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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Why Do We Need a ‘Teacher of Record’?

By Peter DeWitt — April 24, 2013 6 min read
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A couple of years ago my partner and I went to dinner with an old high school friend of his. He happened to have her mother as a teacher when he was a freshman in high school. He brought his report card with him because, although he got a 92 in her mother’s class, he was given a 2 for effort, which meant he could have done better. He brought the report card as a joke but it goes to show that, even back then, there was a teacher of record.

Across the country, many state education departments are using the category “Teacher of Record” (TOR). It is a new label in our present system of standardized accountability but the definition differs from state to state. The following are some examples:

Michigan - The teacher of record is the certificated teacher who provides instruction, who tests and quizzes, who evaluates the pupil’s performance and gives the pupil a grade. The on-site mentor may or may not be the teacher of record. The on-site mentor shall be a
certificated Michigan teacher employed by the district.

Tennessee - A student must have been present for one hundred fifty (150) days of classroom instruction per year or seventy‐five (75) days of classroom instruction per semester before that student’s record is attributable to a specific teacher. Records from any student who is eligible for special education services under federal law will not be
used as part of the value added assessment.

Ohio - Primary Assignment (one teacher): An Assigned Educator is the educator assigned to a student, usually for HQT assignment purposes. In some cases, this translates into the teacher responsible for assigning a grade.
• Precise accounting of instructional time for teacher‐level Value-Added and other evaluation metrics including student growth in non-tested subjects: A Teacher of Record is an educator who is responsible for a significant portion of a student’s instructional
time (based on enrollment) within a given subject or course that is aligned to state assessments. The relevant Teacher of Record should represent the 100% proportion of a given student’s instructional time for a specific subject/course.
• Multiple linkages: A Contributing Professional works with/has responsibility for a student and/or teacher, and should be specifically linked with relevant students. This is a yes/no flag to allow for simple and non-mutually exclusive linkages. Numerous educators could be linked to a student.

Teachers have to approve their class lists at the beginning of the year and again at the end of the year but it’s not that simple...

Every single student on their list will be tied to them as long as they are in their class, and that includes new students who enter during the school year. It sounds like common sense because realistically, they have been the TOR for all of their students...every year they have taught. But that’s where our present increased accountability takes a larger role.

A teacher’s HEDI score, which includes all of their Student Learning Objective (SLO) progress, are tied to TOR. In New York State, there is no escaping standardized accountability. It is the law. Other states have not been as strict.

Teacher of Record
Teachers know that they are responsible for their students. Their names are on report cards, student data and most students will remember which teacher they had for each grade for the rest of their lives. Why is there a need for a label such as TOR? What is the benefit? Being in the teacher’s class and having their name on every document for that grade level is not enough?

This really comes down to accountability, and in the words of Diane Ravitch, “Accountability just means someone to blame.” TOR is a way for administrators and state education departments to track the progress of a teacher, and although it seems like it shouldn’t be a big deal, it’s just another political way for states to show they are holding teachers “responsible.” That’s where the backlash comes in...

This can create a very negative dynamic between teachers, students and administrators. Comments come out such as,”He needs AIS. If his scores don’t go up, I’m the TOR and my HEDI scores will go down.” Students who act out or struggle academically are being viewed, by some, as a hindrance and not a worthy challenge. In these days of increased accountability some teachers and administrators are trying to figure out how to be less accountable.

Is there really a benefit to the Teacher of Record rule?

Besides being accountable for what their students do at school, teachers feel responsible for what their students do at home as well. Why wouldn’t it? Their HEDI scores depend on it. Homework gets piled on because there is a fear by teachers that if they don’t give supplemental work at home, the student will not do as well in school.

Sadly, it is also making excuses the norm in the school system. Instead of collaboration and doing “extra” teachers are pulling back because they are worried about being the TOR. As hard as it may be, it’s time to step back and breath. Our students deserve better and they cannot help where they come from, and what they come to us knowing.

TOR is also increasing the focus on the following, some of which may not change depending on the school or the families involved:
Tardiness - Students get letters when they are tardy but very little else can be done to them...at least in elementary school. When they are tardy they miss important information and curriculum. Schools write letters and teachers keep track of minutes missed in the morning because they are the TOR and want it documented that some students are chronically late.
Absenteeism - Most schools give letters to parents when their children miss 10, 15, 20 and 25 days. Some schools call Child Protective Services (CPS) at 20 and 25 days. Everyone wants it documented that students miss school.
This is creating a much more negative focus on students. It is pointing blame at the student for missing school and it changes the way that teachers talk with these students. Unfortunately, even students who have had illnesses are looked at differently because teachers want to know how it will count against them.
Early Dismissal - Many schools have rules about tardiness but not for early dismissals. What should schools do...tell parents they cannot pick their children up? That will be alright for some parents but others will merely laugh at schools and there is very little that can be done.
AIS - More students are being recommended for Academic Intervention Services. If a student struggles academically, many teachers want the child to receive AIS, even if the child may not need it. The general education teacher is still the TOR for AIS students but they want it documented.
CSE - With increasing testing pressures and TOR, more students will be recommended for special education than ever before. At a time when schools were getting a better handle on the number of students being recommended, the TOR will set that progress back.

In the End
Teachers have always been the Teacher of Record but they have not gotten scored on it before. There are teachers who will rise above it and keep taking risks, if they have school leaders who will encourage them to be risk-takers. There are other teachers will not step outside the box because they’re afraid that any variable will bring down their score. Accountability needs a better happy medium. Most teachers were accountable long before the present system.

Are there really benefits to the Teacher of Record?

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground 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.