Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Evaulation Variables

In addition to expanding the number of charter schools, another way Race to the Top funding is influencing state legislation has to do with whether or not student progress is a factor in teacher evaluations.  Currently, many states prohibit this by law, in part as a response to teachers’ unions lobbying against it. The argument is that student progress is based on many variables which are outside of a teacher's control--parents, previous teachers, and student ability to name just a few of the more significant factors.

This is true and it betrays two underlying assumptions about school that are part of the problem.  First, when we assess teachers as if they were disconnected from other parts of a system that includes parents, other teachers, and the students themselves, we really do not create and accurate picture of reality.  This does not make for a case against including student progress as a part of teacher evaluation.  On the contrary, it means teacher evaluation should include student progress and parental involvement and the fact that these students came from another teacher previously and any other factors that create an realistic account of whether a teacher has helped each student advance academically.  A teacher should be expected to make the same kind of progress with a student whose parents seem unavailable as he does with someone whose parents are involved, but he should be expected to make progress never the less.

Second, part of a teacher's responsibility is to factor in the myriad variables that help or hinder student progress and to apply her professional, lived wisdom as an educator to adapt and adjust.  Lawyers adjust to an unexpected answer from a witness or they lose cases, doctor's adjust to changes in a person's health or they lose patients, and as educators we must adjust to the variables affecting our students' learning.  It seems reasonable to hold professionals accountable, at least for the variables they are aware of, and for knowing that their will be variables.

1 comment:

N Reinholt said...

The question is, how is student progress measured? As a special educator currently involved in administration of the NECAP assessments, I would hope that this sort of assessment would not be used. My students make measurable progress each year. Some make well beyond one year's growth in certain areas. Nevertheless, they have disabilities and in many cases are still performing well below their current grade levels. Their gains are not and cannot be measured by these high stakes regional assessments. In fact, the results of these assessments, when administered to children functioning and performing well below grade level, are not valid indicators of their abilities and achievement levels. In addition, by being required to prep them for weeks in advance using release items and by assessing them at grade levels well beyond their current levels of functioning, we put them in demeaning and emotionally detrimental situations that often leave them devastated. How does this affect their aspirations?

I am not opposed to using student progress as part of a teacher's evaluation of success. However, proper measurement of student progress needs to be considered. If our students with disabilities that "adversely affect their abilities to access the general education curriculum" are to be assessed with any sense of validity, then they need to be assessed at their current functional levels. Their progress, or lack of progress, can be measured realistically and teachers' levels of success can and should be based, in part, on these realistic assessment measurements. I would hope that those individuals who are involved with determining whether or not teachers are successful teachers, based on student progress, would consider how they look at and assess student progress.