Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Grading the Teachers

Lots of people are talking about this Los Angeles Times article about value-added assessment of teachers:

Who's Teaching L.A.'s Kids?

I found the article interesting, though, as usual, it doesn't answer the questions I ask. My daughter, like many other bright kids of educated parents, routinely scored in the high 90th percentiles on standardized tests, whether her teachers were good, bad, or indifferent. I actually didn't expect her to learn much in public school, and I would have been OK with that if she had been reasonably happy there.

Here's some questions I'd like to ask in order to rate teachers:

1.) What percentage of this teacher's students read for pleasure during the school year?

2.) What percentage of this teacher's students say they hate school?

3.) What percentage of this teacher's students show symptoms of anxiety and depression?

Faithful readers, what questions would you ask in order to rate a teacher?


  1. FedUpMom,

    I agree with your questions. My daughters had a highly "effective" (ie, rigorous, demanding, challenging) teacher in grade 4, and they did well, but it was an unpleasant year for them. Why? Way too much homework. In grade 5 they had a much less "effective" teacher, who also gave too much homework. Again, they were not happy. Their marks did not change at all, partly because, like a lot of parents, my husband and I "afterschool" our kids when necessary to compensate for any deficiencies in teaching and/or curriculum.

    A major problem with the method of rating teachers outlined in the article is that, as a recent commenter pointed out, it might just be pinpointing which teachers are "teaching to the test" and which are not. Effective teaching can only be measured this way if the main educational goal is raising test scores. If education is about more than that, then the method is not particularly helpful or meaningful.

  2. PsychMom said:

    Just on the by and by, did anyone else see the piece in the Globe and Mail yesterday that reported that Ontario teachers were wanting out of standardized testing done in Grades 3 and 6? I was stunned to read that the teachers recognize that testing stunts creativity and engagement in learning. Yeah for Ontario teachers!

    Certainly judgeing teachers should have nothing to do with the scores children get on tests. I don't even see the relationship, frankly. Here's my questions:

    How many education journals has the teacher read this year? (How up to date is this person?)

    How would parents rate this teacher on approachability?

  3. And what happens to the gifted kid who can Pass Advanced in September without ever having so much as looked at a practice test or the material? Do you just ignore that child? A principal once told a friend, "Your son has monster scores. What more do you want?" "Um, an education?" she replied.

  4. Got this off Race to Nowhere. A good piece on why kids hate school. But this, not surprisingly, is what I disagree with:

    "If your child hates school it is probably not his fault, nor that of his teacher,"

    And this: "Fortunately there are many wonderful, creative, and dedicated teachers, consultants, and administrators on the front line every day doing all they can to engage their students, without whom I cannot imagine how much worse things would be for the children in their charge."

    If they are really doing all they can, why is the landscape so bleak? You mean to tell me this army of benevolent angels cannot stop this avalanche? As we've digested on StopHomework, the myth that most teachers love their students and are doing everything in their power to buck the corrosive fallout of NCLB is just that, a myth. Read the teacher comments on FedUpMom's viral Reading Logs post on StopHomework.

    There are good teachers out there. But Alfie Kohn predicted years ago the good ones will flee if we persist with this madness. They've certainly run off somewhere because I didn't catch many of them during our long K-12 journey.

    I can't get this to link in comments. I also should cross post this on the "Bad Teachers" entry. Please cut and paste.


  5. A test to see how to make a link in comments:

    I Hate Reading Logs

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Hi HWB! Good to have you back.

  8. HWB, I took a look at the article you mentioned:

    What To Do When Your Child Hates School"

    I'm losing patience with this stuff. I'm skeptical of the "brain research" which is apparently needed to figure out that school shouldn't be a boring cram-factory.

    Do I need one more person advising me to use a trip to the grocery store as an opportunity to teach math? Puh-lease.

  9. FedUpMom, if they're teaching to the test and can't even get THAT right, they probably should get called out on the carpet. IMO whether teaching to the test is a good idea or not is a separate issue, ykwim?

    I would like to see more information than just how well students did on the test, but this article at least gives parents SOME information about one aspect of teacher quality. :)

  10. Alright, I've got a dark sense of humor, here's proof- When I read this comment from a teacher on a thread about "Who's Teaching L.A.'s Kids" article, I laughed.

    "The criteria is that you've had to have taught at least 60 students in grades 3, 4, or 5 in the last six years. The online article had a box where you could enter your name and see if you are one of the "lucky" ones to get yours posted. They sent me the results today in an email. I am "very ineffective" (bottom 20%) in overall effectiveness, math effectiveness, and English effectiveness. It also shows my entire name, what grade I taught, and what school I taught at. I cannot believe they have the right to take information that I have never seen before, do some statistical stuff to it, and publish it for parents, colleagues, and principals to see! I think I'm a darn good teacher, and I want to know exactly how they determined I was so "ineffective"!

  11. PsychMom contributes:

    I understand the darkness SCF, but it just sort of seems like justice to me. If you blindly contribute to "standardized testing" then if that system turns around and bites you, one cannot be surprised. I think teachers need to gather together and say "enough". State to state, right across the country.

  12. (heh, I meant the grammar errors, the phrase "do some statistical stuff to it," the not understanding how she was determined ineffective though she was sent results) It's not rocket surgery. That was mean, I'm sorry)

    It's all part of the master plan to privatize- I bet all of our nation's teachers could strike to abolish testing and it wouldn't change a thing. Still if they do, I'll march with them.

  13. FedUpMom and HWB,

    I just read the article you linked to above, "What to do When Your Child Hates School" as research for a post I'm writing on Back-to-School-Dread, and all I can say is what utter bunk! Why would Psychology Today publish something like that (or is it a magazine-associated blog)? I was so incensed that I wrote a comment, which I'll paste below in case they delete it. (It's pretty negative, at least for me.)

    "The author of this article lost me when she stated early on in the piece: "Schools Won't Get Better Soon so Parents Need to be Brain Preservers." This amounts to throwing in the towel; her "solution" is for parents to help their children's brains adapt to an inherently brain-damaging situation, rather than to act to change the situation. I find her prescription condescending and ludicrous: I mean, really, what parent has the time or the energy to "brain coach" their child, when nothing of the sort should be necessary? If so much time and energy is needed, you'd be better off home-schooling, thereby avoiding the damaging situation altogether. Unfortunately, by advocating school survival via "brain-preserving" techniques, the author becomes (unwittingly, I'm sure, because I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume her intentions are good), an apologist for an inherently flawed educational system. What an incredibly disappointing article!"

  14. Actually HomeworkBlues here! It wouldn't let me do an Open ID or Name. The previous comment where I agree with FUM (I usually do anyway!) was mine as well.

    FUM, great to be back! Nice to you all here, North and PyschMom. I'm crazy busy but a few words.

    North, I actually had not read most of the piece, admittedly. I should have. The "wonderful teachers and staff" got my goat right off the bat.

    Boy, do I agree with you. If I haven't made this point on StopHomework a hundred times, I haven't made it once. When as a parent, you are asked to do more and more of the school's job, not just homework, but home instruction disguised as a "partnership," when you must constantly do damage control, when you are told all you MUST do in addition to running your home, not because they are wise things to do, but to make up for the deficiencies of a system that is set up to serve YOU, not them, you may as well homeschool. You already are!

    In this article, the author readily admits the schools are crummy and not doing their jobs. No argument there. But when she asserts that you, the parent, must pick up the slack and spend all your free time teaching, playing homework cop, doing everything to salvage your child's curiosity and sanity, I cannot help asking. Why are you sending your child there in the first place? "But first, do no harm." If at best, they can't even do that, throw in the towel!

    The real outrage is that the populace puts up with this travesty.

  15. PsychMom here: I read the piece written by the neurologist teacher last night very carefully. First, it was difficult to read because there are a lot of typos which make sentences hard to understand. If you correct them and then try to figure out what she's talking about...yikes. It is sketchy at best to make the leap from what happens (hypothetically) at the cellular level to behaviour displayed openly let alone guessing at what's going on in mental processing. She makes it sound like one could actually connect questions being asked of children to dendrite growth in their brains on a daily basis.

    On the whole the article puts way too much emphasis on parental responsibility for their children's learning or lack of it. She's suggesting that parents carry cue cards ...to remind themselves of key questions they should ask their children. As if some parents aren't over involved as it is..

    And that's all over and above the total lack of interest in changing the dysfunctional educational system in favour of tossing the burden onto children and families' shoulders.
    I agree with NorthTOmom...disappointing article.

  16. HWB,

    I also wonder why the populace puts up with this kind of stuff. At some level parents do know that the system is dysfunctional and that they are called upon far too often to compensate, pick up the pieces, etc. But there's this profound passivity among parents that drives me crazy.


    I totally agree with you that the "brain science" in the article is a bit dodgy. I find this to be the case with a lot of educational interpretations or applications of brain science. There are often wild extrapolations being made that an actual neuroscientist (as opposed to a neurologist turned teacher turned "educational consultant") would probably not feel comfortable making.