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How do you measure good teaching?

November 22, 2012

From all that I have read, understand and experienced, you don’t look for good teaching by using systems that measure a teacher’s competence based on how well his or her students do on an annual multiple choice assessment.  First, most of these assessments have major flaws because they fail to look at a student’s high-order thinking skills, especially creative thinking skills.  Second, they are rarely authentic in their approach to measure a student’s understanding of ideas.  Give me a teacher who teaches students to think at the highest level and someone who assesses his or her students authentically and I will show you a GREAT teacher, assuming he or she relates to and cares for students effectively.  (see my post on the art of good teaching).

Many educators are speaking out against the validity of using high-stakes test results to measure teacher effectiveness.  (see this article in Education Week online by Arthur Costa, et.al.)  Why are policy makers and educators at the highest level of our state and federal agencies not paying attention?  We are spending billions of dollars on two national initiatives (The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium)  to design and build new high-stakes tests.  For what end!  Even the national press is highlighting this tension, publishing articles that illustrate the lack of support educators are showing for these initiatives, as well as for our government’s support of funding more high-stakes testing programs.  (see this article in the Washington Post).

Here are some essential questions I reflect on.  First, why don’t we listen to the collective voices of our nation’s teachers?  Maybe we don’t respect their voices.   Second, is it that we don’t want to give our teachers choice in the matter of how to assess the knowledge and skills they teach, at least not when it counts?  Third, is it that we don’t believe they can add value to the conversation about how best to assess the knowledge and skills students learn?  Some of the best assessors of student learning are the great teachers I have met in my career, but their voices are usually not at the table.  You may have other questions you think about.  Feel free to add them to this post.

In their Education Week article, Costa et.al. write:

In our years of coaching teachers and training future coaches, we have learned that teachers whose schools support cognitive engagement and growth have the advantage when it comes to instructional quality. With regular coaching, teachers develop a strong internal sense of control or efficacy through reflecting on their classroom decisions. When teachers are reflective, flexible, and adaptive, students learn and professional knowledge expands.

They make the point that we have to trust and value the teachers who care and teach our children.  We fail to demonstrate trust or value of them when we make decisions to measure their effectiveness using simple tools like their students’ performance on annual multiple choice tests.  Teaching, a complex profession, is highly personal.  Teachers enter into relationships with their students and succeed at their craft as a result of engaging a student’s heart, body and mind.  We should pay respect to the complexity of the profession by using metrics that touch all aspects of being an effective teacher.  Know and observe the classroom and you will come to know the teacher.

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