With teacher ratings becoming a reality, many people are expressing concerns about the impact on the profession. I read two great pieces this weekend that I want to share here. (Also, please read the column I ran Friday from a charter school principal in Atlanta about his concerns over the low value-added score given his school.)
In an op-ed in The New York Times, Deborah Kenny, chief executive and founding principal of Harlem Village Academies and the author of “Born to Rise: A Story of Children and Teachers Reaching Their Highest Potential,” joins the chorus of concern, noting that her charter school once dismissed a teacher whose students posted great scores on tests. But the teacher derided students and was so negative to be around that other teachers were considering quitting. Yet, under rating models based largely on student scores, that teacher would have been rated at the very top, Kenny says.
Kenny — who calls herself an opponent of teacher tenure and runs a charter school network in Harlem where teachers work under at-will contracts — writes: (This is an excerpt. Please read the full piece before commenting.)
Education and political leaders across the country are currently trying to decide how to evaluate teachers. Some states are pushing for legislation to sort teachers into categories using unreliable mathematical calculations based on student test scores. Others have hired external evaluators who pop into classrooms with checklists to monitor and rate teachers. In all these scenarios, principals have only partial authority, with their judgments factored into a formula.
This type of system shows a profound lack of understanding of leadership. Principals need to create a culture of trust, teamwork and candid feedback that is essential to running an excellent school. Leadership is about hiring great people and empowering them, and requires a delicate balance of evaluation and encouragement. At Harlem Village Academies we give teachers an enormous amount of freedom and respect. As one of our seventh-grade reading teachers told me: “It’s exhilarating to be trusted. It makes me feel like I can be the kind of teacher I had always dreamed about becoming: funny, interesting, effective and energetic.”
Some of the new government proposals for evaluating teachers, with their checklists, rankings and ratings, have been described as businesslike, but that is just not true. Successful companies do not publicly rate thousands of employees from a central office database; they don’t use systems to take the place of human judgment. They trust their managers to nurture and build great teams, then hold the managers accountable for results.
In the same way, we should hold principals strictly accountable for school performance and allow them to make all personnel decisions. That can’t be done by adhering to rigid formulas. There is no formula for quantifying compassion, creativity, intellectual curiosity or any number of other traits that make a group of teachers motivate one another and inspire greatness in their students. Principals must be empowered to use everything they know about their faculty — including student achievement data — to determine which teachers they will retain, promote or, when necessary, let go. This is how every successful enterprise functions.
In an essay on Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet blog at the Washington Post, a Massachusetts teacher in an inner city elementary school writes about being upset over earning a low value-added score this year in the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. Rebecca Cusick writes that she should know better as she is well versed on the flaws in the how such scores are generated. (And that’s why she didn’t want to accept accolades last year when she earned a very high score.)
Teacher Rebecca Cusick writes: (This is an excerpt. Please read the full piece before commenting.)
Most teachers understand how the composition of a class impacts their test scores. They know that children with special needs don’t have the chance to show their strengths on a bubble test. They know that English Language Learners get lost in the phrasing of the questions, and that homeless children don’t put tests high up on their priority list. They know that students who are frequently absent or changing schools have gaps in their learning.
But not all teachers know, as I do, about the voodoo math behind value-added scores. I’m aware of the flaws in the assessments, in the calculation of growth, and the collateral damage they cause. I devour articles and editorials that condemn the use of testing for high stakes decisions. So why do I, of all people, take this so personally when I should know better?
Maybe it’s because I gave it everything I’ve got. Last year’s class was needier than some of my previous groups. They shared stories of desperation that would prevent most adults from functioning well. Sleeping on a floor in an over-crowded, rat-infested apartment, seeing a family member arrested, and looking forward to dinner at the soup kitchen; these are not the tales of an idyllic childhood.
I vowed to help them grow both academically and emotionally. I ran after school math and science clubs, and I started a food pantry for our families. Afraid to even take a sick day, I spent unprecedented amounts of time analyzing data and planning lessons. I showed fidelity to the new reading program, and I differentiated my instruction.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog