What Value Do Teachers Add to A Classroom?

Happy New Year, Readers!

As 2011 begins I have been reflecting on a question I’ve been pondering for some time.  You may have noticed a lack of blog posting in the past few months.  There’s no excuse for that (though I did get married, graduate from my masters program, write a chapter in a book being published some time next year for school administrators integrating technology, and develop a new software program for fluency testing to be released soon in the interim).  However, the main reason has been that I’ve had a case of writer’s block related to this one question prompted by the publishing of teachers’ test scores by the Los Angeles Times back at the beginning of the school year.

In case you missed it, the LA Times posted a database of teacher test scores and ranked teachers according to their ability to raise test scores from end of one school year to the beginning of the next.  Neither my wife or I were included in the database because we each taught primary grades where we were establishing baseline data to judge 3-5 grade teachers by.  If you don’t live in Los Angeles, you should still care because this method of evaluating teachers is coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

I’ve worked at five or six schools within LAUSD and so I personally know a lot of the rated teachers.  I have to say that I found the database to be about 50% accurate in terms of how I would evaluate a teacher.  There were many top teachers I knew were wonderful and was not surprised to see them wonderfully rated.  There were others in the top ten who have parents scrambling to avoid.  There were some highly rated who I know don’t get by on careful planning or rigorous standards but do well be students because of an affable demeanor and rapport they establish with students.  At the bottom of the list were some really great teachers as well as some known duds.  I’m torn.  Since the list is about half-right I’m okay with using it in part to evaluate teachers for real but since the list is about half wrong I don’t want to assign too much value to it.

A few factors the Times never addressed in any of their subsequent articles are:

  1. clerical and student error (mistakes do happen and a students’ test score ends up erroneous because they’ve bubbled incorrectly or a test booklet gets lost)
  2. cheating (I don’t know of any teachers who bubble in answers for students though I’m sure they exist, but I do know of some who tend to push certain answers to students more than other teachers do).
  3. bad tests (we evaluate teachers based on THE TEST but this, of course, assumes THE TEST is a good one)

Although I would concede using the database in part to evaluate teacher effectiveness, largely to cave in to public demand and the Bush-Obama education policies, I would not support paying teachers based on their test scores based on data that has shown it’s ineffective and other reasons I’ve already stated.

Test scores are one measure of teacher effectiveness so what are the others.  As a future parent (no current parenting plans, incidentally) my lens of teacher evaluation has shifted to one I think is more important that my literacy coach lens.  While the literacy coach googles see Mrs. Sally as an ineffective first grade teacher because of her dislike of the words “objective” and “standards-based,” the future father in me would like my  child in her class because it is rich, colorful, and full of love.  Every child in her classroom comes out of it loving school and with an appreciation of learning.  I think that’s more important than a teacher who drills and kills and gets good test scores but turns students off to reading and school.  I think there must be a happy medium but without one I lean toward warm and nurturing and love of learning.

What can we learn from Finland’s school turnaround?  What value do you think teachers add to a classroom?

10 Responses to “What Value Do Teachers Add to A Classroom?”

  1. Tweets that mention Creating Lifelong Learners » Blog Archive » What Value Do Teachers Add to A Classroom? -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Angela Cristiani. Angela Cristiani said: What Value Do Teachers Add to A Classroom? http://dlvr.it/Cbcx4 #Around_The_Web #education_bloggers #education_blogging #union […]

  2. Amanda Says:

    After reading the article, “Finland’s school turnaround”, it is clear that the support of teachers in the United States is lacking. The article expanded on the support, respect, and cooperation between parents and teachers as well as the importance of lowering the pressure of high-stakes testing. There seems to be a balance missing in our country’s current focus in education; the balance between instilling a passion for learning in our children and the curriculum. If the public continues to put pressure on schools to perform, the kill and drill methods will continue; resulting in student boredom. I hope to instill in my students a passion for life-long learning and the skills to achieve that knowledge in the 21st century while utilizing creative teaching methods and assessments.

  3. Cheryl Barnard Says:

    It seems to me that Finland’s school system cares firstly about real learning – learning that is engaging, authentic and motivated not by competition and ranking but learning for learnings sake.

    I love how the article stated: Parents and politicians think that teachers who work closely together with parents are the best judges of how well their children are learning in schools.

    The greatest value a teacher brings to the classroom is a keen curiosity for all things – and a love of learning. This insatiable desire to learn more will drive him/her to learn new things, impart them to their students, and make a difference in the success of their students.

  4. Lara Cohen Says:

    As a former LAUSD math coach ( back in the classroom for two years now,) I agree with many of your observations. Some of teachers seemed to fall right where I would have expected, while others received shockingly high or low “value-added” ratings. I think the three reasons you gave for limiting the use of the CST (and its cousins) for teacher evaluation are all valid – especially the cheating issue. I, too, observed some unethical behavior as a coach. I would add the following issues to your list:

    4. The difficulty level of the CST is not the same for all grades. The third grade ELA test is much more difficult than the second grade test, for example, as there is less emphasis on phonology and more on morphology, and parts of the test are no longer read to the student. I would guess that a disproportionate number of the teachers rated less than effective by the LA Times have taught third grade during the years in question.

    5. It is unfair to make this test “high stakes” for teachers when it is “low stakes” for students. This is an even bigger issue in the secondary grades.

    6. The teacher(s) one follows has a great impact on the “value” one adds. For my own peace of mind, I would much rather receive students from a low-performing teacher, because it gives me greater opportunity to “add” value to lower baseline test scores. There is no way that thinking like this (scheming, strategizing, worrying) will do anything to improve classroom performance of teachers!

    7. How will K-2 teachers (or those who teach subjects that aren’t assessed annually or at all) be held accountable for student achievement? As an upper elementary teacher who has also taught primary, I believe that primary teachers’ previous work continues to add (or subtract) value as students move into the higher grades. Will my students’ test scores be used to evaluate all of the teachers who have taught them?

    For the record, I have always used this data to reflect on my own performance, even though the District and most administrators have not. I am a bit of a “data geek,” and I find it interesting and valuable to look at which students went up or down during my year with them, and to consider why.

    Before we can get to the place where we consider using this data to evaluate teachers, why don’t we teach administrators how to use this data when working with teachers? You can’t do anything about the “bad” teachers (and we know they’re out there) until you do something about the bad administrators. The real problem is the mediocre teachers (and I’ve coached many) who will never become great because administrators don’t possess the skill or drive to push them to that level of excellence.

    In short, if we (fellow teachers and coaches) know who the “good” and “bad” teachers are, administrators shouldn’t need to rely on annual test scores to determine this.

  5. Elona Hartjes Says:

    One of the things I’ve learned from Finland is that it is much more difficult to teach in a multi-cultural school because of the differing values that exist. I teach in a high school where the student body speaks 60+ languages. Finland’s population is more heterogenius.

    I think one of the values teachers add in our classrooms is a respect for other cultures and persons. This is an important value to nurture. One need only look at the headlines of any newspaper to realize that.

  6. Mathew Says:

    Finland is definitely more heterogenous. My school has 23 different languages (I thought that was a lot but you’ve got me beat). However, I don’t think the amount of diversity in North America means that we discount the expertise of teachers in solving the problems of education or that diversity means merit pay is a good idea.

  7. Elona Hartjes Says:

    It would be a good idea if the powers that be did listen to the personal professional expertise of teachers in the classroom to solve some of the problems we face in our schools. This is not always the case. Reforms to education are being implemented from the top down (Ministry of Education) and not from the grass roots (Teacher).

    I\’m not sure about merit pay. I have chosen to teach students who are extremely challenging. I don\’t think merit pay would make a difference. In my district, teachers at the top of the salary grid get paid well. Instead of getting more money to teach these students, I would appreciate more support for the students. Instead of giving me the extra money in merit pay, I\’d like to see that extra merit pay money going to programs that would support students in some way. It seems today that life is really busy for adults and there\’s not enough time for kids so let\’s give them electronic gadgets to keep them occupied. I see this all the time. Kids have the latest whatevesr but little time with the adults in their lives. It\’s sad.

  8. Melissa Says:

    This post was a very interesting read. I am a college student hoping to become a teacher and I am very interested in finding social medias that are posting relevant topics in education today.

  9. Sandy Brehl Says:

    Eloquent. Persuasive. Logical. We need full and informed discussions about teacher evaluations based on reality, not manipulated statistics. When are we going to figure out that education is a process, not a product? These are lives we are dealing with, not mass-produced widgets. Anything as complex as learning requires a complex, authentic evaluation, not snapshot scores- not with so much at stake. Thank you.

  10. ‘Creating Lifelong Learners’ Blog: ‘My Current Thoughts on Teacher Evaluation’ | English Teaching Daily Says:

    […] evaluation, probably because of my previous posts on Merit Pay (I’m not for it)  and theValue that Teachers Add to the Classroom (hint, it’s more than just test […]

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