Accountability

Teachers, Can You Explain This Survey to Me? Because I’m Really Confused.

This is a guest post by my friend and colleague Lane Wright, Director of Policy Analysis at Education Post. He is focused on telling stories that help families understand how their schools are doing, how to make them better, and how policy plays a role. He’s a former journalist and former press secretary to Florida’s governor.

Dear Teachers,

I just read some of the results of a survey and I’m confused. The good people over at Educators for Excellence asked a bunch of you how you feel about accountability and school choice and the answers seem to contradict each other.

Now let me first say that I’m not an educator. I’m more like a professional student of our public school systems. I love getting insights like the kinds found in this E4E survey. So please take this letter in the spirit I’m writing it. Help me understand better what you’re thinking.

A majority of you said that looking at student growth from the beginning to the end of the school year was the “most valuable” thing when it comes to measuring how effective you are as a teacher. It’s also the most valuable thing for judging the quality of a school.

When I first saw this I was kind of shocked.

I’ve seen a lot of teachers, or maybe really just teachers union spokespersons and allies, rail against pretty much any form of accountability, especially anything that links student achievement and teacher evaluations, so to see more than two-thirds of you choose student growth was kinda thrilling. Student growth is important to me too because I think teachers and schools should get credit for helping kids progress academically even if the students don’t make it to grade level by the end of the year.

But then I had to scratch my head when I noticed, near the bottom of the list, standardized tests. It was second to last with only 10 percent of you thinking it was a good way to measure a teacher’s effectiveness or a school’s quality.

Now before you tell me that a test is incomplete and doesn’t give you a full picture, let me just say that I agree. I’m guessing the people who wrote the survey agree too, because they asked teachers to pick the top three things they think go into making a good teacher evaluation. Literally nobody thinks one single measure is a good idea.

So here’s my question: How do you measure student growth without a standardized test? It kind of feels like you want to eat your accountability cake and have it too.

Maybe you’re thinking that a non-standardized pre-test and post-test is the answer. If that’s the case, I’d want to know how you would be able to compare students across a district, or across an entire state? Isn’t that the point of having a test that’s standardized, to measure everyone against the same standard?

I’ve heard people suggest grading student projects, but we’d run into the same problem there: How do you set a standard on something as subjective as judging a student project? With all the variety of projects, all the variations in what students might set out to do, I don’t see how you make that fair for everyone.

Now if the issue is that you’re just not a fan of the way the test is now and would like a better test, that makes sense to me. Perhaps you have a solution of how to make it better? It would be great if you do because there are a lot of legislators and state education officials who would love to stop getting complaints about their current standardized tests.

As I mentioned earlier, accountability isn’t my only conundrum. You also seem to want it both ways when it comes to school choice. You say you support choice, but only when it doesn’t “drain resources” from other schools. Three-quarters of you said that was your biggest condition for accepting school choice.

How might that work, exactly? I’m not asking rhetorically—I really want to know.

School budgets are largely based on how many students attend the school. So if a student moves to another school or district, or to a charter school or anywhere else, how should the school receiving the child pay to educate the new student?

It seems to me you’d be OK with money coming into your district or school when a student moves in, but never OK with money going out when a student goes out. I’m seriously at a loss for a more equitable system for funding schools if the budget is fixed regardless of students moving in or out. Can you enlighten me on this?

If these were easy questions to answer, I’m sure we wouldn’t be having these debates over how to evaluate teachers and schools or how to pay for great schools. But they aren’t easy questions.

What I know for sure is that teachers have a bigger impact on the success of kids than anything else at school. I also know you’re closest to the problems, and are in a unique position to find ways to solve them. So please, if you have a chance, write me back and let me know what you have in mind.

Sincerely,

Lane

What do you think?

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