Our school was smart enough to pilot the new teacher evaluation this year to prepare for the onslaught of educational acronyms next year: PARCC, CCSS, SLO, OTES, etc. I feel very fortunate that we chose to do this since I have heard horror stories of other schools jumping in completely without testing the waters first and it’s been harmful to teachers’ morale and confidence as educators. Our administration had the insight to understand how cumbersome and detailed this entire process will be and gave us the opportunity to write sample SLO’s as well as sample pre and post assessments this year (which did not count towards our evaluations) and test them out on the students to see what we need to tweak for next year. Thank goodness I did this because I just finished evaluating my pre and post assessments and based on those alone (no evaluations or PARCC scores included), I would receive an “average” rating. And I was not happy.
A little backstory to this: I only assessed two small classes totaling 18 students out of my five classes in “Informational Writing”. Out of 18 students, 14 of my students grew 5 points from the pre and post assessments, which were my growth targets on my SLO, although all students showed growth. So that, according to the grading scale of the SLO, gives me an average rating on this section of the OTES evaluation since it shows 78% hitting their targets. I’ve just been quantified, and it is disheartening, frustrating and defeating, to say the least. My kids have worked so hard this year to become better writers and I’ve been so proud of them because I can honestly say all of them struggle with the writing process the most. I have seen them go from not knowing how to put together a topic sentence or paragraph, not knowing how to spot and integrate solid evidence to substantiate ideas, not knowing how to add effective commentary after evidence, not knowing how to cite quotes nor write a Works Cited page to now knowing how to do all of these things and more (with confidence and pride, I might add). But my SLO scores say I’m average and assessed me a 3/5 score. Well, dammit, my students have all grown in their writing abilities and in their confidence, so how do you quantify that? How do you quantify teaching? It feels like the powerful scene in Dead Poet’s Society when Mr. Keating (a’la Robin Williams) talks to the kids about quantifying poetry:
“We’re not laying pipe, we’re talking about poetry.”
“We’re not laying pipe, we’re talking about kids and teachers.”
So, after I finished my pity party, I thought about this whole process and this is what I’ve learned about the SLO process as well as all the new educational changes:
- I understand there is a need to make sure teachers are effective at what they do and the SLO’s are part of that process. I am not against SLO’s because I found it really interesting to see how much students have grown while in my class this year. I need to use this information to continually improve my teaching. There is much value in this.
- I need to be much more objective when grading the pre assessments at the beginning of the year. Writing can be so subjective and hard to grade objectively; many times there is no black and white, it’s simply a haze of gray through which English teachers try to navigate. I need to work on that as a teacher and grade with the end result in mind.
- This is a hoop through which I will jump.
- I will not let this experience cloud my whole vision of education. How many “Educational Reform” initiatives have we all endured? This too shall pass or change or be renamed or be revamped again later.
- My kids have become confident writers this year and are proud of what they have accomplished and I am proud of them.
- I became a teacher so I could work with kids and help them grow into readers, writers and most importantly, good people.
- Politicians should not dictate educational reform. It is detrimental to education.
- Teachers should not be quantified using one word tiered descriptions. Instead, it should be a narrative evaluation describing strengths and weaknesses with an addition of reflections from the teachers as to how to continually improve as educators. “Accomplished”, “Skilled”, “Developing”, “Ineffective” are one word each. Teachers, as human beings, are multi-dimensional; how can one word be given to them as a descriptor?
- I still love my job and will continue to work with kids because I still believe in the power of good schools and educators.
My only hope is that in our quest for data and results and quantification, we do not lose the human factor in teaching and thus begin to see students as numbers on PARCC results and SLO scoring templates. That is not why any of us went into education. We should be very careful about quantifying students as well as teachers-it’s stepping into dangerous territory and could result in the loss of many good teachers in the field as well as the loss of student morale.