Category Archives: Teacher Evaluations

My thoughts and research on teacher evaluations.

Staying Positive During Assessment Week

Last year, I really began to stress out.  I felt ill many times and became distracted by all of the noise.  I was taking it personally that “everyone” wanted to judge my ability as a teacher.  It is not that I doubt my abilities.  Am I the best teacher ever?  Hardly.  However, I work with them everyday.  Every day I have learned from my colleagues.  They do whatever it takes.

When I was in high school, the athletes around me motivated me also.  I swam with some of the best in the state.  Coach (for the first month I thought that was his name) made me swim in the sprinter’s lane.  These guys swam the 50 free in 23 seconds.  One day Coach gave us a set of 10 x 50 on 30 seconds.  If we swam the two laps in 25 seconds we would have 5 seconds rest before we swam the next one.  Only Coach, with his wisdom, experience, and sadism, told me to swim breaststroke, the slowest stroke, and my best time was 29.5 seconds!  How was I going to swim 10 of these in a row in 30 seconds with half a second rest? Coach had a T-shirt that with “Rule #1: Coach is always right.” On the front, and “Rule 2: If you think Coach is wrong, see Rule #1.”

"Retired" Coach being a commentator at the State Swim Meet.

“Retired” Coach being a commentator at the State Swim Meet.

Of course, I tried my best.  And, my teammates encouraged me to do my best.

Many say swimming is an individual sport, like a teacher alone in a classroom.  However, my teammates wanted all of us to swim fast.  All would succeed! And, my colleagues share this sentiment.  They have always shared and collaborated to have every child learn and improve.

Each day, I see the great things the teachers around me are doing and I marvel.  How can I keep up?  What can I do?  It is the kind of challenge that makes teaching fun!  (The students also create a challenge, which is fun most of the time.)

Luckily, I have realized that my teaching will survive the scrutiny made from assessments indifferent students take.   Survive?!  On the contrary. My teaching will improve as I tackle the challenges of devoting six – eight days for these tests and a shortened schedule for five days as other students take the graduation test!

images  Assessments?  They are nothing compared to Coach’s workouts.

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Why Do Student’s Test Scores Drop? It’s Complicated…

My number one son is in seventh grade, and has had to take an on-line standardized test three times this year to measure his growth in learning.  His September test score had him reading at a college level.  His December test score had him reading at the 11th grade level.  His March test score had him reading at a 9th grade level.

I am Procrastinating by Taking a Procrastinati...

I am Procrastinating by Taking a Procrastination Test: I scored as an Above Average Procrastinator (Photo credit: Tricia Wang 王圣捷)

When I saw this, my mind reeled with thoughts… If he takes another test, will he be reading at grade level?  What if this trend continues?  Will he regress to the point that I have to read Dr. Seuss books to him at bedtime?

First, I called my local congressman.  He always has the answer.  I explained the situation and asked him what he thought.  He replied, “It’s obvious; the teacher is terrible.  She must not be doing her job.  The test scores prove this.”

“I can’t believe it, sir,” I replied.  “I have met her, seen the work she assigns, the passion in her eyes to help students become better.  She can’t be the problem.  Can she?”

“Constituent, she has fooled you into thinking she is doing a good job.  The test scores are the proof!  Your son’s learning was measured.  There is no other answer.  She is making your child less ready for college and career.  Teachers like her are the reason we have the new evaluation system.  Fifty percent of her evaluation will be based on your son and his classmates last test.   Now, thanks for calling.  I have to attend a fundraising dinner and discuss why evaluations based on economic growth for congressmen are not fair.”

“Um, OK.”

I hung up, more confused.  My daughter saw my confused look and asked me what was wrong?  I told her about her brother’s scores.  Of course, she came up with the answer.

“Duh, Dad.  He is 13.  He IS getting dumber!”

“Of course! I forgot what you were like at that age.  It’s not the teacher’s fault.  It is Number One Son’s fault.  He needs to take responsibility and ownership for his learning.  Thank you daughter!”

“No, Dad.  I meant that he takes after you and Mom.  Look at you.  Mom tells us you got good grades in school.  You even have a Master’s Degree.  But, you don’t know how to fix things, can’t find your keys, and think your own jokes are funny.  You get dumber every day! Plus, Mom calls orchards apple-tree farms, forest rangers bear catchers, and recently thought the air conditioner in the car was not working… then she pushed in the AC button.”  Face it, you two are not rocket surgeons!”

“Funny.  Real funny.  Go to your room!”

After all, what else could I say?  I begin to wonder if she is right.  I have been forgetful lately.  I forgot the wife’s birthday, Christmas, and our anniversary.  I couldn’t help Number Two son with his fourth grade math homework.  And, I didn’t win the NCAA March Madness tournament at work.  Number One’s regression is my fault. Do I tell my wife? No way!

I decide to ask Number One.  I show him the scores.  I ask him if he has any idea why the scores have dropped?

He laughs.  I wonder why he thinks that his getting dumber is so funny. 

He explained: “Dad, the first test day was the third week of school.  I was excited.  I was pumped up.  I tried my best to impress my teacher and make you and Mom proud.”

“Well, Number One, I am very proud of those scores.  You were awesome.  However, what happened for the next test?”

“It was in December, Dad. I was distracted with the thoughts of what I was going to buy you for Christmas.”

“Really?  You were thinking of my gift? You are so thoughtful… Wait a minute.  You didn’t get me anything!”

“Just kidding!  I was thinking of all of the gifts I would be getting.”

“OK, Number One, that makes more sense.  That explains test number two.  What about the third test in March?”

“Oh, I didn’t do my algebra homework and needed time to do it.”

“It was an English test.  I don’t understand, son.”

“As soon as I finished my test, I had free time.  I could do my Algebra homework.   You know me, Dad.  I was the kid who would color a picture in first grade in one minute in order to go outside and play.  I skip steps in Algebra because they take too much time, and I get the right answer.  It’s all about efficiency, Dad.  I play soccer the same way.  One touch passes.  No one ever out runs a pass.”

“Number One, let me see if I understand.  You scored low because you rushed through the test.  You had other priorities that day?”

“You know Dad, you aren’t as dumb as you look.  Want to go outside and kick the soccer ball?”

“Why not, Number One.  As long as I am not tested on it.”

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

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School Time Fun

Last week my fourth grader brought home a flier for a fund-raiser.  Let me go on the record: I loathe fund-raisers.  I would rather go to the dentist.  However, Sonny likes basketball and the fundraiser was to watch a game between teachers and the Harlem Wizards.   I saw the look in my son’s eyes and knew he was very excited.  This is the kind of event kids love.

We even talked the second grader into going.  (He prefers watching Star Wars and using his imagination instead of sports.)

Well, the evening was a success.  There were funny jokes, dancing with basketball stars, and the ever popular: teachers losing!  Sonny’s work during recess with his fourth grade teacher did pay off though; she scored two points!

I enjoyed seeing friends entertain the kids.  There was my son’s best friend’s mom pretend to use her Ninja skills to fight a wizard player who was a foot taller than she.  Luckily, it ended peacefully.  🙂  And, the community member (a former U.S. Professional Football Player) who was asked to try out for the Wizards during the game missed his one shot by a mile.  The kids did not know it was on purpose, but I know it was.  His shot was worse than my best attempt.  He could not be that bad.  Seriously.

The best part was the referee.  It was my boss, the principal of the high school.  Apparently, she played basketball in high school and college.  She followed the directions of the Wizards and called a “great” game.  She was a great actress and my sons believed everything she did, whether it was a bad call, putting up with disrespect, or even giving the benefit of the call to the teachers.  For her acting, Mrs. H. deserves an Oscar or at least an Oscar the Grouch.

Tonight reminded me why I teach.  It is not the tests scores.  It is not the novels, although I do love them.  It is the fun!  It is the connection with the kids.  It is the immeasurable that no test will ever show.

Think about it.  Do you remember a test score?  Or, do you remember a teacher?

I remember my third grade teacher, Mrs. Duda, who let me help her grade papers and get the films from the office.  I remember Mr. Collins, my eight grade English teacher, who saw my reading and writing ability enough to let me read the main part for a play in class.  I remember Mrs. Collins, my senior English teacher, who saw more potential than I was ready to admit to.

Next year, I will be evaluated on student growth, which is not a bad idea.  However, the growth is to be measured by one test.  The day of the test could be a “bad day” for the kid.  The student could be like my oldest, a “bad test taker.”   What about the impact or influence I have had on a student?  Unfortunately, this is not easily measurable.    Thus, my evaluation will not be accurate.  For now, if you want to know who are the good teachers, listen to the kids.  They will tell you, either directly or indirectly.

What I have learned in twenty-five years is that a good relationship with students creates success.   Now, I have to figure out how to turn the standardized test into a positive relationship.

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Florida Teacher: A Fruitless Pursuit of My VAM Rating

I have to wonder if Ohio’s Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) will be like Florida’s Evaluations…

Diane Ravitch's blog

Please read the link in this comment. Kafkateach has been trying, again and again, to find out what her VAM score for 2011-2012 was. No one will tell her. No one knows. It is being calculated. It is being recalculated.

If it takes two years to find out what your evaluation score is, what value does VAM add?

Will someone be sure to let Arne Duncan and Bill Gates know?

 

She writes:

 

The new and improved teacher evaluations in my district have proven to be nonexistent. It’s March 12th 2013 and we still have yet to receive evaluations and our VAMs for the 2011-12 school year. The state, the district, and the union have been tossing around the stinking pile of value added bogosity like a hot potato. Nobody wants to accept responsibility for the data. Millions of public school dollars have been wasted on designing an evaluation…

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Change Is Good; Learning Is Good

Recently one of our assistant principals observed my teaching.

I remember my first observation.  I worked hard on my delivery of the pre-reading notes.  I use to think it was important for students to see how much I knew about an author or poet.  After all, I did have the book with all of the answers.

Actually, I did not get a teacher’s annotated edition until I was in my 6th year of teaching, and this forced me to think and be creative on my own.  It was a true blessing.  But, I digress.

       

English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dicki...

English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dickinson, taken circa 1848. (Original is scratched.) From the Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers, Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

     After my mini-lecture, I read the poem to the class.  It was Emily Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop For Death:

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,

And I had put away

My labour, and my leisure too,

For his civility.

We passed the school where children played,

Their lessons scarcely done;

We passed the fields of gazing grain,

We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed

A swelling of the ground;

The roof was scarcely visible,

The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries; but each

Feels shorter than the day

I first surmised the horses’ heads

Were toward eternity.

Then I began to ask questions.  Are there any words you do not know?  What figurative language do you see?  What do you think the theme is?  Etc.

I would pause and wait for answers.  I would repeat or rephrase what the students said.   I would write notes on the board.  I was leading the lesson.  And, I received a great evaluation.

I try not to be the sage on the stage anymore.  I wonder how many of my students that day remember the poem?  While I read the poem, what were they thinking about?  While I asked a question and one student answered it, what were the other students doing?

I have to lead at times.  I know grammar rules better than most of the kids.  However, I do not have to explain what reading selections mean.  If I taught this poem today, I would do it differently.  I would have the students write a journal about what they want to do before they die; they would create a bucket list.  I would have the students get a partner and read the poem to one another.  Next, they would answer questions similar to the ones I asked that day long ago.  After they were finished, we would bring the class together, and I would let the students lead the discussion to see if their analysis of the poem was similar or different.  The final evaluation would be an analysis of a different poem.

I am curious to receive the feedback from our assistant principal.  He observed my warm-up activity of having students copy three vocabulary words and writing a creative sentence with figurative language as the context clue.  While the students do this, I take attendance and talk to students who were absent.

Next, the students used our laptops to write their short stories.  My classroom became a buzz of activity as students shared ideas, read each other’s stories, and asked me questions.  It never became too loud, nor was it silent.  I do wonder what my first principal would have thought of this. I ended with an exit ticket of self-evaluation:  If you had more time, what would you have done differently?  Of course, the students had the next day to continue their writing.

Now to grade those stories…

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Warm Fuzzies and Smiley Faces

education

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Teaching high school has had some perks.  When my children were younger, I knew who the most responsible babysitters were.  However, at the end of the year, teacher gifts and thank-yous are not the norm. Nonetheless, I do get a few.  And, I always get that warm fuzzy feeling when a student or parent writes me a thank you.

I am sure his mom made him do it, but what he wrote is definitely his own work:

Dear Mr. ,

I really enjoyed your class despite having it with an ex-girlfriend.  Your a really cool teacher and I love your jokes despite how bad they are and thanks for living through all the sentences our class wrote about you.

Sincerely,

And what does this note tell me?

1. English class is more fun if one can share it with a girlfriend.

2. Bad jokes are cool?

3. Continuing to live even though students try to insult you with vocabulary words is a good thing.

4. I did not teach the difference between “you’re” and “your” very well.

5. Missing periods can be bad.

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Oh Gee, Test!

Welcome to OGTweek in Ohio!  Or, as I like to call it: Oh gee, Test!  The Ohio Graduation Test or OGT test, as some folks like to redundantly call it, is a spring ritual in all of the high schools.  Really, who would say Ohio Graduation Test test?

Ohio

Ohio (Photo credit: DBduo Photography)

The test is a big deal.  Students need it to graduate.  If they don’t achieve a passing grade (I’ve heard that it is about a 50%), in all five of the subject areas (reading, writing, math, science, and social studies) after 7 tries, they do not graduate.

Of course, if students perform poorly, the schools receive lower grades on their report cards issued by the state. Even if a student finishes his reading test in ten minutes in order to nap.  After all, today was National Nap Day.  Or, even if a student finishes in fifteen minutes in order to get her car back to a family member who needs it.  I guess the family skipped the problem involving how to take a school bus or drop-a-kid-off-at-school-and-keep-the-car–for-yourself question. Or a student decides to drink half a bottle of vodka for breakfast to calm his nerves.  Did you know that we have to seal the tests that have puke or blood on them?  Then we send them to the Ohio State Department of Education.  I wonder who gets to open them?

Need less to say, we begin preparing the kids for these standardized tests in second grade.  Believe me, by the time they are in tenth grade, they can stay within the lines of the little circle on the answer sheet.  However, it is not just the kids who have to prepare for the test.  The schools do, too.

First, we have to design a schedule for the test days.  In order to have a quiet, safe, and test friendly environment, we start school two and half hours later for the other 75% of the school.  Then, we have 27-minute class periods to minimize instruction and maximize testing.  Of course, I have left out the hours of meeting for our staff members who have degrees in counseling.  Instead of working one-on-one or in small groups with troubled teens, they get to organize this titanic testing process.

Well, day one is done and except for about five little hiccups, all went well.  Although I write with a sarcastic tone, I do see value in an assessment as a way to determine a student’s strengths and weaknesses.  I also see how can be used to help a school or teacher analyze the job being done.  However, it is not the only type of assessment that should be used.

I am curious to your thoughts.  I know some of you are in other states of America, and in other countries.  What do you think would be a good system?

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The Grass is Not Always Greener

Too often, we fall into the mind trap of thinking the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  My parents were correct; it isn’t.  For example, I spent my early years of teaching thinking that other teachers found the ONE way that is magic and absorbing and ignites the fire in each child. Then it hit me, like a baseball flying over the fence from the greener yard.  There is no ONE way.  Each teacher has his or her way of educating.  Each student has his or her way of learning.  It is difficult to match the two (student and teacher) together, but that is the goal of education.  We do not need to work hard to match the teaching styles of teacher A with teacher B.  This leads to standardized teaching and testing.

I was having trouble with thinking of an idea for today’s writing, so I did a little research.  A blog on the problems of the educational system in South Korea sparked my interest.   The full article can be found at:  http://cjcpig.wordpress.com/2011/09/27/cram-school-culture-curfews-for-teachers-and-students/ .  For those who prefer the abbreviated version, the article is about how the South Korean government has imposed a ten p.m. curfew on students and tutors.  In other words, no studying past 10 p.m!   The South Koreans have discovered that parents, students, and teachers have pushed students to concentrate on scoring well on the standardized tests to get into the three universities.  Needless to say, it is very competitive.  The South Koreans worry that they are producing great test takers and not innovative, creative leaders of tomorrow.

Is this the epitome of irony?  When I began teaching I was encouraged to get students to think.  Then, our state and federal government learned other countries scored higher on test scores, so they decided we needed to implement standardized tests.  Once we had tests in place, we would show the world we could beat them in tests!  One consideration our government did not consider was that we test everyone, while other countries only test the best.

Consequently, we want to have our students be like South Korean students and have high test scores.  South Korea wants to be more like America and produce thinkers and innovators.  The grass is not always greener.

In business, we need to remember this lesson.  What works for one company may not work exactly for another.  Too many business people see a successful model and try to copy it exactly.  There are too many variables that prevent success from copying.  Variables such as work force, work-place climate, economics, location, etc.  Someone in management has to be able to think on his/her feet and adapt plans to meet the needs of the clients.

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Keeping Journals

My first five years of teaching were at Oberlin High School,  a school of about 350 students in a college town.  We had three English teachers and whenever we were together, it was a department meeting.  My colleagues had experience and wisdom and let me bounce ideas of them.  This helped me develop a sense of what would work and what problems may pop up with different types of learners.  I was a recent graduate with all of the terrific theories on how to teach who needed practical advice by day two.  These teachers deserved more money than me because of the knowledge and experience they had obtained.   Even The Ohio State University is paying new coach Luke Fickell less than it paid Jim Tressel.  Why?  Coach Fickell has less experience as a head coach.  So, I don’t get why some people feel experience does not count nor deserves a higher salary.

One lesson I borrowed from J.R., the “old” man across the hall, was journal writing.  He gave class time each day for writing. The kids would write and write and write. He always said, “Writing is a process, you never write a masterpiece on your first try.  ”   I don’t remember many classes at The Ohio State University that taught me how to teach writing.  Most of the classes had me reading literature or learning how to teach reading to students.  However, I learned from J.R. that to become a better writer one has to write.   Through the years we shared many students, and I could see the students he had taught becoming better writers.  His teacher evaluation should have rated him AWESOME!  Funny, for half of his career there were no standardized tests to measure his success.

Recently a former student from Oberlin shared with me that she only recently threw out her journal because she was moving. She wrote me that the journal was therapeutic for her, as it was a tough year for her.   Shari’s comment made me decide to bring back journal writing in class.  I stopped doing journals because I had trouble keeping up with all of the writing.  When I started teaching I had five 50 minute classes with a total of 90 students.  When I moved to Pickerington, I began teaching six 40 minute classes with a total of 160 students.  Plus, we started to teach to the state’s standardized tests.  Everything was to be a five paragraph essay.  So, I moved away from journals.

As Bob Dylan said, “The times they are changin.”   We still have standardized tests, but the core curriculum (another term for the National curriculum) is focusing on creativity and technology.  Basically, many older teachers like myself are trying to catch up with the kids.  So, this blog is my  journal. I plan to have my students use WEB 2.0 resources like Wallwisher.com  and Edmodo, to post thoughts and journals on-line.  I will be able to moderate comments or not post them if a student wants to keep their writing private.

I am getting excited for year 23 of teaching.  I know one day I will graduate and finally leave high school.  Until then, these are the best days of my life.

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Measuring Teacher and Student Success

How do we measure teacher and student success?  This is THE hottest topic in education today.  Another way to ask it seems to be, “Who can we blame if Johnny fails?”   The answer is not easy medicine to swallow, and, sorry Mary Poppins, no amount of sugar will help this medicine go down.

For several years, I have taught a summer remedial class to prepare students for the reading portion of the Ohio Graduation Test.  The class is ten hours of test taking tips, individualized instruction on the student’s weakest areas, and practice, practice, and more practice.  Students take quizzes individually, with a partner, or as a group.

How do I measure my success?  It is easy, did the student pass the test?  The first year I taught this class I had a 100% success rate.  The next year, test scores slipped.  Two students did not pass.  Perhaps I am trying to deflect the blame.  After all, we like to do that in America.  So here is my defense; the two students who did not pass are not native English speakers.  They had been in the United States for about four years.  Is asking someone to read at the tenth grade level after four years of a language fair?  How much should I be held accountable for the results when I only had ten hours with them?

Last year I again had two students not pass after ten hours of instruction.  One was a student from another country again, and the other was a student who had the attitude of I-know-how-to-pass-this-test-better-than-you.  Let me call him Jason.  Jason told me all he needed to do was answer the multiple choice questions.  He could pass without answering the short answer and extended response questions.  Even after I asked him, “How did that work out for you the first time?” he did not feel he was wrong.  After we took a practice quiz, and he missed 6 out of 10 multiple choice questions, he still believed in his test-taking technique.  (I should have checked his math scores.)  I pulled out every trick I know to convince Jason to try it a different way.  However, he was too stubborn to admit he might be wrong or I might know what I was doing.  How much should I be held accountable?  How much should Jason be held accountable?

This past summer, I had one student fail.  Her parents signed her up for four review classes.  Erica (not her real name) had to sit in class for 9 hours a day in the summer, and she is a special education student.  (She has trouble concentrating for extended periods of time.)  Instead of helping her succeed in one or two tests that she was within a few points of passing, she failed four tests again.  We focused on her weak areas, but she also missed some class due to a court date.  How much should I be held accountable?  How much should her parents be held accountable?  How much should Erica be held accountable?

Whenever politicians and real people discuss merit pay and teacher evaluations, we need to discuss accountability.  And such discussion is not an easy pill to swallow.  It reminds me of my children when I ask, “Who broke the lamp?”  I always get four answers of “Not me!”  Do we blame the teacher who has no control over who takes the class?  Do we blame the student who gets placed in a situation that is not best for her?  Do we blame the parents who trying to do what they think is best for their daughter?  Perhaps, we should do as my children do; they eventually admit the dog broke the lamp.  I am willing to let my dog be the scapegoat.

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