[A friend told me the other evening that she was tired of checking my blog to still find the Mojo piece. I know what she means. I’ve not made the time to write much lately. I started this post a few weeks ago and finally got back to it over the weekend. This is for you, Margaret.]
My teacher colleagues take great pride in their work—pride in the day-to-day planning and implementation of instruction, in classrooms from Brandywine Hundred to Delmar, from Townsend to Cape Henlopen. They speak about their students with love and dedication, even when sharing funny stories or talking about the frustrations of working with reluctant learners. Their sense of pride and ownership is remarkable. They think in terms like these: “It’s my class, my room, my kids, my school.”
However, this year, teachers everywhere feel they have a tiger by the tail. Just like the evaluation and rating of anyone’s job performance, teacher evaluation has never been easy, always caused some anxiety, and required time and care in order for any one teacher to clearly demonstrate his/her abilities as an effective instructor. This year, all of us are trying to get a grasp on recent changes in DPAS II (Delaware Performance Appraisal System) that are intended to revolutionize the way that teachers are evaluated. Meanwhile, it’s tough to get a good hold on that tiger, to keep that hold, and to avoid getting mauled.
I am currently on a leave of absence from my teaching job so that I can serve for three years as the president of the Delaware State Education Association. However, I am also a 6th grade science teacher. Every year for the past 22 of my 39 years, one of my building administrators would come into my classroom for an entire science class and observe me doing what I do best–teaching science. Building administrators have been observing teachers for decades in order to get a sense of a teacher’s instructional prowess and competence. Additionally, classroom observation has been used to gauge the effectiveness of district-developed professional development, as well as to identify teacher compliance with administrative directives.
In the past, I have been consistently judged a competent, effective teacher and have always been able to meet or exceed each of the many criteria in the state teacher evaluation system. But, this year, there will be a new twist to teacher evaluation throughout Delaware. If I were still in the classroom, a significant portion of my evaluation as a science teacher would be based on two pieces of rather unscientific data: 30% of my rating in Component 5: Student Improvement, would be based on a composite of school-wide scores for math and reading tests taken by all 900 students in my home school; the other 70% would be based on the math or reading scores of a cohort of my science students. I am quite uncertain about how this would turn out. For the first time in my career, I truly fear that I could be judged “Ineffective” or even labeled as “Needs Improvement” based on those damning test results.
Remember, I teach science. Obviously, science instruction involves a fair amount of reading and a good chunk of math. I have always done whatever I could to support 6th grade reading and math literacy. I make sure each year that my students understand the skills and strategies needed to succeed with non-fiction text. I reinforce some reading activities—but, I am not the reading teacher. Every year I do basic instruction in constructing and reading graphs and in analyzing the data we collect. However, I am not the math teacher!
It’s a jungle out there, and Component 5 is turning out to be a real bear.
It has been my experience that teachers have long understood and responded to accountability. They felt accountable the moment they walked into the classroom. They were instantly and irrefutably accountable to the students in front of them and to the families to whom those students returned each evening.
It is no surprise that Delaware is actually way ahead of the curve in the development of a strong, state-wide teacher evaluation program. Edreform has been a dedicated hot topic throughout this state since 1983. The Delaware Performance Appraisal System, a.k.a. DPAS I (pronounced “D-Pass”) was introduced in the mid-80’s. Prior to DPAS I, individual districts created and enforced their own teacher evaluation systems. DPAS I was well-conceived and the training program for administrators and teachers was pretty thorough for its time.
During the first half of this decade, we all worked together to design an updated, enhanced state-wide evaluation system. The plan was first piloted in two school districts, rolled out the following year to a few more districts, and the final roll-out was completed in 2008. This is the system on which I have been judged for the past three years. It is really a very good system, based on a framework designed by Charlotte Danielson, a renowned guru of instruction. Ms. Danielson was able to capture all of the substantive elements that make up effective instruction and described them clearly and succinctly, along with various charts and rubrics, in Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching, a book on which DPAS II is based. She organized the elements under four(4) domains that make up the first four(4) components of DPAS II. http://charlottedanielson.com/theframeteach.htm
In the past year, a renewed emphasis has been placed on a fifth part of the DPAS program—Component 5: Student Improvement. “The proof is in the pudding,” goes the saying. So, the proof of my value and worth as an effective teacher should be found in the results. Pure and simple. And, across this great country, there are folks who are wedded to the idea that the results can be and should be measured by student test results. They also believe that test results should trump mere classroom observation. It seems simple enough. It should be a matter of input and output.
INPUT: If one does a careful and mindful combination all of the many things that an outstanding teacher should do (1) to plan and prepare instruction, (2) to create a worthwhile environment for teaching and learning, (3) to implement and deliver a focused, appropriate, accurate, pedagogically accurate lesson or instructional program, as well as (4) fulfill all professional responsibilities associated with classroom teaching, then, ipso facto, one should get the resultant OUTPUT: a clear, measurable demonstration of (5) commensurate student growth.
[Actually, Danielson doesn’t see it quite that way. She is confident that she has hit on an authentic and accurate representation of the elements of effective instruction—what it takes to teach and teach well. However, she recognizes that the OUTPUT phase can be difficult to identify and quantify using valid, reliable measures. She is working now on a way to describe what and how this might be “measured.”]
The next step: One should be able to measure this output in order to validate classroom observations of effective teaching practice. It appears that the easiest way to quatify this deliverable would be to administer a test that should measure Johnny’s and Suzy’s level of learning. In the current environment of edreform, the equation seems simple: a less than satisfactory test score = inadequate instruction = ineffective teacher.
Implications? It would appear that substandard student test scores would indicate ineffective teaching–simple cause and effect. It seems to make sense that there would be clear and direct alignment between effective math and reading instruction and students who consistently meet or exceed the standards on both the state math and reading tests. To play off of an old computer acronym: GTI / GTO—good teaching in / good test scores out. The common thinking is that the inverse would likewise be true.
Oh, did I mention that (a) this is all based on a brand new test and (b) in just a few years, the test will be replaced with another new test.
So, why are teachers distraught? Well, out of the blue, or so it may seem, Component 5, which had previously involved a series of goal-setting and goal-measuring tasks—activities and data collection that had some potential but really had no teeth, and could have been much better managed by districts and the state alike—reared up and bit ‘em on the butt.
There they were, working their way through various approved curriculums and projects when that 5th component of DPAS—the one not delineated within the Danielson framework—took on new meaning and additional weight. Component 5 also now carries with it a framework of labeling and corrective actions, including the ultimate threat of termination.
Depending upon one’s point of view, this could be good news for modern man or the bad news blues. Whatever it is, and whatever it turns out to be, it is currently rocking the world of teaching in Delaware.
Disappointment? Yes. Many teachers are disappointed, but mostly, they report being fearful–worried, alarmed, anxious, apprehensive, troubled, distressed, tense, and uneasy—you name it, they feel it. The folks who deliver instruction to some 129,000 students across this state are more than a little concerned about the potential outcomes of the latest iteration of what had previously been a universally respected system of teacher evaluation. Starting last spring, teachers began to get that uneasy, queasy feeling that Component 5—a piece that is still under development—was turning out differently than anticipated, that it was something both unexpected and unpredictable. Oh, my.