Popham, Chapter 15 Pondertime & Chapter 16 Pondertime, Due March 7, 2012

Chapter 15 Pondertime (p. 384-385, #1, #3)
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1.  If you were devising a plan to promote dramatically improved evaluation of the nation’s teachers, how would you go about doing so?

[hmm…where to start on one of the most hotly debated topics of our current political atmosphere.]

First let’s get something straight, public school teachers are currently bureaucrats, that is to say that their environment is fundamentally *not* profit or results driven, like private industry.  The private sector, the profit sector, is where I come from having left Microsoft in 2011.

Second, we could dream up ways of improving evaluation but until teachers overwhelmingly see the value of evaluation then they will be manipulated by district, union and media.  (Actually, I think the substance of this point goes back to a quote from Bill Gates.)

Third, New York recently (Feb 2012) published rankings on 18000 public school teachers.  The “value added” plan for improving evaluation of the nation’s teachers seems to be engendering a lot of debate.  Despite the rhetoric, private and parochial schools seem to have no problem measuring teacher effectiveness based on the “product” or “outcome”, that is have students learned or not, can they prove it in some way, i.e. on a standardized test or exam.

Finally, all that is noble and virtuous about our education system, that children are treated fairly and that each one is nurtured to achieve his or her full potential, none of that can really be fostered in a cut-throat competitive-toxic teacher environment.  The best plan for improved evaluation is to find one that teachers themselves agree to, and teachers themselves implement and believe in.  That must be peer-based, must have real rewards (consequences!), and must be a focus on growth and improvement, not punishment and status-quo.

3.  When teachers evaluate themselves (or when supervisors evaluate teachers), various kinds of evidence can be used in order to arrive at an evaluative judgment.  If you were a teacher who was trying to decide on the relative worth of the following types of evidence, where would you rank the importance of students’ test results?
    a.  Systematic observations of the teachers’ classroom activities
    b.  Students’ anonymous evaluations of the teacher’s ability
    c.  Students’ pretest-to-posttest gain scores on instructionally sensitive standards-based tests
    d.  A teachers’ self-evaluation

Would your ranking of the importance of these four types of evidence be the same in all instructional contexts?  If not, what factors would make you change your rankings?

Below is my list of evidence, and listed in weight order from heavy weight to light weight, that should be used in an evaluation of a teacher.

1.  I believe in teacher self-evaluation against clear mutually-acceptable criteria and reasonable expectations informed by work load and experience.  Teachers are making evaluations of their students in both significant and insignificant ways all day, every day.  Teachers are able to evaluate themselves.  If blind spots develop or are recognized they should be highlighted in a coaching atmosphere.

2.  I put pretest-to-posttest gains next, because I think #1 actually drives #2.  If I wanted to prove in a self-evaluation that I was growing and having more impact on authentic student learning then I would jump at the chance to present *data*.  That means I would pull out assessments which show that gains have been made, that I have added value.  Notice that I wouldn’t put that in the newspaper or broadcast in the media, but I would use those data for self-evaluations.

3.  I would put observations next.  I think that nothing beats peer review of teacher practice.  All of the high-flying charter or private schools use something like this as a method of continual process improvement.  It I believe is an essential piece of teacher evaluations.

4.  I would put students’ evaluations last.  Recall that students are minors and their maturity is often questionable.  To place high-stakes or career-impacting decisions in their hands seems foolhardy.  Nevertheless I love getting the data, I would just de-emphasize it, hence it comes in last in my list of priorities.

I realize that instructional contexts vary, but I think my descriptions above are suitably general that the rankings would still hold.  All teacher should set goals and self-evaluate.  All teachers should do before and after type exams or gauge their student’s’ improvement.  Observaions are key because teachers should get peer and master teacher feedback / challenges to improve…

Chapter 16 Pondertime (p. 409, #1, #3)
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1.  If you were asked to make a presentation to a district school board in which you both defend and criticize a goal-attainment approach to grading students, what would  your chief arguments be on both sides of this issue?

Goal Attainment Grading:  Pros and Cons
Pros: 
-  having clear “goals” and with clear definitions of “attainment” can be more readily communicated to students, parents and other staff
-  potential to decrease the variability of grading between students, i.e. may decrease some common tendencies (to the norm, to be too harsh, to be too lenient) that sometimes exist in grading.
-  since instruction is based on goals (standards), and assessment is ideally focused on goals, it is logical extension that the communication back to student and parents (grades) should be based on goals attained or not.

Cons:
– There is no accounting for effort in the goal-attainment approach, at some grades and in some situations, a notion of effort expended by students can be very informative.
– Given the number of goals needed/required this could be a more intensive grading system
-  there are other interesting variables which teachers would like to report on for certain students and goal-attainment doesn’t capture them all.

3.  If you were trying to help a new teacher adopt a defensible grading strategy, what advice would you give that teacher about the importance of descriptive feedback and how to communicate it to students and parents?

Grading by its very nature is a sorting process that is fraught with imprecision.  In order to reduce the perception that grading is arbitrary or subjective, and thus not defensible to the student/parent, it is very important that feedback be descriptive.  By descriptive we mean that any deviation from the standard that a teacher is claiming for a student is supported with evidence, and that evidence is presented which inherently points to the improvements that are being requested of the student which point the way towards how a grade can be improved or conversely worsened.  The beginning teacher should avoid the thinking that grading is merely proof that they are doing their job, and focus on the exercise that grading is a communication of goal-attainment (or lack of attainment) to all interested parties.  Once that groundwork is laid, the more interesting conversation about how attainment is/was measured can begin and be the focus of any improvement plans or rewards.

References

Popham, W.J. (2011). Classroom Assessment: What Teachers Need to Know. (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

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