I want to say first off that I object to mandatory testing. And I CERTAINLY object to people being classified by their race and free-lunch status. Shame on George Bush for allowing that pidgeonholing crap to get into the federal NCLB standards... and shame on a lot of other people. People ought not "represent" their race or income status when they pull out a number 2 pencil. They are themselves, and who cares what the "trends" show? Soft bigotry of low expectations notwithstanding, teachers and parents (um, not the government) should track the individual student's progress. Can we quit the constant race and class comparison thing?
But I do think the LA Times is to be commended for trying to tackle the issue of teacher effectiveness with some hard numbers and some fair dealing. It's accessed public information on students' test scores and used "value-added" scoring to assess the teachers themselves. I'd highly recommend you read the whole article, because for once it escapes my ability to offer a snarky synopsis. It has some real meat to it.
The writers openly declare the standardized tests certainly aren't everything, but they're the only reasonably objective measure of a student's performance across time. They've tracked *individual* students across time, so there are no excuses for minority group and class-bashing we've seen in the past. (Should I add here that I object to that data being available to anyone but the school and the parents?? I just did anyway.) The article compares how children as a *group* (but based on individual scores) do on the test from one classroom to the next over the period of seven years. It's at least a START that gives parents some information when they're comparing one teacher with another.
And yes, we know the tests are really not that objective in and of themselves if the tests keep getting tweaked. And that a teacher or student can have an "off" year. But it's more objective than saying someone is a "good" or "bad" teacher based on a couple class observations, as administrators are sometimes wont to do in the tenuring process.
And yes, we know the tests are NOT everything. But we also know that the teachers are pretty well roped into teaching as though it WERE everything. So if a group of children in a given classwere to do more crap-tacularly on the test this year than last, what does that say to you about the quality of the instruction in that class? Here's more of what we SHOULD be seeing... more people who are at least willing to admit that their job performance needs improvement, like John Smith:
"On average, Smith's students slide under his instruction, losing 14 percentile points in math during the school year relative to their peers districtwide, The Times found. Overall, he ranked among the least effective of the district's elementary school teachers.
"Told of The Times' findings, Smith expressed mild surprise. (Not shock? Dismay? Ho-hum... I'm 63 and retire in a couple years? Siiigh)
"'Obviously what I need to do is to look at what I'm doing and take some steps to make sure something changes,' he said."
If he means it, he's well on his way to being the best teacher he can be. I think that's the mark of a true professional. Not doing a good job at your workplace? Make sure something changes. Change what you are doing or find a new job. But is Smith LIKELY to be given extra helps and supports, or other reinforcement to make sure good habits and mentoring would stick? And did the school district care enough about the students to help "ineffective" teachers improve before the story? Did they know which teachers were consistent underperformers and did nothing?
Hey. We can't all be the BEST teacher or the BEST housewife or the BEST babysitter or whatever. But I think it's reasonable for schools and parents to define what a good standard of *competence* would be. Right now, the union has a stranglehold on this puppy. They're even boycotting the Times for daring to publish the article! OH, and calling on ALL other unions to do the same.
Actually, I'd like to see some real articles... REAL ARTICLES... with more data on bullying, violence, school climate, college graduation rates and parent/student satisfaction with schools. I don't just want to read about the testing because hellooo, that's only one measureable assurance of quality. Um, did you know homeschoolers in some states either have to show measureable improvement or score in the top 40% or they are forced into public school? What's the recourse for the lowest 60% of public school scorers on a given state test? Because these are the kids who ARE taught to the test, who aren't exploring, say, medieval infantry for a whole year and waiting to do more intensive science NEXT year.
Oh. That's right. There isn't a recourse for the kids in public school. But there are plenty of avenues that a teacher can use to keep her job over several years, even after it's been proven that she's remained ineffective.
I'm not a "fire all the teachers because of a bad test score" kind of person. But what has all this testing gotten us? We have plenty of weird data (tests change) and really? I'm sure a good plenty of districts shuffle kids around annually like ours does so that they can even out their test scores and mess up that whole "go to the school closest to your house" mentality cretins like me ascribe to when it comes to public education. :)