Go ahead, evaluate me; I triple dog dare you!

To begin, our current system rates teachers under five components; planning and preparation, instruction, classroom environment, professional responsibilities, and student achievement.  Within each of the first four components are a series of indicators or sub-components that were adapted from Charlotte Danielson’s “Framework for Teaching”.  These are all rubrics-driven and evidence-based, by which I mean an evaluator can compare specific facts collected during an evaluation procedure to an accepted ideal for the various components being evaluated.  For instance, instead of saying, “your lesson was boring” (an actual comment made on a walk-through observation in my second year of teaching), an evaluator could say, “12 of the 30 students had their heads down during the lesson”.  This is intended to eliminate much of the subjectivity or appearance of favoritism inherent in evaluation procedures.

Just to clear up another little-known fact, Delaware teachers do not earn tenure.  We move from “novice” to “experienced” after three years in a position.  In order to remove a truly “bad” teacher, a pattern of ineffective teaching must be established.  In order to maintain a supportive system based on objective evaluation and continual improvement, as opposed to a punitive system in which teachers have no hope of surviving a poor evaluation, this idea of “due process” has been established so teachers can identify the challenge(s) they face, determine a way to improve, and demonstrate that improvement.  (I prefer the word “challenge” to “weakness”.)

Let me also state that I was once placed on an improvement plan for classroom management.  I won’t bore you with the details, but in short it was an overcrowded class coming in, an overcrowded class going out, and a lot of students staying behind to finish a test, leaving at random times during the start of the evaluated lesson.  Did I need an improvement plan in classroom management?  Probably.  But not on the basis of that evaluation, and not the way it was implemented.

Moving to component five, student achievement, I have quite a few ideas.  I unequivocally believe that all students should learn the information presented in a class.  I believe that every child has the right to a quality teacher in every classroom.  I believe that the vast majority of teachers ARE quality and effective.  I believe ineffective teachers should be removed from the classroom once a pattern of ineffective behaviors can be established and a properly-implemented support system fails.  And I will not waste our time by blaming another stakeholder or making sweeping generalizations, excuses, or justifications.

Let’s define “teacher”.  Every person in a school is evaluated for student achievement.  That means principals, teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, nurses, etc.  It takes a village, right?  So let’s say a “teacher” is a person who spends the majority (>50%) of the day directly instructing students.  On black days, I have students assigned to me from 7:15 am until 2 pm, and I see roughly 85 students.  On gold days, I have all but 80 of those minutes with students, and I see roughly 90 students.  That qualifies me as a teacher, according to my definition, so I will use myself as the example for this exercise.  Additionally, I will only address student achievement, not my other regular professional duties, planning, grading, managing the greenhouse, or attending meetings.

I teach Plant and Horticultural Sciences in a greenhouse-centered pathway.  I have state standards, and I consider myself an applied science.  As part of my curriculum I teach reading, writing, math, earth science, biology, chemistry, history, geology, environmental science, time management, leadership, study skills, prioritizing, working with others, taking responsibility for living things, critical thinking, problem solving, and a host of other things inherent in education.  I teach students in grades 9-12, special education classes, AP classes, alternative placements (in school or in a clinic/jail), and on a homebound program.

The test is given to students in the 9th and 10th grades only at the high school level.  That means about half of my students aren’t going to be able to demonstrate adequate yearly progress using the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System (DCAS), thereby invalidating that test as a measure of my effectiveness as a teacher.  Why?  Because I can’t be FAIRLY evaluated if only half of my students have an opportunity to demonstrate their achievement under the logic of “no child left behind” (taken as a statement, not referencing the law).  DCAS does not work for me.  Who might it work for?  Arguably, teachers of 9th and 10th grade math and English; emphasis on the word “arguably”.  How is a system that is only (arguably) fair for fewer than 1/4 of the school’s teachers considered fair for rating an entire school?

So what IS fair for me?  I could get along quite well with a test that evaluates my students’ knowledge of my subject at the beginning and end of each class year based on my state standards.  I’m extremely confident that a very high percentage of students who come to class on a regular basis and are in my class for the majority of the year would demonstrate growth in my content if they took my final exam at the beginning and end of my class.

But that’s not good enough, is it?  (No child left behind, right?)  It leaves out the chronic absentees and migratory students.  This is where the concept of multiple measures becomes vital.  Have all students keep a portfolio of work to demonstrate what they have done all year and how they have grown.  Ask students to complete a teacher report card each marking period, but be sure to build a supportive community for constructive evaluations instead of punitive “bash” sessions.  Allow the students to demonstrate proficiency in a modality to which they are better suited instead of forcing a “one size must fit all” testing environment.  Is there any greater irony in the system than how we currently emphasize accommodating different learning styles during class, including differentiating assessments, but then heavily weigh a standardized assessment?

Finally, weigh everything equally.  The hours I spend planning, teaching, assessing, intervening, and mentoring should not be outweighed in my evaluation by the 60 minutes fewer than half (hell, fewer than a THIRD) of my students will even take.  And, as currently proposed for next year, that’s exactly what Delaware’s system will do.

None of this takes into account student motivation, parent involvement, etc.  I did that intentionally.  There’s no way to fairly measure that in an evaluation system, in my opinion.  However, I might suggest offering an incentive for students who do show growth on the DCAS test as it stands, such as exempting them from finals, etc.  There is evidence that shows this has potential to improve scores.  By the way, if that’s the case, is the DCAS even fair?  If students can perform better just by taking it seriously, why are we not making it important for them?

I’m not going to address how specialists (librarians, nurses, etc.) could be evaluated on component five.  Hopefully I’ve given enough data here to spark some ideas that might actually make sense and apply to more teachers than just 9th and 10th grade math and English.

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