2/5: Making Teaching More Accountable
Updated: Mar 19
There has been a push over the last two decades to make teaching a more accountable profession. The early buzz phrase for this was 'pay-for-performance'. It makes sense on the surface because teaching is such an important occupation. We're preparing the next generation of leaders, after all.
The problems ensue when stakeholder groups try to decide just how this performance-based assessment of teaching can occur. Many have said, "Just look at the test scores of students. That will tell you how teachers are doing." But does it really? Test scores rely on the investment of the one taking the test. What if he had a headache that day? What if he forgot to eat breakfast and had no energy for tough brain work? And what if he just didn't care?
The fall-out from using any kind of student-achievement measurement for teacher performance is that the teacher cannot fully control the output the student chooses to give. But our superiors continue to assure us we can.
The stance that teachers can make students test earnestly is one that has created a wedge between teachers and their supervisors for at least a decade. It has also caused a great deal of consternation for teachers whose belief that their quality instruction would make the difference between student achievement and its opposite, student malaise. Teachers have come to understand that they must play the testing game, along with everyone in the power structure, if they are to survive their career.
How to play this game? Use every test manipulation strategy provided by their bosses in order to mitigate the outcome. In Colorado, between 2013 and 2018 (my year of retirement), we teachers were counseled by our principal to single out those students we thought might not test well to receive accommodations, a practice that was originally supposed to aid those with learning disabilities to have the same opportunity as those without. If supposed accommodations given to a student during the regular classroom day were documented by the teacher at least 3 times prior to October 1st of any school year, that child could receive those same accommodations on the annual state test.
What kind of accommodations are we talking about? Having an adult scribe one's responses, for instance. This was suggested to us for students who had poor handwriting (when tests were still given in booklets) or couldn't handle the keyboard very well (once testing became completely online). Imagine the ramifications of this. It allows a child to test privately with someone who can help them, even if this child has no recognized disability. Being lazy or sloppy is not a disability.
Another common accommodation was "needing directions read aloud". We were encouraged to document this for our speedy workers, those who rushed through everything and never stopped to find out what they were actually supposed to do. Students receiving this accommodation also tested privately with an adult who read the directions for each problem aloud, and in all likelihood, even explained them. Again, this sways what a child is able to do on his own.
Many teachers I worked with from 2013 to 2018 refused to participate in this practice, standing on the principle that it dilutes the validity of testing, and steadfastly clinging to the hope that those in charge would see the error in encouraging subterfuge. I have to wonder, given the current state of offering incentive pay for teachers whose students test well, how many of my former colleagues remain steadfast in their defiance.
Anyone analyzing testing outcomes would be well-advised to take into consideration that the numbers they are looking at cannot be relied on for anything other than feel-good or feel-bad effects.