In my mad search for materials as we returned from our recent holiday break, I happened upon an opinion piece that I’d written to apply for a spot as a guest columnist at a local circular a couple of years ago. I skimmed through it and was surprised to see that, even after two more years of experience, my views have not changed.
Due to the word limit, I didn’t expand on many of my points. However, I want to put forth the broad strokes I’ve painted below. I’ve included almost everything I originally wrote word for word, editing for clarity and omitting only personally identifying information.
“So many of our society’s problems are blamed on the education system today – and, in my opinion, rightly so. However, this is not for lack of trying, from teachers or students. As a teacher, I can vouch for the fact that teachers work, on average, much more than a 40-hour week, even figuring in our summers ‘off.’ And our students, who come to us with various backgrounds and experiences, at their very core seek to learn and know and do. We are simply using a centuries-old model to teach 21st-century learners, a factory system to educate digital natives. We must shift our paradigm if we hope to compete globally or even if we want to continue our fast pace of development and relative peace here at home.
To do so, we must find a way to engage, evaluate, and hold accountable both teachers and students. As a proposed fix, my district has implemented a pay-for-performance teacher evaluation system that ties observations with student perceptions and performance. There is some merit to this system; however, it is not a silver bullet. I am uneasy with the idea of pay-for-performance for two main reasons: firstly, much of a student’s performance, especially low-SES students in urban districts, is out of a teacher’s control. Secondly, testing cannot be the end-all, be-all of our American education system.
I am absolutely for accountability – for teachers and students. I even think that there is value in teaching test-taking strategy, as we take tests all our lives: for driving, for the military, sometimes even as part of a job interview. But testing is not the only and perhaps not even the best way to measure student learning. Our kids are over-tested; because of our high-stakes environment, we let other kinds of learning – creative, hands-on, immersive learning – fall by the wayside.
Each of the dozens of days that our kids spend taking a state, district, or campus test is a day that they are NOT learning or being enriched. One priority for schools should be to cut down on the number of paper- or computer-based assessments, either phasing them out or using alternative methods of evaluation in favor of traditional multiple-choice tests.
In addition to testing, we must implement a system of additional measures of student learning. We can still use a standardized curriculum, but students can be rated on discussions, writing, projects, etc. Rubrics and ratings would require personal attention, but isn’t personalizing learning supposed to be a hallmark of our American education system?
Students need to be a bigger part of their assessments, as well. Evaluation is a higher-order thinking skill that, as professionals, we use often – especially on our own projects and presentations. Students need to know how to measure their learning as well as what additional steps to take when they are not where they should be. We need to dedicate as much time as we dedicate to testing to sharing and analyzing data with, not for, our students. The analysis itself, as well as number sense, will contribute to students’ overall performance, anyway.”
What do you think about pay-for-performance systems? It’s hard for me to put my finger on why they rub me the wrong way, and because it’s only benefitted me so far, I’ve yet to put up much of a fight against our district’s. That said, the words above are my best attempt at explaining why I don’t think it should be enacted everywhere.
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