Thursday, August 09, 2012

Point - Counterpoint on Student Learning in Teacher Evaluation

"There seems to be a dawning awareness, among a number of Gates Foundation scholars, 
that some of the things the Gates Foundation says it wants, such as a trusting 
collegial environment where collaboration and constructive feedback are the norms, 
are undermined by a competitive, fear-filled environment 
where nobody is sure if they will have a job next year. 
 --Teacher Anthony Cody

One cause for optimism is that the new assessments being developed 
by the two multi-state assessment consortia, based on the Common Core State Standards, 
will be much more similar to the SAT-9/Open-Ended than to existing state tests.
--Vicki Phillips

Over at Living in Dialogue, Anthony Cody has been critical of the impact the Gates Foundation agenda has had on public education, but the Gates team expressed an interest in opening up a dialogue - so Cody traveled to Seattle. This blog post is the second in a series of exchanges that will explore some of the key issues in education. They say, "The education reform debate has deteriorated at times—our goal is to engage in a constructive conversation, to turn down the heat, and to seek a bit more light." Consider clicking over to get the unabridged discussion.

Vicki Phillips serves as Director of Education, College Ready.

This from Vicki Phillips at Living in Dialogue:
Education debates are often characterized wrongly as two warring camps: blame teachers for everything that's not working in our schools or defend all teachers at all costs.

But there's actually serious work going on in the middle, where there's a lot of common purpose around helping teachers improve their practice and students improve their learning. The fundamental question is how do we reliably measure learning and use a range of quality feedback to provide great support for teachers to continually improve.

Not only do students have a right to effective instruction, good teachers value good teaching--they want to do their very best, and they welcome feedback to hone their craft.

That's why, in 2009, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, together with some 3,000 teacher volunteers, launched the Measures of Effective Teaching study, to identify effective teaching based on multiple measures of performance, not just test scores. And it's why the foundation has invested heavily in a set of partnership sites that have been redesigning how they evaluate and support teaching talent throughout a teacher's career.

Multiple measures are necessary because teaching is complex. Good teaching involves knowing the content and how to teach it, building a strong trusting relationship with students, setting and supporting high expectations, and continuously monitoring students' understanding and adjusting instruction accordingly.

The notion that student learning should play no part in teacher evaluation systems, or that test scores should be the only measure of teaching performance, represent two extreme but unproductive camps.
Student learning has to be part of a teacher evaluation system because advancing students' learning is a central goal of great teaching. But using gains on annual test scores as the sole measure of teaching performance has huge drawbacks...

The primary purpose of teacher evaluation systems isn't to identify the small percentage of teachers who should choose another calling, or even those whose practice should be celebrated and spread (although we certainly want to do that). The purpose is to get teachers the targeted, personalized feedback and professional development they need and want, tied to more detailed information about their teaching, so that they can continue to improve collectively and individually.
And a response from teacher Anthony Cody at The Impatient Optimist (The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation blog):

Vicki Phillips opens her post with a complaint:
Education debates are often characterized wrongly as two warring camps: blame teachers for everything that's not working in our schools or defend all teachers at all costs.
This handwringing is hard to take seriously, because, as I wrote about two years ago, there has indeed been a war on the teaching profession, and the Gates Foundation continues to arm one side very heavily.

The Gates Foundation continues to fund Teach For America, Stand For Children, The Media Bullpen, the National Council for Teacher Quality, Teach Plus, The New Teacher Project, and literally scores of other groups which carry on campaigns to undermine due process for teachers, and actively lobby for coercive legislation that forces public schools to use faulty test scores for the purposes of teacher evaluation, against the best judgment of administrators and academic experts.

The Gates Foundation gave $2 million to promote Waiting For Superman, a movie rife with falsehoods about public education, which greatly promoted the hostile climate in which we find ourselves.

Ms. Phillips' post focuses almost exclusively on the work of the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, an initiative of the Gates Foundation. While the Gates Foundation has invested upwards of $300 million in this project, they have spent several billion over the past few years funding other groups who are active partisans in the war on the teaching profession. We have not yet seen enough of the systems under development by the MET project to really understand them, so I will focus my attention on the other fruits borne by Gates Foundation investments.

The first question that arises when discussing teacher effectiveness is how we measure student learning. While Ms. Phillips distances herself from the use of test scores, this has been central to the reforms advanced by the Gates Foundation thus far. It is possible that the MET project will chart new ground, but before it does so, it will need to reverse all the policies and laws mandating evaluation systems that rely on test scores that have been passed at the insistence of the Gates Foundation and programs it has funded.

Researcher Walter Stroup has given the testing paradigm a much-needed shaking up, in his report, on the way standardized tests have been constructed, as reported in the New York Times...

The Gates Foundation has for years been paying for various studies and think tanks that have aggressively promoted the use of merit pay as a means of promoting teacher effectiveness. Even as Florida teachers describe the new evaluation system there as "artificial" and "frustrating," Gates-funded outfits like the Southern Regional Education Board praise the state for their expanded data systems. The Gates-funded National Council on Teacher Quality is preparing a report that will grade schools of education based in part on their enthusiasm for test data, and the Gates-funded Data Quality Council exerts similar pressure on states to expand their investments in testing and data systems...

If the Gates Foundation wishes to reverse the effects of the war that has been so devastatingly waged against the teaching profession, it must first come to terms with the role it has played. Any attempt to dance around the very real damage that has been done invites dismissal by honest teachers. Evaluations that rely in any way on VAM scores are causing great harm to teachers and their students. If the Gates Foundation is unaware of this, after having spent $300 million studying how we can best measure effective teaching, I question its capacity to learn. If the Gates Foundation IS aware of this, given its role in advancing these methods, it is not enough to simply come out with another, more nuanced model - while the old model continues to wreak havoc in our schools. If the Gates Foundation is accountable for its work, it must undo the harm to which it has contributed.

The real "serious work" being done in education is not taking place in think tanks and research facilities. It's being done in classrooms in communities that are experiencing real and profound trauma. Yes, teacher evaluation ought to be all about reflection and growth. A great start would be to create the conditions that will make that growth possible, and stop obsessing over test scores and measurement systems.  


Richard Day said...

I lost a commenter's I'm reposting it below.

From Kentucky Teacher:

"We'll give your school district money, but in return we don't simply want to change ed policy, we want to shape school personnel policy."

Bill Gates is no Steve Jobs. I did not, with good reason, trust Silberman, Rhee, Gusky, Duncan. Now here is another one to add to my list.

"Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing..."

My response is:

I get it, but must have missed something. How does Guskey fit on this list?

Anonymous said...

I like to think of myself as a seasoned educator. I have multiple degrees and have served as school leader for over a decade.

I can't remember much from about Calculus or Chemistry, though I had both as a secondary and post secondary student. Not sure I can tell you the difference between a fuge and a symphony or a Monet from a Reimbrant - (heck I can't even spell them from memory anymore). Even my discipline of choice and area of study often presents me with gaps in my memory.

What I do know though is that I was taught those things. I do remember by in large that most of those folks who taught me were good teachers who worked hard and cared about all the students in their classes. They did so with out much state or federal curriculum intervention and my competency at the time was more than adequate and collectively resulted in my current position.

My inability to pull out those things which I once mastered is a simple matter between father time and my memory. It has nothing to do with those folks who taught me and certainly not some sort of assessment.

Like most, I did have a few teachers who were not as effective as they could have been but I am not sure if a standardized student assessment would have truly identified their inadequacies because they were never rooted in content knowledge and only slightly in pedagogy. It was much more sophisciated than some simple standarized test could identifiy. Burn out, stagnation, rebellion, distraction, impersonalness, etc impacted me well beyond whether I mastered a skill or learned a concept. Being a student is just as dynamic as being a teacher and the elements which we draw from this relationship present treasures and tortures which are much more signifcant to us as individuals than 1+1 = 2.

Let's be honest, we are asking more of teachers now than we ever have and much of that has no curriculum signifcance what so ever. You can't measure it or score it. You never will and trying to quantitatively measure things via scaled rubrics based on extremely limited observation like supportiveness, nurturing, patience, enthusiasm, industriousness, creativity is as illusive as trying to capture the wind.

Like our students, we need to spend more time on supporting teachers instead of trying to measure them.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Gusky is an exponent of mastery learning, which calls for remediation after the student fails to study for a test or fails to pass it the first time around. Most in education view this practice as one rooted in the idea that "All students can achieve at high levels."

This type of remediation a time consuming practice for teachers when they are forced to help students by retaking tests so students can eventually pass them. I believe, if I am not mistaken, that Guskey is an exponent of Dr. Bloom of the University of Chicago. Guskey is also opposed to holding back students who have not mastered basic skills in the elementary school.

in the view of many, such practices shift personal responsibilty from the student to the teacher.