In the Boston Public Schools, there’s exactly one teacher of Spanish as a foreign language with students from kindergarten right through eighth grade.
I am she.
As is true for other teachers of non-tested grades and subjects, there’s not yet a satisfactory solution for how I might be evaluated, beyond the observations currently in use. This is one of the biggest issues with value-added teacher evaluation systems: only a fraction of teachers are eligible for the ratings at this time. Entire content areas—from music and art to foreign language and physical education—are not yet included.
Even for content that is currently assessed through value-added measures, the validity of the evaluation system remains an open question. To assume that tests accurately capture teacher effectiveness is to overlook discrepancies among the official curriculum set forth by state and district officials, the curriculum that teachers actually choose to teach, and the learned curriculum that students pick up through teachers’ modeling and expectations.
Beyond what test-scores may reveal about content learning, students also learn lessons that each teacher transmits, embedded in the classroom environment—ways to process information, knowing when to ask questions, knowing how to sit and act attentive.
In discussions of school and teacher effectiveness, our narrow focus on the official and tested curriculum neglects the equally important taught and learned curricula.
As Bill Gates wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed, “[S]tudent test scores alone aren’t a sensitive enough measure to gauge effective teaching, nor are they diagnostic enough to identify areas of improvement. Teaching is multifaceted, complex work.”
To capture this complexity, most states are looking to create teacher evaluation systems that combine classroom observations and student growth on tests—as well as, in some cases, other measures such as student feedback, portfolios, and evidence of a teacher’s professional goals and growth.
In an effort to move the discussion forward, I’ve been working with a group of colleagues in the Boston Public Schools to offer suggestions on the current proposal for multiple measures of student learning growth that will soon be included in our evaluations, as well as to propose alternatives.
We’ve developed a menu of viable options from which a teacher, school or district could select different assessment measures. We propose that those of us who teach untested subjects pilot a mix of assessment-based rubrics and portfolios, which could later be adopted by teachers of tested subjects as well. These portfolios would present student progress on goals and capture multiple kinds of learning.
My rubrics and benchmarks would also take into account factors beyond my control as a teacher, such as whether a student is learning Spanish for the first time as a seventh-grader, has been learning Spanish since kindergarten, or speaks Spanish at home.
Here’s a glance at what a portfolio would look like for a typical third-grade student:
- Checklists indicating knowledge of target vocabulary: greetings, introductions, how are you feeling, polite requests and replies, weather, days of the week, numbers 1-30, body parts, action verbs, colors, clothing, transportation, buildings and people in our community.
- Reading: Video of reading our daily message and responding to related comprehension questions; video of a dialogue or conversation.
- Listening comprehension: Video of responses to questions about books we read in Spanish; video of responses to requests and classroom directions.
- Conversation skills: Copies of notes taken during interviews with classmates, video of skits on topics such as food, clothing and navigating the neighborhood.
An evaluator and I would together review the portfolios two or three times per year, which would both inform instruction and provide an opportunity to reflect upon and improve my teaching. In upper grades, students could contribute to and reflect on their portfolios as well.
What we measure as meaningful reflects what we value, and a well-rounded education requires a well-rounded means of measuring success.
Providing tools for all teachers to assess their practice and grow will ensure that standardized tests in English and math do not presume to represent learning as a whole. Just as students should have multiple opportunities to show their strengths across multiple content areas, so too should teachers have the chance to showcase their skills via multiple measures.