Thursday, February 20, 2014

Vote leads to weak evaluations . . .

As predicted there is an interesting follow-up to yesterday's news about the Senate vote on the teacher evaluation bill I posted about here.  It comes in the form of an editorial in both the Bellingham Herald and the News Tribune.  It is the same editorial in each paper under the following title.
Are weak teaching evaluations worth $44 million?

The assumption is that not using student achievement data from state tests makes evaluations weaker.  They also point to the potential loss of federal revenue if the state were to lose the NCLB waiver and to the influence WEA had on the vote.

What, education dollars are actually scarce? That makes the Senate’s rejection of a cash-preserving school bill especially bizarre.

The bill is modest, though the state teacher’s union has made opposition to it a political litmus test this election year. It would clarify that teacher evaluations must include student performance data as measured by statewide tests.

It boils down to a word: “must” vs. “can.” Right now the law allows school districts to use state tests – or select or invent their own. A hodgepodge of tests that differs from one place to another is useless as a way of holding schools and districts accountable.

The underlining above is mine - I agree that schools and districts should be held accountable for student achievement and that there is a role for state tests, even the new Smarter Balanced Assessments that will be used in Spring 2015.  I struggle, however, with using them initially to hold individual teachers accountable to standards when schools and school districts have not yet had the opportunity to put in place the structures they need for success as measured by these new assessments.  I am open to conversations that focus on a student growth model with the capacity to provide data that can be used over time in individual teacher evaluations, but we are not yet at that place.  Until then, the accountability focus should remain on schools and school districts with a fair and equitable system that holds systems accountable to growth over time, not a benchmark percentage and one size fits all.

In the systems world we talk about "creative tension", that place between current reality and an aspiration or description of a better place.  The tension lies between these two places and leads to new structures and strategies to close the gap.  In the absence of tension no learning takes place and cultures are maintained.  Too much tension is also counter productive and can result in unintended consequences that set the culture back increasing the gap between current reality and the aspiration.  I fear that the move to use the data at this time in individual teacher evaluations will have this impact on our system where we have an aspiration of success for all students with the necessary "creative tension"  to over time close the gap.

I don't agree that the defeat of this bill will result in weaker evaluations in our system.  We can and are supporting teacher growth under the new evaluation model using the student growth measurements emerging from quality conversations in our schools, departments, grade levels, and class rooms.  Wasn't teacher growth the intent of the new model?  Isn't that what policy makers and OSPI told us?  We can achieve this and improve the quality of instruction and achievement in all class rooms with the "creative tension" in our system that was reinforced by implementation of the new model.  We do not need additional tension from a change to a model still in the first year of implementation for us.  Another example of one size does not fit all.

I don't see the defeat of this bill as a celebration.  For me, it is another example of wasted energy and inability of well meaning people with different mental models not being able to close the gap and put in place structures to listen to each other.   It saddens me that we can't find the common aspiration and agree upon descriptions of our current realities that result in the "creative tension" where adaptive solutions can be found and where we can collaborate to do what is right and necessary for all young people.

Read more here:

1 comment:

Scott Mitchell said...

The new evaluation system is doing what it should for my teaching...making me reflective about what I do as a teacher and focuses me on how to improve my craft. I am a better teacher because of the new system and that is what makes my teaching better and benefits my students. You make it about test scores and many will teach to the test which will not make us better teachers.