By Stuart Singer, The Teacher Leader
When discussing his concerns with the evolution of teacher evaluation, Bill Gates has many assertions that are both cogent and disturbing.
“Efforts are being made to define effective teaching and give teachers the support they need to be as effective as possible. But as states and districts rush to implement new teacher development and evaluation systems, there is a risk they’ll use hastily contrived, unproven measures. One glaring example is the rush to develop new assessments in grades and subjects not currently covered by state tests. Some states and districts are talking about developing tests for all subjects, including choir and gym, just so they have something to measure.’”
Mr. Gates referred to one state’s 166-page proposal designed to evaluate the work of Physical Education teachers. Included in the lengthy document were standards for hitting balls with paddles and skipping correctly. The co-founder of the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation is not happy with such additions to the assessment process in education.
The gaping hole in evaluation
In the sprint to find a way to include standardized test scores in teacher evaluation, one critical factor continues to be overlooked—many teachers do not have classes that include such exams. In fact, in many cases the majority would not have such results to compute in a critique of their work.
The state of Virginia has a vigorous end-of-course testing program at the high school level. There are eleven tests administered in four subject areas over the course of years 9-12. Despite that level of intensity in a typical school two of every three classes do not have an exam. Every foreign language, fine arts, physical education, music and business teacher would be excluded from such data. In addition many in math, science, English and social studies would have no tested classes or only one or two.
As more and more policy makers come to recognize this conundrum the unfortunate response has been solutions that do not work. While the curriculum found in science and physical education classes can be equally important the tools for measuring them can be very different. Sadly, as Mr. Gates so aptly points out, not everyone seems to understand this reality.
There are better ways
Mr. Gates understands that the overuse of test scores is a dangerous and ultimately unproductive path.
“What the country needs are thoughtfully developed teacher evaluation systems that include multiple measures of performance, such as student surveys, classroom observations by experienced colleagues and student test results.”
He then continues with a comment that has been addressed in this space on a number of occasions:
“In top-performing education systems in other parts of the world, such as Singapore and Shanghai, accomplished teachers earn more by taking on additional responsibilities such as coaching and mentoring other teachers and helping to capture and spread effective teaching techniques. Such systems are a way to attract, retain and reward the best teachers; make great use of their skills; and honor the collaborative nature of work in schools.”
An educational chicken and egg debate
While there is little doubt that teacher evaluations that will effectively measure teacher performance, demonstrate paths toward improvement and lead to the dismissal of weak teachers are critical to improving education. However, an argument could be made that making the initial training of teachers more productive would be a better first step. Perhaps if some of the funds earmarked for evaluation were moved into the area of early teacher training many of the problems currently being encountered could be eliminated.
A previous post proposed the creation of a “teaching school” modeled after the “teaching hospital” utilized in training physicians. The basic outline was that upon graduation from college, teachers in all subject areas would work in a school that is equipped with the best educators in the district. Through the course of that experience more and more responsibility would be gradually given to the new recruits while under the tutelage of master teachers. Individuals would be placed into their own classrooms after it had been established that they are adequately prepared to succeed. Such an approach would be costly in the short term but could be a bargain in the long run. And it would implement Mr. Gates’ advice to take advantage of the talents of the best and brightest in education.