As some of you may know, the state of education in this country is.... not what it could be. There are lots of reasons for that, and many folks think it's all about money. Others seem to think it's about testing.... and thus the teachers (at least around here) are forced into teaching to the standardized tests, not teaching to help kids really learn the material.
Now there come to be movements to improve things. One such movement in Illinois is "Perforemance Counts". They note that
"One of the most critical laws passed in the last legislative session will require teachers’ evaluations to be based largely on how well their students are doing academically (see Public Act 96-0861). SB 7 takes the next logical step to honor and respect effective teachers by incorporating performance in personnel decisions to keep the best teachers in the classroom."
They plan to do this by backing a bill which promotes the following::
MAKE PERFORMANCE A PRIMARY CRITERIA IN LAYOFFS, RECALL, AND TEACHING ASSIGNMENTS
- Layoff: SB 7 ends layoff policies based on the “last in-first out.” Instead, teachers will be laid off based on performance and job qualifications first, with seniority playing a “tie breaker role.”
- Hiring: When new positions open, neither the principal nor teacher should be forced into a situation that does not best fit the teacher’s skills and abilities. Management has the unfettered right to hire teachers who best fit the needs of the schools, and when they consider in-district transfers, performance and qualification again will drive decisions.
TIE TENURE AND CERTIFICATION TO PERFORMANCE
Unlike other professions, education career decisions are most often made with little consideration of job performance. Now that teacher evaluations are on track to be more substantive, we must make those evaluations count towards these decisions.
- Granting of Tenure: SB7 requires two proficient or excellent performance evaluation ratings during the last three years of the four-year probationary period for attainment of tenure.
- Accelerated Tenure: New teachers who earn three excellent performance reviews in their first three years will earn tenure at the three-year mark.
- Tenure portability: Tenured teachers with a track record of proficient and excellent ratings may earn tenure in two years if they move to a new district and earn two excellent performance ratings in each of their first two years.
- Revocation of Certificates: Certificates of teachers with two unsatisfactory ratings in a seven-year period may be reviewed by the State Superintendent for revocation or professional development opportunities to help the teacher improve."
I wholly agree with what they're trying to do. I think we need to do a lot more to encourage good teaching, keep good teachers, relieve bad teachers of their teaching duties, and protect the students.
HOWEVER, I'm very concerned about the vagueness of "performance reviews" in these bills. What does that mean? If these reviews are based, for example, on the students' performance on standardized tests, they will be skewed and not in a good way. If they require additional standardized tests, it will be even worse.
Not all students test well. Not all students convey their understanding well in multiple choice formats. Some have, for example, dyslexia. Some may not read well, but may actually have learned and truly understood the lessons taught through mixed media - if tested orally, they'd likely give a more complete demonstration of their knowledge than you would ever get through a standardized test. This is particularly true for the softer subjects (Literature, History, Social Studies), and likely true for the sciences.
Additionally, standardized tests don't really answer whether THIS teacher helped THIS student improve. If a teacher gets a bunch of kids in her class who were struggling to get close to the grade-level below theirs on arrival, and are struggling to get to their own grade level three months later, it's clear that they improved -- but the standardized test will only show that her class isn't up to grade level.
And that's not even looking at the question of applying standardized tests to students with deveopmental challenges beyond dislexia.
I truly fear what will happen to our students if we tie their teachers' jobs to standardized tests.
Additionally, it's clear that part of what we need to consider is not only working to retain the truly excellent teachers, but working to make a curriculum that actually works for the students learning it (and that actually prepares them for what's ahead). I found this talk particularly enlightening.
The bills in play now address none of THESE issues.