I have been hearing about the new Student Learning Objectives from teachers statewide, including this note from a teacher in central Georgia:
I was wondering what you might be able to tell me about Student Learning Objectives or SLO’s (called “Slows” by the teachers). I teach kindergarten and have never seen anything in my life that seems to be such a waste of time. I understand why they are “needed,” but they take up to 10 days to administer at the beginning of the year, and then up to 10 days at the end of the year. This is a total of 20 days basically wasted administering these tests. And it’s not just in kindergarten, but all elementary grades (Pre-K through 5) for the Teacher Keys Evaluation System (TKES).
My kids come into kindergarten hardly knowing anything, and now I have to waste up to 20 days of valuable instruction time administering these tests so that there are “valid and reliable” tests to use with TKES to be sure I’m at least a “proficient’ educator. ” I guess our kids will continue to be tested to death, and now it will begin in Pre-K.
I asked DOE to respond to that comment and others from teachers stunned at the amount of time required by these new tests and dubious that the payoff will be worth the effort:
Here is what DOE said in response:
Student learning objectives (SLOs) are one measure of student growth and achievement incorporated in the Teacher and Leader Keys Effectiveness Systems that are currently being piloted and implemented by volunteer and Race to the Top districts in Georgia. GaDOE provides training in the development and implementation of SLOs, as well as models for SLOs and the supporting pre- and post-assessments. Districts may choose to adopt or customize the models provided by GaDOE in implementing SLOs in their schools, using a process established by GaDOE. The SLO pre- and post-assessments are designed to provide educators with high quality, actionable feedback on their work to effectively and positively impact student learning and growth. Knowing how individual students grow over the duration of a course, teachers are able to adjust instruction to meet the needs of students and increase learning.
We meet with SLO contacts from the Race to the Top districts on a regular basis, and some of the development and implementation challenges that you mention have already been discussed and addressed, while others will continue to be addressed throughout this first full implementation year. The SLO Advisory Group will be meeting soon, as well, and will review and discuss concerns from the districts to provide GaDOE with input on effective strategies moving forward. We will certainly continue to partner with all districts to develop and implement the most effective practices for measuring teacher impact on student learning and growth in the non-tested subjects.
This is new work, not only in our state but across the nation, and we are working very hard to research, pilot, refine, and implement the most effective strategies that will enable us to have a positive impact on student learning, growth, and achievement, as well as to ascertain the teacher’s impact on the same. The aim is to develop and refine assessment strategies to inform more effective instruction and to help all students, at all levels of achievement, attain higher levels of growth and achievement. We will continue to work with our district partners to implement more effectively.
Please feel free to share any ideas, suggestions, or concerns that you have as we work through this learning year with student learning objectives. We welcome your input and will take it into careful consideration.
I am delighted to know that DOE wants feedback because here is some excellent feedback from teachers at a DeKalb high school.
I hope that the state RTT team looks at this letter and takes seriously the expressed concerns, as they are the exact ones being shared with me by teachers statewide:
Dear Superintendent Barge,
As teachers dedicated to our mission of educating young people, we have grave concerns about the current plans for the SLO tests. As currently structured and implemented, we are unwilling to administer the SLO tests for the following reasons:
1. The pre-test takes valuable class time away from learning, for a test that the students know they will do poorly on, and that they have no reason to even try to do well on.
2. Since the tests have not been prepared in a timely manner, we can not pretend we are administrating a test of “pre-knowledge” when students have been learning for over a month.
3. Since teachers will be evaluated on improvement, teachers also have no interest in the students performing well on the pre-test. Wishing for our students to do poorly runs counter to our ethical and professional standards. We refuse to bet against our students.
4. The students have no reason to do well on the post-test, given that it is not part of their grade or any other sort of personal evaluation. Again, teachers will be evaluated on a test for which the students have little or no motivation.
There are also many practical difficulties with current plans to administer the SLO tests.
5. The tests require an unreasonable amount of teacher time spent on printing, grading and scanning. For one teacher with 160 students, some tests require more than 700 pages to be printed, graded, and scanned. Every teacher in the system with tests is going to have to find the time, find the resources, and learn to administer tests and record the grades under a regimen that will be going away after one use, if we understand correctly. SLOs require an enormous outlay of material resources (paper, toner, equipment usage) that we simply do not have, and of teacher time that could be better spent helping to our students.
6. The short answer portions of the SLOs require teachers to grade subjectively, even with the provided rubric. Teachers will be inclined to grade for the benefit of the teacher rather than for the student. Grading for learning will not occur on the SLOs. Further, if our job performance is to be judged on test grades, it is illogical to do any form of subjective grading.
7. While we understand that test integrity is incredibly important, current plans are ridiculously onerous for teachers and administrators. For a test on which the students have no incentive to cheat, and one where the students will already have seen the questions when they come to take the post-test, the labor involved seems unnecessary and wasteful.
As teachers, we must believe that classroom activities and content add value to our students’ learning, as well as to their futures. We believe the SLO tests as they currently exist do not meet this ethical and professional standard. With increased class sizes, reduced support staff, and reduced administrative staff, teachers’ work loads have grown significantly. All teacher work time must be efficiently utilized and contribute directly to student success. Administering the SLOs, which are only intended to measure the teacher’s effectiveness, directly conflicts with the teacher’s need to only accomplish value-added teaching tasks.
The more time spent by teachers on measuring their own effectiveness, the less effective the teachers become. We have no fear of being evaluated. But a fair evaluation system should be embedded in the system without becoming an additional burden to the system.
Chamblee Charter High School teachers James Demer, Andrew Milne, Shervette Miller, Deann Peterson, and Amy Branca. In addition, this letter is supported by more than 50 additional Chamblee teachers.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog