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Some of the Best Teaching Isn’t On The Test

The topic in today’s New York Times Room For Debate page is how do you assess the value of a teacher?

The section, which is hardly a debate, more a collection of short guest editorials on a particular issue, asks the writers to comment on the “value-add” system of evaluating teachers that is being tried in DC schools and was used by the LA Times in their recent series on the quality of teachers in the city schools.

According to the Times, “value add” is a system that “calculates the value teachers add to their students’ achievement, based on changes in test scores from year to year and how the students perform compared with others in their grade.”

As you might expect the editors managed to round up a “fair and balanced” group from a variety of think tanks and universities.

One of the writers, however, is actually a K12 educator, a math teacher at the middle school that feeds to the high school in which I taught, and someone whose teaching skills I saw in some of the kids in my classes.

He gives a qualified endorsement of the concept (“If value-added analysis is to be used, it should be fully validated and other data should also be included when evaluating and labeling a teacher.”), but it’s this observation that is more to the heart of the issue of assessing both students and teachers.

Some of my best teaching occurs (and my students learn the most) when I present material that will never appear on any summative assessment. For gifted students especially, it is imperative to present to them mathematics that is both challenging and interesting. At times this may include assigning complex problems that may take days instead of minutes to solve. Never will such problems appear on state or national tests that are used to determine a teacher’s added value.

I would take out the part about gifted students and say that all kids deserve to be presented with challenging and interesting material, not just in math but in all their learning experiences.

The skills gained by learning to solve those complex problems that take days to resolve (or maybe are never completely resolved?) will be far more valuable in their lives than anything we ask students to memorize (often temporarily) for the next standardized test.

1 Comment

  1. Michael

    The policy wonks don’t factor in this point of “complex problems” for students to learn from. I have seen more students learn, mature, reflect, plan, and grow from culturally responsive and contemporarily relative assignments that will never appear on the state assessments. Such is the case with service-learning projects, for example. These projects, when designed with a reading and math curriculum, benefit students, teachers, and community.
    As meaningful as these assignments can be in the development of the whole child, they do not meet what Prof. Ravitch describes as the current “measure and punish” mentality of current educational policy.

    I don’t follow NYT Room for Debate page. Thanks for leading me to it!

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