Monday, March 12, 2018

Testing to Evaluate

The team at Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in March and on
Tuesdays throughout the year. Swing by the link up slice to serve yourself up seconds or join us! 

Testing season has just begun in the state of Florida. At Singapore American School (SAS) there is no such season--well, except when the advanced placements tests begin. In Singapore students take a yearly assessment, but it is used as almost a clinical check to make sure kids academic health is sound. Like a blood test, a CBC, the doctor scans the results to make sure there aren't any numbers far out of normal ranges. At SAS teachers are not judged by test scores--my public school self still wonders how that can be true.

 In Florida, at state, district and local levels teachers are evaluated in terms of their instructional practice and their students' test scores. Test scores influence curricular and  programatic decisions.  As a former "Race to the Top" state, Florida uses a "Value Added Model," a complex equation that tracks students' test scores by teacher over time. Many researchers note the model's limits. My last five years teaching in Florida administrators evaluated my practice using this "new" model.

Each category in the evaluation model, instructional practice and test scores,  makes up fifty percent of a final composite score for the year. The scores, once compiled,  label a teacher as highly effective, effective, needs improvement and unsatisfactory. The math to compile the scores is interesting. Luckily, someone once shared a spreadsheet template that automatically calculates scores. Of course, I've wasted all sorts of instructional planning and assessing time plugging numbers into the spreadsheet to see what sort of "grade" I could get. Teachers, like kids, will game any grading system used in order to learn (and conquer) it.

I hate that this model reduces teacher performance to number, a number that is cloaked in the mystery of equations and weights. Yet,  I love the complexity of the model.

It is complicated much like teaching. Teaching is complex, as is any model that tries to capture the  nuances, the instructional moves, the many decisions of a master teacher.

Florida adopted "the Marzano Model" from Learning Sciences International. It examines teacher performance across four domains and sixty individual elements. It is a living model that has changed over time. It is also a model that changes as teachers and administrators' understandings of it changed. Implementation varies district to district, school to school, administrator to administrator.

 I hate that variability. I dislike inconsistency of implementation. But I love learning about and reflecting on teaching by digging in to some of the model's elements.

Somewhere, behind the scenes, practices shift, language changes.

The language on the model's map shifts too. In 2014 they are labeled DQ1 thru DQ9 and written as headings and the "I do" language of the questions has been shifted from the question to each element.

It's interesting, the language shifts, but difficult to keep current. And really, how important is it? How much time should a teacher invest in learning the model's map? Staying up on the lingo is much less important to me than learning about my students, learning about teaching or learning what is working and not working, so that I can try and tweak and fix before this group, this year is gone.

There is value in the model, no doubt. It reminds me that there are sequences I need to pay attention to as I plan instruction. It reminds me that I must develop a community and establish routines in my classroom --such systems make the classroom run smoothly and give learners security and predictability and that enables learners to focus their attention on the content. The model reminds me that kids need processing time and time to take notes or create visual representations of learning. The model serves as a reminder to me. I minored in education and went back to graduate school to study curriculum and instruction. The elements are familiar education concepts to me, but they aren't familiar to everyone. There are many paths to becoming a teacher and even though teacher preparation programs aim to prepare teachers, we know that learner to be a better teacher never ends.

So I love that the model pushes me to keep learning. I love that it helps me coach teachers new to my department.  I have written about it's use as a practical learning tool before, but as you can see, we have a love/hate relationship.

No doubt teachers in Florida have final evaluative observations approaching. If you are one of those teachers or you'd like to read more about how you can demonstrate your teaching strengths, check out Take Charge of Your Teaching Evaluation by my friend Jennifer Ansbach.

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