Last year, the number of 3rd graders in my school that scored proficient on the state standardized reading test was less than 50 percent. Yet some of the 3rd grade teachers were deemed good teachers. In fact, one of these teachers was considered excellent by both leadership and her colleagues. She had excellent classroom culture, invested students, and had strong instructional strategies. How can this teacher be good if her students’ test scores were so low?
This story begs three questions:
1. What is good teaching?
2. How do we evaluate it?
3. What is the purpose of evaluating teachers?
I’d like to address briefly the purpose of evaluating teachers and the way we do it.
As a classroom teacher, I want to be evaluated so that I can become a better teacher. I want a team of leaders and peers who are knowledgeable, experienced, and nuanced looking with me at my practice itself, at my kids’ attitudes toward school, and at my kids’ social, emotional, and academic growth using a variety of tools. I want the lens through which I am evaluated always to be, “How can we develop her as a better teacher?”
The key word that I have used is “we.” While the classroom teacher is a critical factor in student growth, we do not work in isolation. Therefore directly tying a student’s standardized test score to the classroom teacher’s effectiveness is dangerous. For example, I have been told by supervisors, other teachers, and all kinds of data, that I can be an effective teacher. But do not ever tell me that is all because of me. My students last year succeeded because their teacher was part of a highly effective team. My students grew in reading because three of them worked daily with BK, the brilliant and reflective reading recovery teacher. My lessons were stronger and more engaging because I planned with KR and KD, two of the best teachers I have ever worked with. I watched these women teach and I became better. My students loved math and got better in it because AC is, well, my colleague calls her a “child whisperer.” My students were held to high expectations in a safe and welcoming environment because CS and RJ held them to these expectations in our school. I haven’t even mentioned the willingness and dedication of the children and their families.
So if schools and governments want to evaluate me primarily on my students’ standardized test scores, they will have to find out using some statistical method the value and percent contributed by each teammate to each student’s growth.
Or we could shift our framework from “your students’ success” to “OUR students’ success.”
Jessica Hahn has taught elementary grade children for six years in Phoenix and New York City.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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.