The educator’s case for real reform
If we value certain important outcomes for our students, such as the ability to understand essential concepts, work in groups, think critically and solve problems, then we should measure those abilities – both in student learning and in teaching.
Educators from across the state are protesting the way in which Governor Martinez is trying to unilaterally force her plan for teacher evaluation on us. Why? Because we know an education system that focuses on competition and standardized testing, rather than cooperation and learning, is bad.
Bad for students, bad for educators, and bad for New Mexico.
Under “No Child Left Behind,” the emphasis on high-stakes testing led to a narrow curriculum and school schedules that cut out recess and limited students’ opportunities to engage in fine arts and electives. The idea of a well-rounded education has already gone by the wayside! Attaching individual evaluations to high-stakes tests will only serve to exacerbate this.
Linda Darling-Hammond, an expert educational researcher, in her recent paper entitled, Creating a Comprehensive System for Evaluating and Supporting Effective Teaching, clearly states:
“At best, teachers’ value-added ratings in one year predict only 25% of the variance in ratings in the next year, leaving 75% or more to be explained by factors such as who is assigned to a teacher’s class and what conditions he or she teaches under.”
Basing 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on something that’s at best 25 percent reliable does not make for a fair and accurate evaluation. To make matters worse, the PED’s method of dealing with grade levels and subjects not currently included in standardized testing is to base those educators’ evaluations on their colleagues’ test score — or to do even more testing of all grades and subjects. Our students do not need to spend time taking more high-stakes tests; they need to spend time engaged in relevant learning experiences!
Both parents and educators know that a one-size-fits-few tool like a standardized test cannot truly measure the knowledge and growth of every student, nor the net impact an individual educator actually has on student growth.
Non-educators driving education reforms
The education secretary-designate and the governor claim they have the right to make these wrong-headed changes to teacher and principal evaluations through rule. Not true. If they had such a right, then why did they introduce legislation in the last session?
They know and we know that creating high-stakes education policy through rule, circumventing the legislative process, is wrong. Ask a legislator!
Non-educators are driving these education “reforms” in New Mexico — many of them recycled from other states. Their goal is to sabotage public education and convert it into a private enterprise. To this end, they continue to demonize the educators that, through their unions, are fighting for real and positive reforms. Don’t be fooled; our unions are not the problem.
Last week, Walt Gardner from Education Week wrote, “If teachers unions are the villain they have been made out to be, then states where teachers are heavily unionized would be expected to post the lowest scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But this is not the case. Students in Massachusetts and Minnesota, for example, earn the highest scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress, even though teacher union membership is also extremely high. In sharp contrast, students in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas have the lowest scores on NAEP, even though few, if any, teachers belong to unions.”
A better way
In fact, our union has a better way to reform teacher evaluation. Our reform policies are based on a research-driven approach to evaluation that will create a fair, reliable system and will change public education for the better.
Our ideas are focused on measuring what we value, not the other way around. All too often in education, we value what is easy to measure, but overlook elements that are necessary for effective practice. If we value certain important outcomes for our students, such as the ability to understand essential concepts, work in groups, think critically, and solve problems, then we should measure those abilities.
If we value those attributes in student learning, then we are obligated to value the same qualities in teaching. Sadly, the Public Education Department’s proposed rule (6.69.8 NMAC) includes an over-reliance on standardized measures that undervalues — to the point of ignoring — the exact outcomes we need for our students and that we must value in our teachers.
Bernstein is president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation.
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