Teacher: Of 8,892 data points, which ones matter in evaluation?
This was written by Charles Duerr, who has taught for nine years at a Title 1 elementary school in Bellevue, Washington. A National Board Certified Teacher, Duerr read the following statement to the Bellevue School Board in response to the district’s recent bargaining proposals as well as the national movement to tie teacher evaluation to student standardized test scores.
By Charles Duerr
By year’s end I will have entered 8,892 data points into my district’s data collection systems — Gradebook and Reading 3D. This data is from homework, assessments, and report cards.
Which of these 8,892 data points are the important ones? I mean, which of these data points will count towards my evaluation? And what problem are you trying to address by including student assessments into teacher evaluations?
All of my assessments results are posted online. We have student scores, the District Data Analyzer, and reading progress all available for an evaluator to see. If my scores are consistently lower than my colleagues then that gives an evaluator an indication of where to look and to see that best practices are indeed implemented. This can happen currently.
As teachers we are expected to use research-based best practices. We are held accountable for our ability to implement these practices. It concerns me that policy makers are hoping to adopt a practice with mixed results at best and at worst creates a further narrowing of the curriculum, higher stakes testing, incentives for test manipulation or misrepresentation, and provides no new data to inform my practice than is currently available.
In my classroom I have a pronounced achievement gap. I have five students who are reading far below grade level. All speak a language other than English at home and receive free or reduced lunch. Those traits are not indicators of performance. I have similar students on track to make more than a year’s worth of academic growth in 2nd grade.
What is the factor that separates these students?
My five lowest readers do not read or complete homework with any regularity. Facing this I’ve scheduled interpreted conferences, recruited colleagues to translate letters or have them call home. Often there is no working number and notes home are never returned.
This is hardly surprising. One student lives alone with her father. Her brother is in jail. Her dad washes dishes at a local bar. He works late into the evening but comes home with food. They eat and go to bed. Another student lives with multiple families in a single house. He shares a room with his mother and father. They sleep together in the same bed. Both parents work at the same restaurant along with other families in this house. This student misses his dad and waits up until midnight or later to see him. In the mornings this student often doesn’t hear his own name: he is asleep at his desk.
My five best readers have homework averages of 100%. They have not missed a single assignment. I receive calls and emails from parents when their student doesn’t understand. Their reading level rises over the summer.
My lowest readers receive support from the ELL & Literacy Facilitators. They receive bi-weekly progress monitoring to track reading fluency and comprehension. I meet with them every day in a targeted literacy group for 30 minutes. One third of my entire literacy block is devoted specifically to these five students and they are still falling further behind their peers.
By all indications I’m an effective teacher. But I am not good enough to overcome the barriers some of my students face. I don’t know who is. But I know if next year I have 10 students who face the barriers of my lowest five then you’ll see a drop in my students’ performance. For this I’ll be held accountable. If this is the case what is the incentive to teach at a school which serves our community’s neediest families?