April 2nd, 2010

Race to the Top Podcast: Dennis Van Roekel On Judging Teachers

( Click here to download the podcast )

NEA president Dennis Van Roekel talks with John Merrow about teacher evaluation; should we judge teachers based on how they teach or on what their students learn?

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The medical analogy used by Van Roekel is interesting. If a medical doctor was judged/paid on the basis of how many of their patients lived would there be any emergency room physicians? Oncologists? Would you see doctors fighting for the healthiest patients or healing only with those they felt were able to be cured easily with little effort? Would you see doctors collaborating with each other more or less? Would you see more or less people entering the medical profession?

Teachers do not get to select their students. Teachers are asked to address the diverse educational needs of an increasing number of students per class, regardless of what factors outside of school may be negatively impacting the students’ ability to learn. Meanwhile, grade inflation has become a significant problem in education. Teachers who adhere to high standards can often look forward to pressure from administrators to award higher grades than are actually justified by student performance.

I agree with what has been said so far. I would also like to add a comment about the test component. I teach Science in Ohio. There is a Science Test component needed for graduation. The problem with this test is that it tests knowledge of Science obtained over 3-4 years of HS Science starting in the second year of high school. Would that mean, that I as a Biology teacher and teaching Sophomores, would be held accountable for my students knowledge of Chemistry or Physics which come about in their Junior and Seniors years? Tests can be designed for different purposes. I can make an easy test or a difficult test for the same topic material. Are the tests going to test basic knowledge of a topic, or are all aspects of the topic fair game. Biology is a big topic and getting bigger every day. Should my High School student be held accountable for ALL aspects of current knowledge? Will the test be used as a standard of expectations for graduation or will it be used to measure before and after material? What if my students, for whatever reason, don’t value education and are just putting in time until they can leave at 18 years of age? Will I be held responsible for “taking the horse to water AND making him drink?” Does the student have any responsibility in this? I send many students to Tier I schools, but I also have a small number of students who, for whatever reason, really don’t care about being students. I don’t mind being held accountable for my part of the equation, but student’s must be held accountable for their end.

Many want to assess a teacher’s success based on standardized test scores. As a teacher, I don’t object to this; if you are teaching the curriculum, the majority of a teacher’s student will get it. However, what about seat time? It is a federal law that students MUST be in school until the age of 16. However, it has been my experience that the courts are failing our students. What about students who don’t come to school? How can you hold me, the teacher, accountable for students who are NOT in my classroom? Enforce the laws that are already on the books. Students sitting in seats is the first step to both student and teacher success. Seems to me that in this debate we have forgotten about step one, students in seats.

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