I was fortunate to have spent 26 years doing what I love best – teaching children and helping teachers. As a classroom teacher, reading teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and parent, I was able to see education from different viewpoints and know from these experiences that teachers are a critical factor in a child’s education.
A good teacher can change the trajectory of a child’s life by helping that child to learn the critical skills and content necessary for a productive future. That assistance may take the form of challenging learning experiences, assistance with difficult tasks, and feedback to promote greater learning. It may be as simple as recognizing a child’s special talent and helping to cultivate it.
Children from impoverished backgrounds need even more support and cannot be subjected to lower expectations for achievement because of their more challenging circumstances. These children need even greater champions to recognize their potential and worth. That is what good teachers do all of the time. Teachers are responsible and accountable for teaching all children.
I had the privilege to work with talented educators who devoted their lives to reaching every child in their classrooms, literally spending day and night preparing lessons, correcting work or contemplating how to reach a struggling student. These teachers took their role in their students’ lives very seriously, seeking feedback on ways to improve their craft. For these teachers, evaluation was not a threat. They were doing their jobs proudly and effectively. They had nothing to fear, but only information to gain that would help them improve.
I also worked with teachers who required extra assistance. In order to assist these teachers, it was necessary to know more about their craft and their results. Observing a lesson can provide part of a picture. But even if a lesson looks perfect, when students don’t meet the lesson objective, that means it was not an effective lesson. While teacher observations can highlight a moment in time, thorough evaluations also require a record of continuous growth.
Looking at student work can also be helpful in evaluating a teacher. However, teacher-made tests, and written assignments are designed to measure learning on a narrow subset of skills. They may not be objective, reliable or valid measures of student learning or teacher competence. They also do not provide comparative data as to how students are progressing in other classes, schools, or the state. Evaluating a teacher without looking at student growth over time and comparison data is an incomplete measure of that teacher’s effectiveness.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment was designed to assess the Common Core Standards, which represent sequential skills and content necessary for all students to be ready for college and careers. That assessment was developed by more than 4,700 teachers to determine if students are learning what they are supposed to learn in English language arts and math in grades 3-8.
It is a standardized assessment, not subject to the individual bias or test creation skills of individual teachers. It also provides information about student’s growth from year to year. This is invaluable information for teachers who want to know, “Did my students learn what I intended to teach them? Did their skills grow during the time we spent together?”
If students are not learning, then the teacher has the opportunity to reflect on practices and improve them. For both student and teacher, learning is all about growth and development. The Smarter Balanced Assessment should be part of a teacher’s evaluation because it can provide that information.
In every profession, people are accountable for the work that they do. Is a surgeon a good surgeon because she comes to work each day and is friendly? Or do we look at the number of successful operations and her cure rate? If a teacher’s job is to teach children, shouldn’t that teacher be accountable for whether or not the children learned that information?
Marian Hourigan is now the Director of District and School Partnerships for the Connecticut Council for Education Reform. She was the 2000 Teacher of the Year in Meriden, as well as the principal of a Blue Ribbon School in that district.