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Will New Teacher Evaluation Requirements and Increased Focus on Standardized Testing Have Any Positive Results?

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The concern over the education system in the United States has taken off with a life of its own. This is part one of our two part response to the question Will New Teacher Evaluation Requirements and Increased Focus on Standardized Testing Have Any Positive Results? Can anyone identify what is wrong anymore?  Is it teacher performance, outdated curriculum, lack of staff, supplies, and technology, underperforming pre-service programs, limited resources, or ineffective leadership? Is it a lack of school design to meet the needs of 21st century learners? Is it our lack of capacity or will to educationally overcome the effects of poverty? Is it the federal government intervening in a historically state and local domain? Is it state legislatures and governors who have drawn battle lines? What is it? 

Perhaps if everyone stopped and took a step back to view the field and stopped making assumptions about what to fix, a solution might be found. There are certainly enough people paying attention. If we came together to figure out what the problem(s) is (are),we might mount a campaign leading to a solution.

In a recent Washington Post Answer Sheet, Carol Burris made crystal clear that:

  • some legislators had little understanding of what they supported
  • standardized tests are not the measure that we need
  • there is an inequity across the grades in the methods to be used to evaluate teachers
  • that evaluation pressure will influence teachers' thinking about encouraging students 
  • the math used to figure all this out is in question, and
  • requiring outside teacher observers will upset the running of all schools.

What was she responding to? New York State's most recent budget bill included the next iteration of Governor Cuomo's educational strategy for teacher evaluation, student testing and the connection between the two. He has made the claim that bad teachers are the reason students are not achieving. Is there data to support his belief?  Following his logic, how do we improve the teaching....by getting rid of bad teachers and rewarding good ones. A wonderfully simplistic approach but what if we follow him down this road and then find out our students are still not achieving?  We contend by the time we know that, Governor Cuomo will be somewhere else in his career, and educators will be left trying to patch up the devastation left in the wake.

Here Is What We Do Know About Standardized Testing
Noam Chomsky is a well-respected American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, political commentator, and social justice activist. So why not listen to his views on standardized test use and its impact on education?

The assessment itself is completely artificial. It's not ranking teachers in accordance with their ability to help develop children who will reach their potential . . . It's turning us into individuals who devote our lives to achieving a rank.

Wow, is that the summary of what schools have become? How can standardized tests be used for such high stakes accountability when their very existence is pulling time and energy away from what we value as good teaching and learning? And how can any system claim fairness when some teachers are being measured in one way and others in another?  Why are they spending money on developing these tests that measure learning taking place in century old systems?  Why aren't we spending money on changing the system? Because battle lines are drawn on the field as we know it. Reform efforts are also.

How Students Learn Holds an Answer
If the "problem" is identified as needing to better prepare students for college and career we best not design a solution so quickly that we miss the mark. How can we assess teachers as doing a good job or not, if the system in which they are working does not allow for designing the learning opportunities required to prepare their students?  The research is clear. The need for creating room for relevancy as part of the learning process that allows students to make sense of what they are learning, its relationship to other subjects, and the world outside of school has been established for 100 years.

From the standpoint of the child, the great waste in school comes from his inability to utilize the experience he gets outside while on the other hand he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning in school. That is the isolation of the school--its isolation from life.  --John Dewey, 1916

Current research tells us that brains are wired to solve problems and that thematic units, and that integrated curriculum facilitates the required transfer process in order for learning to take place (Sousa. Pp146-147).  John Bransford's work on learning explains:

  1. Teachers must draw out and work with the preexisting understandings that their students bring with them.
  2. Teachers must teach some subject matter in depth, providing many examples in which the same concept is at work and providing a firm foundation of factual knowledge.
  3. The teaching of metacognitive skills should be integrated into the curriculum in a variety of subject areas.
  4. Schools and classrooms must be learner centered.
  5. To provide a knowledge-centered classroom, environment, attention must be given to what is taught (information subject matter), why it is taught (understanding), and what competence or mastery looks like.
  6. Formative assessments - ongoing assessments designed to make students' thinking visible to both teachers and students - are essential.
  7. Learning is influenced in fundamental ways by the context in which it takes place.  A community-centered approach requires the development of norms for the classroom and school, as well as connections to the outside world, that support core learning values (Bransford et al., pp. 20-25).

Our conclusion? If this is all about doing what students need, then let's focus the solution on what students need. 

Part two of our response to the question: "Will New Teacher Evaluation Requirements and Increased Focus on Standardized Testing Have Any Positive Results?" will be published on Sunday. 

Resource:
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn:  brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Sousa, D.A. (2011) How the Brain Learns. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin

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