Evaluating teachers is a process which continues throughout the career of the teacher and throughout the lifetimes of all the children the teacher has taught.
Teacher evaluations are merely a report at a moment of time during that process.
Many parties must be involved in evaluating teachers: the students, their parents, the community, and the people with whom they interact throughout their lives.
Teacher evaluations are a construct of the educational bureaucracy, the educrats who control it, providing elected officials and candidates for public office with an easy target for campaign rhetoric and empty promises.
Teaching is what classroom teachers are supposed to do; not testing!
Teachers should be evaluated on their teaching not on the scores their students achieve on some kind of “standardized” test given at some arbitrary point in the education and intellectual development of the students.
Standardized tests should be teaching aids, not tyrannical overseers of public school teachers.
The present structure of formal education from kindergarten through graduate school fails to recognize that children learn different material at different rates at different points during their intellectual growth.
Evaluating teachers must be a complex multi-factorial continuous analog process much like those considered in multivariate calculus and statistical mechanics rather than an exercise in elementary arithmetic where clerks or semi-intelligent machines can average student scores on standardized tests.
Which Common Core?
There is a common core of knowledge which every 18-year-old voter in the United States should possess in order to cast an informed ballot on all the issues subject to the political process in the United States and perform meaningful public service, including military service, if necessary.
The common core of knowledge should also prepare students to acquire further knowledge throughout the rest of their lives whether through formal higher education or in the workplace.
The problem is that the common core is really a complex set of common cores in a variety of knowledge areas ranging from mathematics and science through history and the social sciences, language and literature, to the fine arts. Understanding, much less comprehension and internalization of basic knowledge in each of these areas occurs at different points and at different rates in each individual child.
Ignoring the wisdom of the ages and just looking at the 20th century work of Maria Montessori and Jean Piaget, it is obvious that standardized tests should be given at the point when the student is ready to be tested on what they have learned rather than at some arbitrary time chosen to accommodate the convenience of educrats, politicians and school administrators.
The most obvious time for measuring mastery—meaning understanding, comprehension, and internalization of the entire common core of knowledge—is just prior to graduation from the system responsible for teaching the student the elements of the common core.
The Value and Purpose of “Standardized” Tests
Standardized tests have great value if they are properly designed to measure understanding and comprehension of a specific body of knowledge and if they are administered at the time in the educational development of an individual student when it is appropriate to test their understanding and comprehension of that specific body of knowledge. Standardized tests must be content specific, however, and the general skills necessary to “pass” standardized tests must be taught to all children from the time they enter the public school system.
Once the politicians and the educrats accept the simple fact that all children learn different things at different rates during different periods of their intellectual growth, it should be obvious that content specific testing should occur continuously throughout the public school education of our children. This means, that shortly after the start of each school year, each classroom teacher should develop an individualized learning program— an ILP— for each of their students. Not the IEP required for children with special needs, but a straightforward traditional syllabus derived from an initial “placement” test identifying where on the continuous path of learning the student may be at the beginning of the term.
The Role of Computers in Managing ILPs
Smart phones and tablet computers are now seen in the hands of students in elementary school and are ubiquitous among the students in junior high school and high school. They can become the key to a dramatic improvement in the quality of public school education for all children in all schools.
It is now possible to develop an ILP for each student and for a classroom teacher to manage those individual ILPs in real time without losing any of the time required to actually teach and manage their classroom.
A New “Homework” Paradigm
Homework should mean login and logon to your classroom from your home. For each lesson of that school day the student should find a series of questions which should take no more than 5 to 10 minutes to answer taking into account their age-specific attention span. The questions test the level of understanding, comprehension, and mastery of the subject matter of the lesson that day— a measure of student short-term memory, the purpose of which is to assist the teacher in planning the next lesson.
The diagnostic data mined from the test results of the individual students and the entire class identify which lesson elements should be reinforced or further developed in the next lesson. It will also identify those students for whom more challenging aspects of the lesson are appropriate and begin to identify those students for whom remediation may be required.
Based on the test results, the teacher modifies the lesson plan for the next lesson either moving more slowly and reinforcing the material, broadening the material for some of the students, or moving on.
When it becomes obvious that only a small number of students in the class have not been able to understand and comprehend a particular lesson, individual assistance on that material can be provided at much less cost than “special education.”
With all of the information from the homework readily available to the classroom teacher, the need for regular classroom “tests” which really waste valuable teacher time and provide no opportunities for teachers to teach can be totally eliminated. Formal examinations can be conducted in school online without proctoring by the classroom teacher.
Data Analytics in Evaluating Teachers
Data analytics provides a relatively objective way of monitoring teacher effectiveness in terms of student performance.
Once there is agreement on the common core of knowledge required of an 18-year-old voter, and each element of that common core has been identified and the extent of the minimum knowledge of each element required, the specific tests required to demonstrate mastery of each element can be developed following the same model as used in the AP (Advanced Placement) tests.
Each individual element within each of the general overall elements of a common core area can be distributed over the 12 years of formal public education; the mileposts for progress throughout that 12 year period identified; and tests developed to measure progress towards each milepost. Master teachers can develop generalized lesson plans for each of the “lessons” required to move the student ahead on the path toward each milestone in each element of the common core.
The standard tools of commercial data analytics can now provide parents, teachers, administrators, local school boards, legislators, and the nation with meaningful information about the educational progress of our children in real time. With that information, the effectiveness of different educational methods can be immediately determined using the same tools of multivariate statistical analysis epidemiologists rely upon to identify clusters of cancer and sources of epidemic diseases such as Ebola and typhus.
Just as modern business does, modern education should monitor the effectiveness of every dollar spent in terms of its effectiveness in meeting the single goal of the educational system: educating students to become citizens and contribute to and participate in the growth of America.
Networked computer systems monitoring educational progress and providing targeted assistance to classroom teachers immediately when the need arises are the key to assuring that no child will be left behind in the race to the top.