that teachers should play a role in setting their own individual yearly goals.”
However, complained the Norwich Bulletin, teachers are entitled: “Most workers are required to submit to some form of evaluation — be it formal or informal, annual or semiannual, etc. — and being included in the process of setting performance goals would be considered a privilege, not a right, by most workers, and particularly by those in the private sector.”
In other words, teachers should consider themselves lucky, even as the boss increases the expectations for student achievement every year. Teaching is a privilege and with privileges come responsibilities such as improving test scores.
Thing is, I agree — for the most part. I do consider it a privilege to be teaching high school English for the 25th consecutive year. There’s nothing else I’d rather do, and I still love it.
I do accept that teaching comes with huge responsibilities, most of which have a scope that goes well beyond preparing students for standardized tests.
And I’ve come to accept that student data is a part of teaching that’s not going away.
So my response to this story about Norwich teachers is more indifferent than indignant. At this point, I simply get a “been-there-done-that” feeling now when it comes to education news, including these items:
• ESSA replaces NCLB: The federal government signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law on Dec. 10, replacing No Child Left Behind. The new law gives states “significant leeway in a wide range of areas, with the U.S. Department of Education seeing its hands-on role in accountability scaled back considerably.”
What’s more, states will “no longer have to do teacher evaluation through student outcomes, as they did under NCLB waivers.” Quite the change! Or is it?
States will still be required to submit accountability goals to the federal government that address “three academic indicators: proficiency on state tests, English-language proficiency, plus some other academic factor that can be broken out by subgroup, which could be growth on state tests.”
Translation: Standardized tests will likely remain a key benchmark.
• CEA Proposes Changes Changes to Teacher Evaluation: The Connecticut Education Association called last month for “changes to improve and simplify evaluation and professional development for Connecticut’s teachers.” According to the CEA, the new system should focus on student work in the classroom instead of on “unreliable” standardized test scores.
As CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg explained, there are better ways to teach children and monitor their progress:
“Portfolios that collect and evaluate student growth over time are valuable measures of student growth. Assessments that ask students to engage in complex activities, like designing and conducting a science experiment, researching a social science problem and writing a persuasive essay, or developing a green engineering design are far more engaging for students and are more valid at showing what a student knows and can do than an isolated test score.”
Portfolios, research, and persuasive essays?
Still doing that.
Granted, I believe ESSA is moving education in the right direction, and I applaud the CEA’s efforts to “decouple” standardized tests from teacher evaluations since they are, after all, a statistically dubious metric. My district, for instance, puts more stock in common assessments tied directly to the curriculum and written by teachers who teach it — a much more relevant measure than any standardized test.
As all of these “new” educational ideas continue to come, and go, and come back again, one reality will endure: I’ll still have my students to teach.
So, I vow to teach with passion, enthusiasm, and fairness, just as I’ve always done. And if my students’ progress — or, more accurately, my progress — must be quantified, then so be it. My gut will remain my own best measure of success.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.