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!  


  1. Wonderful thoughts! I agree with your ideas that including this information in a teacher evaluation leads nowhere. Your staff is lucky to have an instructional leader that praises real teaching and learning....a leader that DOES NOT advocate teaching to a test! Good luck with your blog! I started one just last month and it has been a powerful reflection piece for me! Enjoy the process!

  2. Great thoughts here and kudos for starting a blog. It is a great place to share your ideas and get honest feedback from peers.

    You hit one key element that too many lawmakers and decision makers lose site of and that is students nor teachers are not motivated by test scores. At the end of the day, they mean very little. I do not do test prep, and I don't ever plan on doing it. If you teach with a strong focus on student growth, that will always better serve your students than a test prep packet.

    Keep up the good work and keep blogging!

  3. Well stated! It's such a difficult shift to make as an instructional leader--you want to do the right thing by your students and staff, which is sounds like you've been doing. At the same time, the new reality affects the lives of your teachers, so you can't honestly tell them not to worry about the assessments. It's such a tricky situation to negotiate and I admire your willingness to share this struggle. We need to be authentic when sharing our thoughts on these issues.

    I do believe that strong teaching leads to solid understanding, which usually results in positive test scores because students are able to reason and think critically not because they learned some testing tricks.

    I recently helped proctor a similar test in Maryland and was deeply disturbed by the degree of stress a 6th grader expressed to me during a break--he was so worried about the implications if he didn't do well. He was literally shaking.

    In our system 70% of our teachers are in non-tested areas, making these new teacher evaluation systems even more complicated.

    Great first blog!

  4. Your blog is certainly well written, but your ability to express has always been impressive. The idea that test scores, a snapshot of a moment, being used to define something so much more vast than any one moment has always been an objection to me. The concept of summative assessment is a good one, but only when executed within a structure that allows for all the variables that you mentioned. I believe that this is at the heart of one of the problems with having decision-makers making widespread choices, yet not having the years of experience on the front line of teaching. It does boggle my mind that there isn't a set of criteria that requires these people to have actual hands-on experience teaching before making decisions impacting students and staff within a school/classroom setting. There's a sense of something counterproductive with this model.

    I believe the solution requires a universal shift that is of such great magnitude within the entire educational system of this country. That definitely includes undergraduate/graduate institutions as well. There truly is an epidemic of stress within our culture and it clearly interferes with the real learning that is even more essential than ever. And I definitely include emotional learning as part of that essential education. When someone or some institution stands up to say that this is not how it will be anymore and we will not perpetuate this narrow view of success any longer is when this heavy weight will be lifted.

    In spite of all of the chaos that has been added to our challenge of educating, I am still so incredibly proud to call myself a teacher and know that I'm making a difference in the lives of my students. They make a difference in my life too. Test scores, evaluations, and tax caps aside, I am a teacher and proclaim it proudly!! Navigating through these incredibly rough and somewhat foreign waters becomes the added challenge. I gladly accept it and remain optimistic that when the dust settles, a greater sensibility will be ever more present.

    Keep spreading the good word!!

  5. Your words are profound, Tony. The saddest part to me is that I actually do like the idea very much in principle. If there was such a system that could pinpoint the growth of a student attributed to a teacher, then I don't know how any of us could logically argue against it. However, for all the variables you so eloquently listed, no researcher has yet been able to find such a magic formula. As such, I worry a great deal about the precedent set by NYC and how teachers and admins will be compared within and across districts on such disparate data as to be truly comparing apples, oranges, and even zebras. Rest assured, however, that politicians and the media will attempt to make such meaningless data the focal point of our lives. Can't wait!

  6. Keep pushing. Be willing to have the proverbial "sit in" as so many brave educators are, about the best service to children. Continue to work towards solutions for developing globally literate adults and not mere test takers unable to make meaning of the world around. Allow for opposing view points, but do not yield your position to mediocrity in your leadership, from teachers or for parents. Lives are stake and I am with you.

    Looking forward to the Supreme Court case of New York State DOE vs. Antony Sinanis, where they ban the standardization of children. Much respect!

    Khalilah H.