Take the time to read this piece by respected education journalist John Merrow, and join the conversation. The testing tide is turning...
Take the time to read this piece by respected education journalist John Merrow, and join the conversation. The testing tide is turning...
Across the country, parents, teachers, and students are beginning to pushback—hard—against the misuses and abuses of standardized testing in our educational system.
First, most people do not understand what standardized achievement tests are actually designed to measure. They are not designed to measure what students have “learned” over a specific period of time or from a specific teacher. Therefore, attempts to use them for that purpose are at best misguided, at worst, deceptive. For more on this point, I recommend listening to the recent interview of Jim Popham by Steve Hargadon at Future of Education.
An expert on tests and testing, Popham reminds us that standardized tests by nature of their design sort students based on socio-economic backgrounds, not academic accomplishments.
Because our federal and state governments have tied such high-stakes to the results of these misused tests, we have created additional crisis situations for students and teachers, particularly for those already facing the most challenges, as my colleague NYC teacher Jose Vilson reminds us.
I cannot do justice here to the many aspects of the testing/evaluation issue, or to the far-reaching debate over it among teachers and students around the country. That debate is yielding some important ideas, however, that deserve closer attention. In a series of articles sponsored by Education Week’s Teacher Magazine, several teacher-leaders connected with the Center for Teaching Quality have offered some much needed clarity and advice on better ways to assess what students are learning and how teachers are teaching. In one of those series, Testing at the Crossroads, teachers look at the growing resistance to standardized testing starting with the much publicized refusal of teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School. In another series, another group of outstanding teachers offer ideas from the field on how to better measure student learning.
How can we evaluate such rich complexity with all the varying levels of performance and experience they represent across the largest profession in America—with a few five-minute walk-bys and a checklist? Hardly. The old factory evaluation model, which was never a good fit for education, will be even less so as we move further into the potential of immersed learning and interconnected teaching. One principal trying to evaluate an entire faculty whose members practice a dizzying variety of pedagogical skills will be painfully ineffective. Like our students, teachers need assessment of our work based on a combination of measures and reviewers, with teachers taking responsibility for our own professional growth based on mutually established, student-centered goals.
To get there from here will require transformed thinking and some significant power shifts, neither of which, history reminds us, come easily. But I believe we are on the verge of such a shift as teaching finally morphs into a true profession. One of the trademarks of a profession is peer review of each other’s' work against high standards established by the profession.
Some of America’s best teachers have been offering up our expertise on how to improve assessment of students and teachers for quite a while now. Thankfully, there are signs that those valuable ideas are gaining well-deserved attention, but the fight against politically expedient assessment and evaluation must continue.
Cross-posted at National Journal: Education Experts
I’ve just returned from a meeting of the Board of Directors of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), and I am thrilled about where this important organization is headed.
I also feel the need to set straight some disparaging rumors about NBPTS and encourage people to look more closely at what is an important front in the education reform battle in this country.
First, it is important to note that while the staff of NBPTS has been reduced due to reorganization, that staff now includes a significant number of NBCTs—including the Chief Operating Officer, Andy Coons. Another is the Director of Standards, Kristin Hamilton.
NBPTS has also matured to the point that the majority of the Board of Directors (15/26) are NBCTs including (besides me): Kimberly Oliver-Burnim (former National Teacher of the Year), and Glenda Ritz, newly elected state superintendent of Indiana. The majority of the NBCTs are practicing classroom teachers.
Under the direction of new president, Ron Thorpe, NBPTS has made some important changes and earned some much-deserved respect both nationally and internationally. Responding to the needs of NBCTs and candidates, the Board has recently (some would say, finally) shifted to electronic submission of the portfolios, upgraded its website, and other moves to make it more accessible and user-friendly for NBCTs and potential candidates.
Another exciting development, again thanks to the prodding of NBCTs, has been to make better use of the vast NBPTS database of accomplished teaching resources (videos and teacher reflections). Thus was born ATLAS [Accomplished Teacher Learning and Schools].
The National Board is getting its first look at the use of ATLAS in a three-year project funded by the U.S. Department of Education through its Investing in Innovation (i3) program. Working closely with Linda Darling-Hammond and the Stanford-based Teacher Performance Assessment Consortium (edTPA), along with AACTE, the two teacher unions, Deborah Ball’s team at Michigan, and evaluator AIR, ATLAS will be introduced into teacher prep and induction programs.
While ATLAS was originally imagined as a support for teacher preparation and early career development, pilot programs in the states of Washington and Maine are now using the resource to train principals to be better observers and evaluators of teachers. National Board has received other inquiries, too, regarding professional development for teachers faced with implementing the new Common Core State Standards and other content areas. Whenever and wherever this resource is used, it extends the teacher voice into the way the profession works. (Building a True Profession, Part III)
One rumor I would like to smack-down is that the NB certification process is being run by Pearson. That is an insult to my fellow NBCTs, Board members, and staff who have fought hard and long to maintain both the independence and the quality of National Board Certification. Currently, Pearson is contracted to handle the logistics of the certification process. However, the development of the standards, as well as how they are assessed, scored, and reviewed is all under the control of NBPTS. The unfortunate glitch in release of candidate scores a couple of years ago, was a problem with Pearson’s logistics, but the scores were never lost (just regretfully delayed). National Board Certification was and remains a process created and run by teachers, for teachers.
Most important, NBPTS stands poised to help bring the teaching profession to one of its most elusive, yet essential goals: The development of a true profession. If we, educators, want to be treated like professionals, we have to be a profession. That means setting and maintaining standards for who enters, stays, and excels in this profession. It means holding ourselves and each other accountable for standards and ethics we have developed. To paraphrase Thorpe:
Governments do not create professions. Neither do businesses nor foundations. By definition, professions are created by those in the profession. If teaching is going to claim its rightful state as a true profession, then teachers and other practitioners must make sure [our]voice guides the work. That voice should exert itself through the standards of accomplished practice and the path that all teachers travel to become accomplished. Both will put teachers in a position to define the key terms of [our]work and will create the habits of mind that need to become the profession’s norm. ]We] teachers must realize, however, that no one will do this for [us]. [We] either do it for [ourselves],or through [our]silence agree to comply with the vision others have for [us].
As a parent (we have raised 11 children and put them through public school) and as a public school teacher, I deeply resent much of the rhetoric being used to promote so-called “school choice.”
Much of this rhetoric is aimed at parents in communities that have been historically underserved by public education systems. Therein lies the hypocrisy.
I’ll use my own community as an example; you can change the names to fit your situation.
For generations, our community has had an openly unequal educational system for black and white children. The court battle has focused on the issue of desegregation; the bigger issue is unequal resources. Parents, students, many teachers, and even some administrators have been fighting to change these flagrant inequities (e.g., one school had fully-equipped science labs; the other had none, etc.) As the community would try to take these issues up the chain of authority (local school district, local school board, state dept. of education, state school board, federal department of education, federal elected officials…) we got promises, a superficial change or two, a committee, a plan, and more years of frustration.
Meanwhile, the state of Mississippi enacted legislation in 1997 called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). This program is a funding formula created by the Mississippi State legislature, after lengthy study and debate.
What is MAEP?
The state formula used to establish adequate current operation funding levels necessary for the programs of each school district to meet a successful level of student performance as established by the State Board of Education using current statistically relevant state assessment data.
Ensure that every Mississippi Child regardless of where he/she lives is afforded an adequate
educational opportunity, as defined by the State Accountability System. (from Mississippi Department of Education)
Since it’s adoption, the formula has only been fully funded by the legislature twice (both times in an election year), which has led many opponents of the program to call for its repeal (MPB). This year, legislation to expand charter schools has raced through the state legislature, being pushed by the governor and others. Yet, once again, the MAEP will be underfunded.
Don’t give the schools, especially those serving Black and poor communities, the resources they need and deserve to at least reach minimal thresholds of adequacy; then act shocked at their underperformance. Is a school a failure when failure was clearly the intention all along?
The same political structure (in some cases the same individuals) that have conducted or colluded with decades of deliberately making the schools that serve children like mine inferior to the ones that serve their own children, now feign concern and offer longsuffering parents the “choice” of charter schools.
Here’s the lie: It’s a false choice.
Had these public officials and institutions fulfilled their legal and moral obligations (or would they yet), I wouldn’t have to make a “choice” for my children or grandchildren between continued inadequate education and a real one. That’s not choice; that’s extortion.
The concept of charter schools is not a bad one, and I know there are some very good ones that have made a difference in the lives of children and communities. But let’s be clear: True school choice means I live in my chosen community, surrounded by great public schools and other educational options. Maybe there’s one that specializes in innovative fine arts programs, another that has pushed forward with hybrid classes, and yet another known for its community service learning projects. Every public school in every community adequately funded, staffed with fully-trained, qualified teachers, and housed in safe, clean facilities.
I've joined with some great education friends to encourage a broad grassroots defense of public education. The Network for Public Education hopes to build what fellow co-founder and NPE president Diane Ravitch describes as "a huge social network of parents, students, teachers, administrators, school board members, and all others who believe in public education and sane educational policy that focuses on a full and rich education for all children."
Fulfilling the uniquely American promise of public education has been an unfulfilled dream for too many of our children for too long. It's time for those of us who understand the value of public education to stand up, loud.
A wonderful piece from Hechinger Report on the often overlooked, unaddressed, and largely avoidable obstacles that prevent qualified students from entering college.
This week a marvelous project launched, and I'm excited to see it develop. Ten videos (one per week) and related resources will follow a year at one of the nation's most exciting schools: Mission Hill in Boston.
The first video asks a compelling question: "What if every school used our founding principles as a nation as their design principles for learning?" It would be the difference between going to school and getting an education.
For this part of my series on National Board standards, I've asked Kristin Hamilton, NBCT who now is Director of Standards for NBPTS to talk about her experience as a co-chair the committee that revised the English Language Arts standards.
Guest Blogger, Kristin Hamilton
National Board Certified Teacher: AYA/ELA
NBPTS Director of Standards
I remember sitting at a large U-shaped conference table looking at the other teachers and professors and wondering how I got so lucky. The fourteen of us, plus staff from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, were gathered as practitioners and researchers (the majority of whom were National Board Certified Teachers) to revise the English Language Arts Standards that a teacher must meet in order to become an NBCT.
I questioned my right to be at that table, and I even questioned my right to question the standards by which I had measured my professional life. I never questioned that writing these standards ought to be the purview of teachers, but I wasn’t sure I should be one of them.
Over time the fourteen of us realized that we all felt the same way. Since that first committee it has been my honor to continue to work with the National Board and to facilitate other committees, and I see the same phenomenon at the start of every committee.
Psychologists sometimes call it “impostor syndrome” when individuals have difficulty accepting that they have earned the honors they receive. For some reason, the culture of teaching causes us to believe that teachers’ participation in policy is an imposition, that their contributions are an extraneous addition to predetermined courses of action.
The National Board standards committees, however, are convened to do the thinking, writing, and decision making—not to advise, not to make recommendations. To participate is the most startling paradigm shift I’ve ever experienced as a teacher.
Standards revision committee members sign on for an intense five-seven months of group writing, editing, debating, consensus-building, stakeholder outreach, and research. Their charge is to describe what accomplished teachers know and do in such a way that teachers in any context or region could see themselves and their students; write standards that look ahead five-ten years; and uphold the Five Core Propositions that are the foundation for what accomplished teachers know and do in every content area. The committees are held to exacting expectations by professional organizations, stakeholders, researchers, policymakers, legislators, the National Board itself, and, of course, teachers.
Interestingly, the origin of the word standard is Gothic, a combination of “to stand” and “hard.” To be sure, the standards committee wrote rigorous and exacting standards, hard measures of teaching. Beyond that outcome, however, the National Board created a space in which we could take a firm stand and define our own profession rather than be the recipient of others’ decisions.
One hallmark of a profession is that its members determine its standards, and they decide when practitioners meet those standards. I truly believe that the National Board has found a way for teachers to be professionals in the full sense of the word. Teachers write the National Board standards, and they score the assessments that teachers submit. To engage with the certification process is to converse with colleagues and be assessed by peers.
I urge educators (primary, secondary, and higher education) to participate in writing the standards of accomplished teaching that guide our profession, and I urge policymakers and officials to encourage them as well. Apply to sit on a NBPTS standards committee. Participate in public comment on the released drafts. Encourage your colleagues to do the same. Read the standards and engage with them as you would a colleague across the hall.
As a final note to K-12 teachers specifically: Never apologize for your presence in a room where decisions are made about teaching and learning. Your expertise guides classrooms and hallways, and so it should also steer board rooms. Imposters take possession of that which does not—and should not—belong to them; they impose themselves on others. We are not imposters. Professionals make a public vow—in word and deed—to uphold and advance their profession; they profess their commitment to serve others.
Just before the holidays, I spent four days at the regional accreditation association conference (SACS/COCS). It was alternately sad and eerie to watch another level of educators wrestle with distortions of accountability and assessment.
Sad, because discussions about accountability and assessment should be a natural part of our professional lives.
Eerie because it so reminds me of 2001-02 when NCLB was rolling out and causing all manner of unnecessary confusion in the K12 world.
The discussions of accountability take on a slightly different flavor in a world where "academic freedom" has been so highly touted and defended. Where teachers do not have to use the same textbook--or any textbook. Where grading scales and formulas can range from intricate to esoteric. In the relatively few cases in which a student challenges a grade given by an instructor up through the official grievance procedure, it usually stops in the Dean's office. There the student learns that it almost requires divine intervention to get a professor's grading or teaching methods overruled.
Until very recently, colleges did not have to account for student learning at all as part of their accreditation processes. Now, the concept of tying public universities funding to their graduation rates has some members of the academy planning early retirement.
Most college instructors have no pedagogical training, so even terms like student assessment, learning outcomes, or student performance data are foreign to many outside of the teacher education programs. I was sitting at the table when the accreditation site team visited our community college and asked, "What does an A in Freshman Composition mean a student actually knows how to do? Does it mean the same thing in every section at your college?" Jaws dropped; eyes glazed over. Those of us from K12 background took up the discussion, but nerves had been rattled.
I can hear you K12 folk snickering, "Yeah, welcome to my world."
But are these conversations and conversions necessary? Should we be moving the expectations of accountability to the post-secondary level? Is this a case of "what's good for the goose..." or "enough is enough"?
I was invited by National Journal.com, Education Experts blog to share my reaction to the final report of the MET study. Here's what editor Fawn Johnson asked: What is most surprising about the Gates’ findings? What are the easiest ways teacher evaluations can be tweaked to more accurately reflect effectiveness? How important are student perception surveys? What lies ahead for videotaping teachers’ lessons? Do we need to learn anything more about measuring student achievement? Is the task laid out by Gates too daunting for schools to handle?
I deliberately avoided looking at any of the social media spin on the final report of the Gates Foundation funded Measurements of Effective Teaching (MET) study until after I had done my own reading. I took the same approach to the release of the first report back in December 2010.
Then, as now, there are several things about this study that I admire. Like Fawn Johnson (National Journal.com Education Experts editor), I am impressed with the seriousness and sincerity of the researchers in tackling the complex issue of teacher evaluation, especially since there are too many people who want to oversimplify it. I’m also glad to know the data from this study (unlike some of the earlier studies involving value-added measures) is being made available to the wider research community for independent investigation of results.
Most delightful of all is the MET researchers’ recognition of the importance of student voice in determining the quality of teachers’ work. If we are at all serious about preparing our youth to be critical thinkers and contributing citizens, we must start by listening to what only they can tell us about what is and is not working in our classrooms and schools.
Also, unlike some critics of the study, I reject the complaints about the MET’s inclusion of classroom observations by multiple evaluators as an important way to measure teacher effectiveness. The research team recommended that those observations should not be over or under represented in the blend of measures used in a teacher evaluation system. Here I’m using my parent lens (my husband and I have raised 11 children and shepherded them all through public school). There is essential information about a teacher’s effectiveness that no test data can reveal: How does that teacher treat my child? I have known teachers who could boast impressive student test numbers, but disrespected and demeaned their students in the process.
The purpose of teacher evaluation is to answer two questions (not one): How good a job is this teacher doing, AND how can this teacher do better? Candid, objective feedback from outside evaluators and thoughtful reflection by teachers on our work is essential for continuing professional growth.
Teachers submitting video of ourselves teaching for evaluation purposes is not new. Part of National Board Certification, a voluntary process for advanced teaching credential, requires teachers to not only include video examples, but extensive written analysis by the teacher candidate of his/her work using the video as evidence.
As a National Board Certified Teacher myself, and now as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, I am gratified that the study confirms what the National Board has known and proven for 25 years: There are significant differences in the quality of instruction provided by teachers, and those differences have critical impact on student achievement and on student learning.
It was not the purpose of the MET study to distinguish between student achievement and student learning, but their interchangeable use of those terms in the report further confuses the concepts in the public conversation. In 2011, a task force commissioned by NBPTS (which included Robert Linn, Rick Hess, Lloyd Bond, and Lee Shulman) released a report that supplied much-needed clarification:
Student achievement is the status of subject-matter knowledge, understandings, and skills at one point in time.
Student learning is growth in subject-matter knowledge, understandings, and skills over time…It is student learning—not student achievement—that is most relevant to defining and assessing accomplished teaching.
Standardized tests are the instruments we use (for now) to measure student achievement, but there is much, much more that we need to know about measuring student achievement and student learning. As my higher education colleagues and many employers will testify, students meeting an arbitrary state cut score may (or may not) indicate factual recall of certain immediate learning objectives, but the method falls grievously short as a measure of what students actually know and can do after the test. How this scenario will change if, when, and after the “next-generation” assessments promised under the Common Core Standards are implemented remains to be seen. But if all we want from teacher evaluation is a way to identify which teachers are the best bets for raising student test scores, we would be setting a disgustingly low bar indeed.
Implementing teacher evaluation systems with a balance of multiple measures as recommended by the MET study will present significant hurdles to states and school districts, cost being only one of them. However, there are already some promising starts. Consider what these teachers from Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington have to say about the challenges of implementing such a teacher evaluation system. Notably, these teachers have also decided not to give the state-required tests to their students this Spring.
Surprise! Effective teacher evaluation not only distinguishes teachers; it empowers them.Cross-posted at education.nationaljournal.com
Renee Moore has taught English and journalism for 20 years in the Mississippi Delta region at both high school and community college levels. A former state Teacher of the Year and National Board Certified, Renee has written for Educational Leadership and other professional publications.