Teacher Accountability Does Not Equal Evaluations Tied to Test Scores
Here in New York State, Governor Cuomo is making it his business to tie teacher evaluations to standardized test scores. The teacher’s union is fighting it, and well they should, because judging teachers on their students’ test scores is about as fair as judging Cuomo on the state’s economic condition. In both cases no one would get rehired, and that is because you are evaluating a person on things beyond his or her control.
As an educator, I welcome the drive for teacher accountability. Just like a doctor should be accountable for his patients, a teacher is responsible for the well-being of the whole child. Because of this, there should be a wide range of evaluative criteria used to give a teacher a formal review at the end of the year. What has the child accomplished in this classroom? Is there a portfolio of his or her work? How far has he or she come in speaking, listening, reading, and writing? What mathematics skills is he or she coming away with? And, perhaps most important of all, does the child leave that class more than ready for the next grade on a social as well as an academic level?
Assessments are fickle things. Over the years I have had parents come into my office upset about a child’s state test score. The child has always been an “A” student (this I know is true from his or her records). How could he or she have done so poorly on the state test? They are upset and don’t like the “stigma” of the child now needing “academic intervention” when he or she does so well otherwise, but the score makes it a requirement.
Why did this child do poorly on the state test? The answers are many. For one thing, a child can wake up and have a bad day. The child may not feel well; the instrument itself may be less than it should be; the day may have been too hot or cold, or maybe the child didn’t eat a full breakfast. The list can go on and on. One test given on one day is what it is: a measure of the child’s performance on that day. It should not be seen in the big picture as proof of the child’s total ability, and it certainly cannot be tied to a teacher’s evaluation with ramifications affecting employment.
As an educator I have had many students return to see me over the years. I have also run into former students on the subway, at a Mets game, on Jones Beach, or even in a movie theatre. When I see them smiling, feel them shaking my hand and talking about my class affectionately, I know they are not thinking about what they got on an assessment ten or fifteen years ago. They are thinking fondly about an experience that goes well beyond the minutiae of state testing results being used by school districts for promotional purposes.
When I look back over my own years as a student, I have fond memories of certain teachers. You probably do too. The ones who made a lasting impression on me did so because of their ability to connect with me on many different tangible and intangible levels. I have no idea what score I had on tests in those classes, but I remember the profundity of the impact they had on my life.