At the January board meeting, the SCSD #1 Board of Trustees approved a new teacher and principal evaluation system. This change, mandated by the Wyoming Department of Education, will begin with the 2011-2012 school year. While there are a host of notable changes including a research based evaluation instrument, training for evaluators to improve interrater reliability, and professional development linked to the results of the evaluation , I think the most significant of these changes is the inclusion of student performance data as a part of teacher and principal evaluations.
While this is certainly an important step in providing individual teacher accountability, I think it is important to put the use of this data into context. Teaching has never been more complex. The depth and breadth of needs for 21st Century learners continues to grow. Mobility rates, poverty rates, and students learning English as a second language are also increasing within our district. Make no mistake, we have high expectations for teacher performance but we also understand that we aren’t making widgets.
To that end, we are focused on evaluating teachers using a growth model composed of multiple measures and success over time rather than a standards based test. Yes, we will still be using and monitoring standards based tests such as PAWS, and yes we will hold our teachers accountable for those results, but there is a big difference in the approach. NCLB would consider an 8th grade student reading at the 6th grade level a failure, and on the surface most people would agree. The reality is that in a lot of instances that student came to us with a 4th grade reading level and over the course of a year he may have improved his ability by two grade levels. While NCLB still considers that a failure, we consider that a success.
The end result is that what we have been doing informally with student data, we will now be doing formally. This is a necessary piece of the puzzle to improving student achievement and holding teachers accountable. The only problem is that our puzzle is missing a GIGANTIC piece! The new era of accountability in schools has failed miserably at being truly accountable. With the exception of the ACT, there exists no negative implication for a student who gives minimal effort on the tests used to determine the success or failure of our teachers and schools. Almost all of our kids begin to realize this before they get to middle school (hopefully the ones who don’t aren’t reading my blog). How is it that the worlds best educators and researcher see a problem with this and yet it seems to be continually discounted? Imagine holding dentists accountable for the number of cavities kids get without having any control over which kids brush their teeth. It’s just too easy for legislators to say that teachers and schools are the whole equation. If the facts don’t fit the preconceptions, I guess it’s easier to ignore the facts. If we are to truly evaluate the success of teachers and schools, you can’t ignore the variable of student effort on the test.
My soapbox being fully utilized for one day, I digress to the original point. Adding student performance data to the evaluation of our teachers will be a valuable tool in the process of improving teaching and learning at SCSD #1. But it must be implemented within the appropriate context and with the appropriate intent. My goal is to see better teachers and principals as a result of our new evaluation system, and I think we will. But until some measure of meaning exists for students on these assessment, we’re rowing with one oar.