Saturday, March 31, 2012

Is This The Best Way?

As instructional leaders we dedicate our days and nights to learning so that we can be empowered with the necessary information to make the decisions that are in the best interest of our children. The decisions are not always easy to make because dozens of variables must be considered in anticipating the outcome; many times decisions are made collaboratively to help promote and foster a joint vision and common goal; sometimes decisions are made in isolation because a situation warrants immediate attention. Regardless of the scenario, being an instructional leader affords you the privilege (and responsibility) of making decisions that will enhance the learning environment for all teachers and learners.

What happens when you are not the one making the decisions? What happens when decisions are made for you and you are forced to implement policies and practices even though they may not enhance the learning environment for all teachers and learners? This is an issue we are facing and struggling with in NYS related to the APPR Teacher Evaluation Plan. NYS is saying that 20 points of a teacher's evaluation (and principal's evaluation) must be based on the scores their children attain on various standardized tests. Scores that are a result of three pressure filled days of summative testing. Days where a child may not have had breakfast. Days where a child was sent to school with a fever so they wouldn't miss the test. Days where a child was a bundle of nerves because they didn't want to disappoint anyone by performing poorly on the test. In the past, I tried to bring the temperature down by reminding our dedicated teachers that the tests were reflective of one moment in time and could never capture the growth and development of our children over the course of a year. We discussed the idea that good teaching would always outperform test prep! In the end, I tried to project the idea that the scores didn't matter (I knew they did) because our school was about more than just test scores. 

Recently, as I stood in front of my staff at a Faculty Meeting, I felt like I couldn't say the scores didn't matter at all as we discussed the upcoming state tests. Everyone in the room knew that the test scores of NYC teachers were plastered across multiple newspapers last year and the fallout from this "sharing of information" changed the landscape of public education in NYS. We were all concerned, stressed, anxious and worried about what this would mean for us in the next few months when the results of our children's state test scores are released. 

In the days following this meeting I couldn't stop thinking about what this aspect of the APPR Teacher Evaluation Plan would accomplish in the long run. Does the state think that connecting teacher evaluation to standardized test scores would make us better teachers? Does the state think that the best indicator of a child's knowledge was how they performed on a high stakes multiple choice test? Does the state want teachers to feel increased pressure to do endless amounts of test preparation so their children could do well? The questions are endless and at this point the answers are elusive. I am not sure what will be accomplished by connecting teacher evaluation to standardized test scores. I am not sure what it will accomplish for our children, our teachers and our learning environment as a whole. At this point, I am unsure of many things connected to the decisions NYS has made for us in regards to APPR and its direct connection to high stakes standardized tests that rely heavily on multiple choice questions. 

Fortunately, the one thing I am sure of is that our school will forever be a place where good teaching trumps everything else and our only goal, each and every day, is to do what is in the best interest of our children!