More Reauthorization Thoughts

In a stack of papers called Legislation.

  • Feb
  • 16
  • 2007

I just finished a conversation with a friend and colleague about the ESEA/NCLB suggested changes I wrote about yesterday. Why aren’t things ever easy? There are good ideas there and this is a push in the right direction, but there are far too many problems to just roll over on this one. Similarly, there are too many improvements this could make to accept none of it.

Ultimately, the trouble with the suggestions boils down to these questions: Is the STAR test so good that it not only evaluates student skill, but also evaluates teacher effectiveness? Is STAR worth the time and money and resources that we are currently in order to improve performance? Is it fair to put demands on only three subject areas that teachers in other areas and teachers of seniors don’t have to worry about?

I fear that the answer is no to those questions. Teachers are not the only reason students perform the ways they do on tests like STAR. How can I be held accountable for a student having a stellar English class last year, so good that it causes them to do an excellent job on this year’s STAR test? The opposite also causes concern.

Teachers of a certain subject area are not the only reason for student performance. If the Art teacher squawks all day about how pointless STAR is and encourages kids to blow it off, why should I be taken to task if my kids bomb the test? The work I do in forcing my kids to calculate their grades and class averages on assignments may pay off when completing the mathematics test, yet I don’t get credit for teaching/enforcing those skills. We don’t teach in a box and we are not limited in our impact to a certain period or certain year. Similarly, we aren’t responsible for everything. What if the parent is the one squawking about blowing off STAR?

Educational policy needs to be set by teachers, not by politicians. Politicians don’t understand how to teach or what it’s like to work with kids. That’s key in my dislike of ESEA/NCLB and the Aspen Institute. While the suggestions sound good to people uninvolved in education, it’s a different story in practical application. Students don’t make the kind of progress in real life that we want them to on paper. And there are many different reasons for this. To rest them all on the shoulders of a teacher is ignorant.

As I said yesterday, to be evaluated on student performance is a long time coming. However, perhaps STAR isn’t the performance we should be looking at. Something that a student genuinely has an interest in doing well on would be a much more accurate depiction of skill. I’ve said something similar to this before: if the test measures a teacher’s ability to motivate students, that’s different than measuring a teacher’s ability to teach content knowledge. If we’re trying to assess both things, we need to use two different measuring devices. Students have no reason to take the STAR seriously so why should my worth as a teacher be tied into that?

For STAR results to count for no less than 50% puts those results on a pedestal, suggesting that first-hand observation of your teaching doesn’t show any more than what a single test shows.

At the same time, I love that the discussion of a teacher’s worth has begun. We need to evaluate teachers based on something. Maybe STAR isn’t it. Maybe current funding levels of ESEA/NCLB don’t provide the incentives we need to make STAR meaningful. Maybe STAR is a flawed test. But that evaluation needs to happen somehow.

I don’t think this one recommendation from the Aspen Institute is it, but I still like the direction it’s taking us. Let’s get a better definition of what it means to educate students. Is it teaching a set of standards? Is it shoveling information down their throats? Is it letting them “get in touch” with their inner muse? Is it pushing kids to do better than they thought they could? Is it encouraging school pride? Until we decide what it means to educate, how can we measure how well teachers do it? Let the Aspen Institute suggestions be the beginning of this conversation, not the end. And let’s not enact anything that we can’t actually monitor nor are sure is effective.

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