Thursday, January 24, 2008

Yes, They're Watching Our Numbers--Thank Goodness!

Who are they? Our department chairs. Our deans. Our principals. Our students. Our students’ parents. According to The New York Times, New York City plans to pilot a program isolating how much teachers impact students’ standardized test scores. As in, how much does Teacher A influence scores as compared to Teacher B? As in, did I properly prepare and teach my students this year? I don’t know, Kate, let’s look at your scores. Why, look! The scores are published on the Internet! I’m impressed with the factors NYC plans to take into consideration: kids on free lunch, kids classified with special education, class size, student attendance, previous year’s scores. Of course these numbers can be skewed, but if kept in the proper narrative as NYC plans, they should be a pretty interesting number to consider. The school district swears these numbers will be one of several factors used to assess teachers, not the only factor. I say, it’s about time.

In my experience, good teachers have been using their students’ standardized test scores as a way to evaluate their own performance for years and years and years and years. If my students score below the department, district, state, or whatever average, (after considering my population’s factors like the ones listed above) I look at what I’m doing. I try new things. I consult peers and read more resources. The teachers I know who love teaching all do the same. We use these numbers as a tool to look at our teaching. My administration already knows these numbers and uses them to form opinions about me and my teaching. Informally, these numbers have already shaped my teaching career.

Formally, however, I’ve been evaluated by more mercurial measures, like how many kids wear a hat into my room. (I can get the hats off once they are in my room, but somehow, I always end up with a high percentage of students who don them in the hallway.) I always make sure to strap my share of extra-curricular service to my back, which curries favor on any yearly evaluation, but as my family responsibilities increase, I worry that not being able to sponsor clubs will impact how I’m assessed as a teacher. My experiences being observed have varied; I’ve never had a problem being observed by my subject department chair, but not all of my administrative observations have gone as I would have liked. One vice-principal would come for three or maybe even seven minutes. Sadly, I had a vice-principal tell me to write my own observation and leave it for him to sign. More egregious was the administrative observation that I had to sign my name to without fixing his sentence fragments or spelling errors.

Have I had positive observation experiences with administrators? Yes. I had a principal come watch for the entire period, script the lesson, and then spend half an hour discussing pedagogy and philosophy with me. In fact, I wept in his office over the fact that every time I managed to get mainstreamed kids up to grade level, he gave me more kids on an IEP. I felt like he heaped so many variables on me that I would never see my overall class average improve. He handed me a tissue and nodded kindly. He then told me, “Kate, you are right. However, I can’t afford to worry about your numbers if I know that your class is the optimal place I have to offer a student in my school.” I wept some more, but this time with pride, and I left his office with a better sense of the big picture with which he had to deal. So, yes, I’ve had an incredible administrative observation and evaluation, from one of the great administrators of my experience. Sometimes, though, these evaluations vary too much depending upon who does the observation. My point is that our students’ standardized test scores may be a much less subjective measure of us teachers than some of the measures used currently.

I think it will protect teachers who work well with kids but don’t stand in the fickle sunshine of administrative favor. Quite frankly, if this additional factor can get rid of the people in my school who only teach for half a class period, don’t return or evaluate written work, and gossip about students’ sexual exploits, I’m all for it. Why do we fear this so much? Aren’t we often evaluated now by popularity and cooperation more than effective teaching? If our students continually perform poorly, aren’t we obligated to look at that?

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

No comments: