Thursday, May 27, 2010

Measuring Teacher Effectiveness

Jay Mathews has a new post up about measuring teacher effectiveness. I read it last night and I can't stop feeling frustrated. Oddly enough, not that much by Jay as by some of the comments.

I think teacher effectiveness is invalid term. Or at least the idea of measuring it is invalid. Teachers don't control too many of the factors that effect their effectiveness.

I teach first grade. I teach children to read. When we assess their reading ability they need to be able to decode words fairly fluently and to have understood what they read. So far, so good.

However, if kids have no background knowledge of topics or ideas then it is unlikely they can read the words and understand them. If you have never heard a word it's hard to read. Imagine trying to read a text on computer languages, literary theory, atomic particles, or some other topic completely foreign to you. You will struggle with the words and certainly the understanding.

That's true for so many of our children because they haven't had the exposure to the things we expect them to read about. I'm not suggesting they have limited knowledge, because that is not even remotely true. They know a lot. It's just that the things they know are not in the books we expect them to read. Their experiences to do not match up with middle class society's experiences.

If no one has talked to kids about using money to pay for things, the plants they see around them, the stars in the sky, voting for president, measuring to cook, and on and on and on then these kids come to school less prepared. My daughters have a ton of these experiences. It doesn't make me a better parent than my students' parents. But it does mean that my daughters have a leg up. And so do most middle class kids.

I don't think I've voiced this very well here. I needed to get it off my chest. However, it is something I will keep thinking about and working on to better understand the complexities and, hopefully, to think about what we could be doing to improve the situation for these students.


Becca said...

I think you make an excellent point. Our school has just decided to focus next year on raising our at-risk students testing scores.

Easier said than done when their background is completely different than the background of the test makers.

We do consider out at-risk students to be students who do not have the background knowledge. But how do you teach them the background knowledge? You have to teach it while they are learning to read, write, do fractions. So yeah, it will probably take these kiddos a bit longer to "get it".

bcrosby said...

Hi Jenny - I often comment to colleagues that we should sit down each day and list the things that came up that day that our students have never heard of. Getting my 6th graders ready to read a story last year not one student knew what an orchard was, or crops, or plow or about 10 other things they needed to know about to make sense of the story. So many people would say ... so teach them those things! The reading series assumed students would already know those things and to stay on schedule I could not take several days to explain and give lessons in all those areas. But because of that the story was very boring to the students ... meant close to nothing because they didn't know enough to know why things were interesting ... so what it taught them very well was that reading is boring. Becca's comment touches on another point ... if you do take the time to front load the knowledge you can easily take 3 times longer to cover the material, and the reading series is designed to have the students ready for testing only if you do the lessons on schedule. How do we get that across to more people (including our president and his ed sec?

jwg said...

Science. Social Studies. Field Trips. All those things there is no time for any more. You have hit the proverbial nail right on the head. I tutored a kid last year who could easily read Third Grade books at the beginning of First Grade. Problem was, he had little idea of what he was reading. The whole thing was sort of a trick he could do. He came from an extremely disfunctional low income family who had enough trouble keeping food on the table and getting him to school on time, much less providing the experiences all the middle class kids had before they came to school.

I work with preschool teachers. Many work in programs that serve this population. Since Kindergarten is now First Grade they are feeling pressured to make their programs more academic. Phonemic awareness is fine, but when the letter of the week becomes the curriculum then even at this level there is no time for exploring the world, enriching experiences, and growing vocabulary and understanding.

That's my rant. I enjoyed reading yours. But what are we supposed to do about all this? I dream of leading a parents' revolution. Nobody cares what the teachers who actually work with the kids think but maybe a loud and pissed off group of parents could accomplish something.

Missus.Bailey said...

I agree with all of the previous comments. In my honest opinion, every person who thinks raising test scores or raising the effectiveness of teachers is an overnight task has never been a teacher or is so far removed from the classroom they forgot what it was like.

Each year, each grade, each county/city/state varies. I can account for one year when the test scores of my students SOARED it was also the year that my team all concluded that the test was much easier than the years before. I can account for a year when seven of my high scoring students left school in the first month and we received 5 low scoring students who were at least 2 grade levels behind. Thus, I dont feel test scores can adequately measure the effectiveness of a teacher. Student scores should increase, however, they increase at individual rates.

I dont mind being evaluated either, however, I DO mind outside forces coming in for 10 minutes in my class and making a judgement call.