US Schools #15

Liberal Words
. . . . The rankings from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) are out, and our standing in international comparisons has sparked debate on how to improve public education. PISA’s top-performing countries show us that the way forward is by elevating the teaching profession. Among the hallmarks of high-performers such as Canada and Finland are strong teachers unions and evaluation systems that identify, support and advance effective teaching….Many people are enamored with paying and judging teachers based on test scores, but the idea is riddled with flaws.
. . . . The work of teachers should be assessed, but there is no simple, easy way to evaluate a profession that combines many different tasks, from explaining content to inspiring students to maintaining order in class.
. . . . NEA is keenly focused on how to help every student succeed and recently formed an independent commission of expert teachers to examine professional practices that make a difference in learning. The lesson from PISA is clear: Respect teachers and treat them like professionals. The U.S. should focus on what leading countries are doing and learn from their example. (Dennis Van Roekel, Today’s debate: Education, USA Today 12/15/2010)
Discussion
. . . . Van Roekel, president of the NEA, and Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education (WSJ Op Ed March 9, 2010) are both vocal critics of standardized testing. It is likely that neither has ever been involved in a project using tests to improve instruction in individual classrooms. The greatest “flaw” in using test results is to do what most schools do today, file them away. This “solution” amounts to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
. . . . In respecting teachers and treating them like professionals, the first step is to define their primary work-product, the growth that occurs in student learning in their classrooms. Measuring this annual growth has been refined and field tested in individual schools where teachers and administrators were directly involved in understanding and using such growth scores. It is this form of accountability, with thoughtful feedback throughout a school, that turns teachers and school administrators into professionals. It is also the cornerstone for evaluating and improving instruction in the nation’s schools.
. . . . The schools’ primary work-product must focus first upon what students learn in their assigned teachers’ classes. It is this face-to-face work-group (teachers and students) that is the unit of diagnosis and change within each school. They need all the help they can get in this process. Until student learning in the classroom becomes the primary measure of professional teachers, all efforts to reform the nation’s schools are destined to fail.
The Antidote:
. . . . A virtual step-by-step guide, Improving instruction through testing,  was developed and field tested in a joint project between the author, a counselor educator at the University of Georgia, and his wife, a local school principal. The initial project developed a prototype format that could be readily understood by classroom teachers. School-wide, grade-level, and individual teacher profiles were generated to provide guidance in evaluating several aspects of the instructional program, with primary emphasis upon individual student growth scores and their assigned classroom teachers.
. . . . Using individual growth scores calculated from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), the results were both revealing and startling in terms of several explicit influences on student learning. A carefully devised system of feedback and follow-up with individual teachers confirmed what the principal investigators suspected. Developing test results into a usable format for classroom teachers is an excellent first step in re-focusing attention in the schools where it should be, upon what students learn with their assigned teachers in each classroom. It is this process that turns teachers, and their schools, into professional institutions.

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