Mis-assessing Teacher Assessment

How, exactly, do you grade a teacher?  For years now, the education community has debated the value of measuring teachers based on student achievement.  The concept is a simple one — teachers succeed when kids achieve.  Students score well on district, state, or national assessments, and the teachers are effective.  Good teaching aligns with student achievement.

In Polk County, Florida, policymakers decided to take it a step further by requiring an additional way to rate teacher achievement beyond student performance on standardized tests.  The result?  Use teacher-determined student grades to grade our teachers.

Huh?  Let Eduflack get this straight.  Teachers are evaluated based on student classroom grades.  Teachers hand out those grades.  So “A” teachers just need to give their students As.  “C” teachers are those foolish enough to give their students C grades.  And let’s not even talk about those “F” teachers.

In Florida, teachers seem to be taking issue with this scheme because they don’t have control over the students they receive.  Teachers with a significant number of at-risk students run a higher risk of failure than those teaching honors classes.  But shouldn’t we have a greater concern?

If this is the path our collective thinking is headed down, then we clearly don’t understand assessment, its intention, or its benefit.  We wouldn’t dream of letting students grade their own assessment tests, would we?   Is this really that different?  Grading teachers on the subjective grades they hand out?  What teacher would ink in that C or D for an underperforming student?  This heads toward social promotion and grading on a curve, only on steroids.

What’s next?  Licensing doctors based on customer satisfaction surveys, instead of board scores?  Pilot’s licenses based on high scores on the latest PS3 game? 

In the perfect world, assessments are scientifically based and replicable.  We expect it to be third-party administered.  We need to understand both the inputs and the outcomes, recognizing that we are assessed by our performance.  We show what we know.  We demonstrate learning and our ability to use it.

We want to assess our kids to ensure they are learning what they need to to continue to succeed in school.  We assess them to ensure they are gaining the building blocks to achieve in life.  ANd we are looking to assess teaches to know that they are teaching our kids the right things.  We want effective teachers.  And good teachers want to make sure their colleagues are effective as well.

Florida policymakers mean well.  They are seeking to reward teachers with performance-based bonuses, and they need to find an effective way to measure that performance.  But good intentions don’t make good policy.  Instead of looking at the alphabet grades of students, Florida administrators might be better off looking at recommendations like the NCLB Commission’s effective teacher criteria or the legislation proposed by Coleman, Lieberman, and company last year on effective teaching. 

What message do we send about student assessment issues when we communicate such a poor message on effective teacher evaluation?  If we expect our teachers to get the job done, we should know what to look for.  We shouldn’t just know it when we see it.  Effective teaching can be both quantified and qualified.  And if legislators don’t know how to do it, I’m sure the AFT can provide them some counsel.

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