Thursday, February 25, 2010

Assessing Teacher Effectiveness

How do we know if a teacher is "good" or "effective?"

Part of the national discussion is (has been) "teacher accountability."  According to both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, assessment of teachers should be associated with overall student growth.  Should teachers be held accountable for student learning?  If so, how does one measure student learning?

HERE* is an interesting animation that contrasts an "attainment model" of assessing learning --- i.e. how much a child grows over time, vs. a "value-added model" --- i.e. how measurements of child growth are adjusted for environmental variables.  Just think of your student as a tree - - - .

How do you want to be assessed as a teacher?

* (Thanks to CTQ's Ali Kliegman for sharing this resource.)

What am I, a bowling ball?

I believe that professional development (PD) is most effective when teachers have a clear understanding of the larger issues: What's at stake?  Administrators (building, district or county) often make the mistake of not cultivating teachers' shared understanding of the larger issues.  Teachers therefore do not see how the PD is linked to student engagement, personal growth, or pedagogical concept development.

I recently received an email indicating that district administrators were going to " professional development to teachers."  What am I, a bowling ball?!?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What is meaningful assessment?

How do we know children are learning? Do we have to use standardized tests, or are their other ways to make this determination?

In a recent New York Times Op-ed (Feb 2, 2010; Op-Ed. p A23), Susan Engel, director of the teaching program at Williams College, discusses several important components of assessing student learning: reading, writing, computation, pattern detection, conversation and collaboration. Why not develop criteria that assess these skills (or broader, school-based values) as a measure of student learning?

If we assess these broad skills, rather than merely test-taking skills, Engel believes that we will cultivate our students' long-term success. Engel argues that if students are able to demonstrate these skills (by age 12), then "...they would be prepared to learn almost anything in high school or college." While teachers can collaborate on the specifics of the curriculum, Engel has anchored the discussion of student assessment in values, i.e. what is it we value in public education.

According to Engel, one value is raising children rather than raising test scores. Rather than measuring factory-like outputs via a "...curriculum that is strangling students and teachers alike...," she wants educators and policy-makers to consider their process values, i.e. what experiences students and teachers could have.

At Science Leadership Academy (SLA) where I teach, we organize our curriculum around 5 core values that integrate of focus our learning (see Fig. 1 below). Although these criteria are not the same as Ms. Engel's, perhaps we need to extend some flexibility to schools to determine their own values that meet their specific students' and teachers' needs and interests. Once these values are in place, perhaps we can develop meaningful assessments that reflect students' and teachers' relation to the values.

Fig. 1: SLA's Core Value & sample assessment criteria
Inquiry Student demonstrates a variety of strategies to frame questions about, and investigate, the fictional and non-fictional world.
Research Student demonstrates a variety of strategies to gather and organize information.
Collaboration Student demonstrates a variety of strategies to work with and learn from a variety of people.
Presentation Student demonstrates a variety of strategies to share learning with a wider audience beyond the teacher.
Reflection Student demonstrates a variety of strategies to modify and enrich the learning process and outcomes.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Democracy & Educational Leadership

What is it that makes an effective educational leader? Of course we need leaders who can help reform and enrich education --- but to what end? NYTimes columnist Bob Herbert may have some answers.

There's one major problem with Bob Herbert's perspective on educational leadership. He assumes that public eduction exists to advance our country's international economic prowess ("In Search of Education Leaders," Dec 5, 2009). Alternatively, public education exists to cultivate democracy.

A vibrant economy is certainly a worthy goal for any society, but it is democracy that helps individuals make smart choices that advance the common good---both locally and globally. This lesson can be learned at home and in our schools. Yet public education should represent our civil commitment to a democracy that fosters liberty and equality. Worthwhile educational reform requires leadership that is guided by such a democracy.

As Ariel Sacks writes, we should also be careful about programs for educational leadership that are not explicitly linked to classroom teaching. Teachers make hundreds of decisions that help students navigate the complexities of democracy, i.e. the aligment of personal liberties with social equality. Without this direct experience of teaching and learning, what kind of reform can educational leaders provide?