Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Iowa Teacher Evaluations Tied To State Tests? My Beef With This and Why

Sunday morning I started my day with a cup of coffee and the Sunday edition of the QC Times. It was not long before I came to an article that really fired me up. 

Battle over teacher evaluations helps stall Iowa education reform

I shared some of my frustrations with this article on FB and Twitter and I need to go into more detail over my issues.

This article talked about how government is stuck making any further decisions until teacher evaluations are tied to test scores. I have real issues with this idea. The Republicans are ones that are not allowing things to move until test scores are tied to teacher evaluations. I could care less about politics and whether it is Republicans or Democrats, but I do care about this new wave of people making decisions about education that have little experience about what happens in the classroom. When was the last time these policy makers walked the halls and taught students day in and day out?

In the article, Democrats are claiming that schools need time to digest all the new changes that were made last year before adding another thing on the plates of teachers and schools. I could not agree more. Teachers are burning out faster than ever before. Every year we are stacking more and more on the shoulders of teachers and schools, but yet the tasks from the year prior have not been resolved. What typically happens is that same old system when an agenda starts and slowly just falls apart because all these new ideas are forced upon us and those ideas are eventually left to the wayside. How many times have started down one path to only find the path no longer available the next year? Why even invest or work towards these agendas when experience has shown us that 2-3 years later it is dropped?

A perfect case of a poor way of thinking by our leaders in this nation and state is when Tom Narak, and lobbyist for School Administrators of Iowa, states "It's the way (evaluations)going now." 

Really? Just because it is the way means we all need to do it? I mean is that really the message we want? We see this poor mindset with standardized tests. We keep using this over and over and yet it does not help us really see how our classroom affects learning. How does filling in bubbles show high level learning? It doesn't and just because other states are using state test scores for teacher evals doesn't mean it works. Has anybody not looked at the issues in other states with cheating, scandal, stress, and frustrations?

Paying teachers for test scores? Has anyone not studied history to know that this idea fails miserably over and over again. Hello....The Cobra Effect? Perhaps these people should listen to Freakonomics podcast on this whole paying rewards and the failing consequences that ensue.

We already have schools in trouble for cheating and they are not even tied to test scores yet.

I think Herman Qurmbach raises a valid point in this article when he states

“We haven’t fully implemented the Iowa Core, which is also the Common Core. We don’t have our (student) tests aligned to that, there are at least three testing systems out there, and none of them are finished,” Quirmbach said. “Those are the standards we’re supposed to test students on, and they’re not done yet. You’re telling me that we should tie teacher evaluations to an incomplete system? I don’t think so.”

We need to finish the current work we have that is incomplete. The state tests are not set in stone, Common Core is still being worked out, and schools are trying to adjust to both. 

What bothers me is this "punish the whole system method" employed in the education world. I agree that teachers need to be held accountable. However, I know that state test scores do not show what I teach. What happens in schools is that we never address the specific issues at hand. If a teacher is not doing their job, then call them out. Tell them, show them how they are messing up, and then give them a plan to improve. Help them with necessary skills. If they choose not to improve or they simply don't improve, then you let them go. No more of this keeping teachers for 30 years and for 30 years they have been bad. That affects too many children that need good quality teachers. Hold us accountable like we should be holding our students accountable.

Instead what schools do is they punish the whole staff. They implement a major plan that does nothing but burn the wrong teachers. The teachers that need help don't realize the plan is because of them. What happens is the quality teachers take the plan to heart. It is just like a classroom. A classroom punishment does nothing but upset the good kids while the kids who created the problem are oblivious or don't care. This approach to issues does nothing more than frustrate the teachers who are doing their job. This leads to staff morale issues which is becoming an issue all over the place.

As a gifted education teacher I don't know that anything I teach is measured on state tests. I work on real world problem solving skills, 21st century skills, collaboration techniques, problem solving, and high level thinking. How does a multiple choice math test or reading paragraphs showcase these skills? It doesn't and therefore is invalid to evaluate me.

If you want to create a quality teacher evaluation system talk to the people most impacted. Go to the source. Parents and students. The community can tell you who the quality teachers are as well as the mediocre and poor teachers. Work with the community members to create an effective system. Let the people most directly impacted have a say. Why not tap into this powerful resource? They are not the enemy. Students are the most perceptive people on the planet. 

The positive to all of this is that everyone is working hard to do what is right. I don't agree with the teacher evaluation system, but I understand their reasons for it. I just don't think it will work. But I know their intentions are good. At least Jason Glass is proposing a three year system to implement so it is not rushed and done right, but I don't know that now is the time. I don't know that the answer is to do this because other states are doing it. If you talk to teachers in other states you can feel frustration. They don't have a voice. They don't have a say and that is not right.

If you want to do it right, talk to the people that are most affected. Education is not a business, it is a public good. 

I would love to hear other opinions and thoughts.

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