Education Opinion

Heard the One About Old Teachers Resisting Tests?

By Nancy Flanagan — February 06, 2013 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

When I was a novice teacher, I knew I was on a path to becoming the World’s Greatest Band Director. I gave my students challenging music (which they didn’t play very well). I joked around in class (unlike their other, boring teachers). I wasn’t stuck in a rut (see previous sentence). I was up on all the educational trends of the day: diversity and equality, the open classroom, unschooling. I was against tracking and for paying attention to the whole child.

If you had asked me to identify the best and worst teachers in my building, I would have done so. Although I had some humility around what I didn’t know about being a successful music teacher, I also considered myself more up-to-date and engaging than many other teachers in my building. Even though I’d never visited their classrooms, saw them in action, or had a conversation with them about their guiding beliefs.

Had Teach Plus been around, in 1974, I would have sent in an application.

Given that today is a National Day of Action to support Seattle teachers refusing to give MAP tests (see updates here and here), it shouldn’t have been surprising for Louisiana teachers to see this article pop up in the Baton Rouge Advocate. The gist: Newer teachers accept and embrace evaluation by test scores. Veteran teachers are skeptical, resistant. Dividing line? Eleven years of experience or more.

The views point up sort of a generational split among teachers nationally when it comes to sweeping changes in teacher evaluations, according to an online survey by Teach Plus, which says it promotes quality teachers in urban areas. In general, teachers with 10 or fewer years in the classroom embrace the changes, including reviews that link the growth of student achievement to teacher performance, and ultimately whether they keep their job, according to the group.

Teach Plus, in addition to their focus on urban schools--where there are lots and lots of eager newbie teachers--was behind a campaign to eliminate seniority-based layoffs in Indiana. They are Gates-funded, and they recruit and train early-career teachers as “policy fellows.” Other foci? Retaining effective teachers in staff reductions. Assessments teachers can believe in. Reforming teacher evaluation. Sense a pattern?

The Advocate did get quotes from three veteran teachers--and all of them equivocate, their nuanced answers affirming that teacher evaluation and data analysis can indeed be useful, but the devil, as always, is in the details.

So let’s see--what was happening in U.S. education policy about eleven years ago? Oh. Right.

We now have a core of experienced teachers who have lived with not only different models of teacher evaluation, but also a decade of omnipresent, increasingly high-stakes assessments, including tests that aren’t even aligned with the curriculum they’re teaching. New teachers have lived with standardized tests, too--but as students (K-12 and university) and in a world where every school seems to have a data wall. It must be a shock to them to work with veteran colleagues who openly express skepticism, even anger, about the value and planned uses of all that data.

In a letter to the editor of the Advocate, Deborah Hohn Tonguis, LA Teacher of the Year, 2009, says:

Perhaps experienced teachers have mixed feelings about the evaluation tools because they actually understand the disconnect between the rubric, the curriculum and the high stakes test that is supposed to measure student academic growth. Of course a first year teacher doesn't understand the complexities of the reform movement, any more than you would expect a cub reporter to be able to research and write a complicated, nuanced investigative news story.

There will always be gaps between experienced teachers and new ones-- and it’s good to have fresh ideas, untainted by cynicism. But we have a long national history of not listening to the collective wisdom of experienced educators. Worse, we’ve let for-profit test vendors and “idea entrepreneurs” control the conversation.

What are you doing on this National Day of Action?

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.