Thursday, April 18, 2013


How does one measure the quality or value of a teacher? This is the big question in the field of education right now. Among those who seem to talk the loudest about this topic, the answer would be standardized test scores. After all, we use test scores to compare our students to other students internationally, to other students nationally, to other students locally, and many states are now using student testing data as part of a teacher's summative evaluation with many other states planning to implement this in the future. But is testing data the only way or the best way to measure a teacher's worth?

I love coming to work in the morning. My students come into my classroom and they are smiling and laughing. They greet me pleasantly. They ask what we are going to be doing today. They tell me about what they did last night. They ask questions about me and my life, especially my pets! We chit chat about books we read or television shows we watch or songs we like. They pay attention during class. They follow directions. They laugh at my jokes. By all outward signs, they seem to enjoy my class. Since they seem to enjoy my class, I make an assumption that I must be doing something right, that what I am doing in my classroom with these kids has some value.

I teach gifted students, yes, but that doesn't mean that they all automatically get straight A's. Some of the kids struggle with challenging material. But I try to give them ample information, use formative assessments to check for understanding, and use more formalized assessments when appropriate to get an idea how well what I have taught them has been mastered. I try to use varied and numerous assessments to get as complete a picture as possible. Overall, my students grades are good. Report card averages tend to be all A's and B's. Good classwork scores, good test scores, and good report card grades seem to be outward signs that my students are learning what they are being taught, so I make an assumption that what I am doing to help the kids learn has some value.

In my school district, we use MAP as our local assessment. All of my students consistently test above grade level on the MAP reading and MAP language usage tests throughout the school year (the test is given three times each year). I make an assumption that since my students are testing above grade level on a consistent basis, my teaching must have some value.

When my students take the MAP test, it is not uncommon to see their scores drop from one testing session to another. It is not always clear to me why their scores drop. Maybe the student rushed through the test. Maybe the questions were too difficult. Maybe the student didn't feel well or had other things on his or her mind. Maybe I didn't cover everything that was on the test. Maybe I didn't teach something well enough for students to address it well on the MAP test. Maybe some students slipped through the cracks when I was teaching something in class and I didn't recognize it. But the bottom line is that since it is not uncommon for MAP test scores to drop from one testing session to the next, I make an assumption that I am not being an effective educator.

When I look at my students' MAP scores from fall to spring in particular, I am hoping to see their scores go up and see their national percentile ranking go up, too. Seeing those increases indicates that there was academic growth over the course of the school year. I have never once had all of my students show growth. I have always had students whose MAP scores went down and whose national percentile rankings went down. It is rarely only one or two students. Sometimes it is as many as a dozen. When that many students have scores that don't show growth, I make an assumption that I didn't teach what I needed to or how I needed to during the school year, so I am not being an effective educator.

Which one is it? Am I effective or not?