About Education: Essay # 5, “Assessing Teachers and Students”

My writings, below, are all related to assessing teachers’ instruction and students’ achievement. They were written initially on February 25, 2012, on a local journalist’s blog in response to the journalist’s article in which she highlighted a teacher assessment instrument.

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Words from another writer on the same journalist’s blog:

Blogger: “I may teach 7th graders 3rd grade math (Instructional Level), but they are learning the third grade math. They are actually grasping the concepts and able to do the work. . . I had a teacher observe a child she had worked with before, and she noted a complete change in him. She had never seen him participate in any of her lessons. In my class, he was raising his hand, answering questions, and adding his opinion to discussions.”

Mary Elizabeth: “You have hit the ‘instructional formula for success,’ on the head!  Students must be taught where they are individually functioning (regardless of their grade level), or they will not be able to grow and achieve to their maximum levels. This fact not only applies to the special education students you teach, but to all students – from the ones who are the most gifted to the ones who are slower to achieve. All students can learn to their maximum abilities, (1) if each is taught where he/she is functioning, and (2) if each is taught at a rate in which he/she can absorb the material taught, with mastery.

You may want to read my (earlier) post to understand why this is true, as well as read the link that I am providing, below, entitled ‘Mastery Learning,’ for fuller understanding of these instructional truths.

Several years ago, when a local school system mandated that all 8th grade students take Algebra for their 8th grade mathematics course (regardless of where each student was individually functioning), I predicted that at least half of those 8th grade students would fail that course, and they did. Many of those 8th grade students were, unintentionally, “set up” for failure by an unknowing County Office  mandate that was actually intended to increase the standards for all 8th graders. It is unfortunately true that many highly educated educators still do not know these specific instructional truths, because professional educators specialize in various areas of expertise. More value must be placed upon perceptive teachers’ input regarding instruction (such as yours). All educators want students to achieve to their maximum growth each year in every curricululm area, but, to achieve that end, each child MUST be taught where he or she is functioning at point in time (regardless of his/her grade level), which is referred to as the student’s Instructional Level. (See link below.)

I tried to warn others that almost a majority of those 8th graders would fail that Algebra course, with that one-size-fits-all approach to building mathematics’ standards, through investing my time in writing a comprehensive article for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, but my article was never published. It is frustrating to watch, from the sidelines, and not to be able to help students and teachers, better understand instructional truths when such large and impacting instructional errors are made by those who mean well, but who are instructionally unsophisticated, in these ways.

The present movement for evaluation of students and teachers must acknowledge the assessed potential (I.Q. level) of each student, which will effect his or her rate of learning curriculum, if schools across this nation are to help every student ‘achieve and grow’ yearly.”

http://maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/about-education-essay-1-mastery-learning/

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The following words are from a link entitled, ‘SchoolBook,’ which was provided by the same journalist on February 24, 2012: “A computer predicts how a group of students will do in next year’s tests using their scores from the previous year and accounting for several factors, like race, gender and income level. If the students surpass the expectations, their teacher is ranked at the top of the scale — ‘above average’ or ‘high’. . . .”

Mary Elizabeth: “I see both negatives and positives from this data evaluation of teachers. One significant positive is that teachers will probably more readily recognize that they must instruct every student where he or she is specifically functioning in order for the student to achieve maximum growth. Thus, teachers will find ways to insure that differentiated instruction is occurring within their classrooms.

In terms of a negative that I noticed, I have analyzed the value-added-assessment model, in detail, and I see no reference to the individual student’s IQ data. I recognize that even to mention the use of IQ scores is uncomfortable; however, I believe that that variable in data assessment must also be broached, especially if students’ standardized test results are to be used as a means of evaluating a teacher’s effectiveness. Knowing a student’s IQ is necessary, also, to assess accurately what that student’s maximum growth for a given year might reasonably be. Here’s an illustration that explains this, in greater detail:

A student with a below average IQ may have been instructed very well to have increased only 7 months, in a particular curriculum area, in a 12 month time period. However, a student who scored in the gifted range of IQ, and who only increased 1.6 years in a 12 month time period, may not have been instructed well. Based on the gifted student’s innate potential level, perhaps he should have progressed 2.8 years of growth, for a year’s time period, instead of only 1.6 years.

I recognize that the value-added-assessment formula measures not only the student’s progress for the current year, but it measures, also, the probability of the student’s progress based on how much that student had progressed for the past three to five years, on the average, for each year. Thus, if the student achieves less than that average amount of progress for his present year, his present teacher could be rated as a poor instructor. (Other factors, such as a principal’s evaluation through observation are, also, considered.)

However, here is the catch. I was taught, as a graduate student, that if a student is reading within two years of his grade level, that he will be able to function in the reading requirements for that grade level. This means that if a 7th grade student is reading on 5th grade level that he will be able to function in the material for the 7th grade, but if he is reading on 4th grade level or below, in 7th grade, then he will not be able to function on 7th grade material.

Now, in considering the variable of IQ score, Johnny has scored in the IQ range of 83 to 88 for several years. That means that he is probably below average in his innate potential. One could, then, reasonably expect Johnny to grow 7 months in a 12 month period. Let’s say Johnny is in 2nd grade and he is reading on grade level 1.5 which is sufficient for him to function in 2nd grade. Next, he enters 3rd grade and he is reading on 2.2 grade level, having grown 7 months in 2nd grade. Johnny should still be able to learn and grow in 3rd grade because he is not reading more than two years behind 3rd grade level. So, he grows another 7 months in 3rd grade, with good instruction, based on his potential.

Now, we have Johnny in 4th grade and he has advanced in his reading skills to 2.9 grade level, which is within the two year cut off point for being able to master the curriculum for 4th grade. Next year, Johnny is in 5th grade and, having advanced 7 months in a year, he is reading on 3.6 grade level, but he can still cope. The next year, in 6th grade, Johnny is only reading on 4.3 grade level which is barely sufficient for coping with 6th grade material. In 7th grade, Johnny is only reading on 5.0 grade level, and he just barely passes his classes, but he does pass to 8th grade. In 8th grade, he reading on 5.7 grade level. Each year, then, from 2nd grade to 8th grade, Johnny has made his maximum progress which was – based on his IQ potential – 7 months of growth for a year’s work.

Johnny has been promoted to 8th grade because he passed 7th grade curriculum, but he is only reading on 5.7 grade level in the 8th grade, or more than two years behind his grade level. Therefore, although his 8th grade teacher may be a good teacher, Johnny may not advance 7 months in the 8th grade, as before, because he will have been taught on his frustration level during his 8th grade year. Johnny’s teacher was not aware of his IQ scores, nor of his academic developmental history, which had shown how he finally reached an academic frustration point in his 8th grade school year. In fact, Johnny may even regress in his reading skills in 8th grade because he will have spent a year being taught on his frustration level. At the end of his 8th grade year, his reading level may only be 5.5 grade level. When he entered 8th grade, his reading level was 5.7 grade level. His teacher is surprised that she received a poor rating based on Johnny’s 2 months’ regression in his standardized test scores. After all, his previous years’ scores had shown that Johnny could be expected to advance at least 7 months in a year’s time. His teacher does not know why he regressed by 2 months since she had tried so hard to help him grow. Johnny does enter 9th grade, however, because he (barely) passed most of his classes even though he regressed in his standardized reading scores, but now he is only reading on grade level 5.5 in 9th grade, or 3 and 1/2 years behind grade level – a perfect candidate for drop-out status. If teachers had made wise and prudent use of Johnny’s IQ scores, as well as having spent time assessing his developmental history, they might have analyzed his unique needs more wisely, earlier, and they might have provided him with the remediation he needed, earlier, even though he was advancing ‘according to how he had advanced previously.’

If student data continues to be used to evaluate teachers, a factor of data so vital as a student’s IQ must also be weighed, along with his curriculum standardized pretest and posttest scores, if one is to assess – accurately – the effectiveness of a teacher’s instruction, as well as how to instruct, effectively, to each student’s needs.

IQ is a variable that should be weighed within value-added-assessments, in addition to the already named criteria, above, of “race, gender, and income,” in order to have a fuller understanding of each student’s potential. Of course, there are IQ variations within every race and ethnic group, within both genders, and within all income levels. IQ data is one additional source of data information which provides a more complete instructional analysis. Students’ IQ scores should be handled discreetly, and certainly IQ scores should never be published.”

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The words written to me, below, are from a writer by the name of “Ron F,” which were posted on the journalist’s blog, February 25, 2012:

“Mary Elizabeth, I work with struggling readers in a rural county.  I frequently see the kids like Johnny.  I even went so far as to get a master’s and certification in reading so I could help these kids.  What frustrates me so is that not only are we told to teach the curriculum and ‘differentiate’ instruction, I also tend to get funny looks from admins when I bring in the data showing kids reading on elementary levels in high school.  The test is still the goal, no matter what evaluation system we come up with.  I frequently move kids up at least one grade level, with many making over 2 grade levels of progress with targeted instruction.  I LOVE what I do, but clearly if standardized test scores are the measure, my kids will likely fall short and I’ll be scored low.  It’s sad to think that doing my job and helping kids build skills, confidence, and potential for future success could make me look bad.  This year, my first group of 40 or so seniors who I worked with as freshmen are graduating.  Of those who stayed in school (we lost 5 to transfer or dropping out), every single one will graduate either on time or within one semester of their orignial graduation date.  Most didn’t pass the EOCT in ninth grade, but are ready to graduate and most are planning post-secondary education.  I simply cannot believe that one, admittedly flawed score could cost a teacher like me.  I fear what’s coming in Georgia as we implement the new college and career ready index for schools.”

This was my response to “Ron F” (slightly edited):

Mary Elizabeth: “You have written such a wise post with experience to back it up. Yes, you could be cut from the system that is presently being designed, and that is why I write with so much detail as I have on this thread. We must assess, as doctors assess, in order to pinpoint where to teach kids, in a targeted, instructionally sound way. But, to think that all kids will achieve the same instructional standard, at the same point in time, is instructionally unsound and that fact must be shared and known to others in power positions. Also, the instructional principles behind this fact must be highlighted to them. We must keep sharing this instructional truth until someone hears who has the influence – and the will – to build the fact that students will not meet the same academic standards, at the same point in time, into assessment instruments for both teachers and students. What the assessment instruments should demonstrate is that a given teacher’s students have shown individual growth equivalent to each student’s ability to grow, having been correctly placed, regardless of his or her grade level, or regardless of the overall standards presently set for ALL students in that grade level.

You sound like a great teacher to me. I commend you highly.

This statement, below, that you have shared is true in so many other school settings, also. It is a sad testimony of the pressure placed on administrators simply to show across the board results, without considering where individual students are functioning, at point in time, or without considering how fast each student is reasonably able to move through curriculum which has been precisely targeted for him or her, individually, with excellent instruction given at his or her indivdual level of functioning:

‘I also tend to get funny looks from admins when I bring in the data showing kids reading on elementary levels in high school. The test is still the goal, no matter what evaluation system we come up with.’ “

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Mary Elizabeth posted on February, 26, 2012: “We must stop thinking in terms of casting ‘blame,’ and, instead, we should place value upon understanding and communicating sophisticated instructional principles which encompass individual variances. When students are instructed according to individual need, they generally succeed.”

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I posted the following on February 27, 2012, regarding using “shame” to motivate teachers to achieve:

Mary Elizabeth: “From the link in the NY Times, p. 2, ‘The Atlanta and Washington situations are similar in several ways. Ms.(Michelle) Rhee and Beverly Hall, the former Atlanta superintendent, both relied on fear to motivate, relentlessly driving their work forces. Dr. Hall told principals that if scores didn’t go up enough in three years, they’d be fired. Ms. Rhee bragged about how hard she pushed. ‘We want educators to feel the pressure,’ she said.”

Mary Elizabeth:  ” ‘ . . .both relied on fear to motivate. . .’

“This is the polar opposite approach needed to motivate teachers and students. Creating a school environment of fear and intimidation is not productive for teachers, nor for students.

Test scores should be used primarily for diagnostic purposes to target and enhance instruction for the benefit of students. The purpose of the data should be enlightenment, not punishment.

If test data is used to assess teachers and schools, then that data must also contain knowledge of student potential, as indicated on IQ tests, to be fair, valid, and complete. Test score data, if used for teacher evaluations, should only be one of many factors with which to assess teacher competency. Test data should not be used for heavy-handed intimidation, but as an aid for improvement. Fear inhibits. Education should be about growth, not fear. To enhance growth, teachers and students must exist, together, in a relaxed environment, in which excellence, and respect, are valued.

A final thought: Only in America, with its long-standing Puritan roots, which still affect the thinking of many today, would shame be considered an effective method to foster improvement within any arena. We must evolve past this limited way of perceiving how to relate to others. A ‘shame’ approach stands inherently in opposition to the egalitarian spirit upon which America was founded.”

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NOTE to U. S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan from Mary Elizabeth: “I commend what you and the President are trying to do to improve education and to enhance the respect that teachers are afforded in America, but I surely do hope you read this post in full! ;-) “

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This entry was posted in "Shaming" Teachers, Assessing Teacher and Students, Assessing Teachers and Students, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to About Education: Essay # 5, “Assessing Teachers and Students”

  1. Pingback: About Education: Essay #9 – My Thoughts for Improving Public Education | maryelizabethsings

  2. Pingback: Use an Educational Model, Not a Business Model, for Public Education | maryelizabethsings

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