A recent letter to the Department of Education from a teacher in Cincinnati contained a quote that really struck me: “It is not at all that I am afraid of what my test scores might reveal. I am more concerned about what my student’s test scores will not reveal.”
The quote rings true of so many classrooms across the country, including my own. I teach students who have been removed from other institutions due to behavior, chronic absences or other issues that have prevented them from being successful in the traditional school setting. Each of my students has been identified as a potential dropout and each has a profound set of challenges that manifest in the classroom.
As a U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow I have been able to engage with Secretary Duncan’s senior staff and have learned more about the Department’s stance on teacher evaluation. Like most teachers in the United States, Secretary Duncan strongly believes that a single test result does not adequately reflect the quality or complexity of excellent teaching.
At a speech to the National Council for Social Studies, Mr. Duncan stated, “Just to be 100 percent clear—evaluation should never be based only on test scores. That would be ridiculous. It should also include factors like principal observation or peer review, student work, parent feedback. It should be designed locally—and teachers should be at the table to help design it.” The Department’s work on educator evaluations has thus been to promote multiple measures to elicit a well-rounded perspective on one’s craft and to encourage districts and schools to primarily use these tools as a means for quality professional development. This thinking was also captured in a speech that the Secretary made to Baltimore County teachers this past fall.
As a teacher of students who historically struggle on standardized tests, I understand the concern about tying testing data- which is often influenced by factors outside of my control- to my performance. I am also sometimes frustrated by the quality of the multiple-choice assessments used to assess my students’ learning which are ultimately a reflection upon my practice. Despite these challenges, I do believe that there does need to be some measurement of student performance and growth. This information should be collected and analyzed so that we can continuously improve the learning experience for all students and to ensure that we hold ourselves to high standards and continuous improvement.
While the Department’s policy has been that measures of student growth and gain should be a ‘significant’ factor in teacher evaluations, the Secretary has said that, “we intentionally leave that undefined—because different states will have different approaches—and different confidence levels in their assessments.”
As a previous Teacher Fellow with the Hope Street Group, and in my current work with Race to the Top states, I have seen a variety of state-developed approaches and strategies that aim to meet this vision. I have come to realize that the strongest evaluation systems have been developed with robust teacher input at every stage of the process. These evaluation systems, which are designed and improved with the practical insight of teachers, use test scores as only one of multiple measures of effectiveness, therefore allowing teachers of students like mine, to demonstrate quality teaching in ways that transcend test scores alone.
Marciano Gutierrez is a 2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, on loan from Alta Vista High School in Mountain View, Calif.