Thursday, April 10, 2014

New Teacher Performance Testing

Today's Education Week includes a commentary from national representatives of school principals, school district administrators, and teacher-prep programs; these folks start out arguing for performance based assessment for new teachers, but then give limited endorsement of corporate baloney instead.

Their opening point is well-made; people looking to enter the teaching profession need real support and an evaluation that isn't stupid. That is not what we have now.

I've seen the effects of what we have now. I'm currently working with a student teacher, and she just took her Praxis exam, and I am struck once again by how much it resembles the standardized tests we inflict on students-- purposefully misleading and tricky, often skipping over the actual core knowledge that should be measured, and totally divorced from any authentic real-world task. I can't imagine that the current Praxis exam can predict future teacher success any better than tea leaves or phrenology.

NEA and AFT have both thrown their hats into the three-ring-circus of new teacher assessment, but the leading candidate for New Gateway To the Profession remains edTPA, a totally awesome teacher evaluation product from our good friends at Pearson and the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity.

The idea is to provide a common measure aligned with high standards (and boy, that has never ended badly before). Candidates are supposed to submit portfolios, lesson plans, videos of their teaching, and evidence of differentiation and assessment. Pearson does the administration of the exam and scoring.

So here is one more educational tool based on the assumption that the troops on the ground are dopes. Yes, we have to check with someone at Pearson in order to know whether or not the teacher right up the hall is any good. In place of old-school techniques such as "Watching her work" or "Talking to he," we have to find out what's up performance videos and long-form essays.

The authors represent a broad swatch of the field: JoAnn Bartoletti is the executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, in Reston, Va. Gail Connelly is the executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, in Alexandria, Va. Daniel A. Domenech is the executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, in Alexandria, Va. Sharon P. Robinson is the president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, in Washington. Their endorsement of edTPA and the desperate-catch-up play, Praxis Performance Assessment for Teachers, is tepid:

Our respective organizations welcome such preservice performance assessments as long as they reflect input from the field, meet rigorous standards of validity and reliability, and support research-based instructional practice. We look forward to helping shape and improve these and other performance-based assessments as they evolve. 

Both their endorsement and their tepidness. edTPA strikes me as a terrible approach, but not as bad as the one we have now. So, perhaps, baby steps. And the authors nail the crux of the problem pretty well:

As educators, we can’t control what Congress, state education agencies, or school boards ask us to do. But we can control what it means and what it takes to be a new teacher.

Doctors, lawyers, nurses, physical therapists-- they all exercise considerable control over the entry to their profession. Teachers-- not so much. It would be nice to change that.

Good teachers know how to spot other good teachers. They ask the right questions. They worry about the right things. They have an understanding of their students. Content knowledge is nice to have going in, but it's always an easy weaknesses to fix, whereas it's hard to teach someone how to interact with other human life forms. When you have a long conversation with them, you get a sense that they have an appropriate professional focus, not just a desire to "play teacher" or be the smartest kid in the room. They can see or sense the connection between what to teach, how to teach it, how to tell if you taught it. They read students well. And they have to actually care. Difficult to measure on an assessment.

New teachers tend to follow the 10-80-10 rule. 10% will be awesome no matter what. 10% will be unsalvageable no matter what. 80% will become great or mediocre or awful depending on what kind of support and assistance they get through their first several years. Almost nobody arrives in a classroom at age twenty-two fully formed, completely prepared, and totally able to rock the education biz. Guarding the gateway is not nearly as important as fully supporting the people who get in, figuring out what they need, who they are, how they can best grow into a good teacher.

None of this is well-done by people who aren't there. A new teacher assessment tool can provide some small pieces of information, but just like a PARCC or SBA test, an edTPA is just a small slice of a much larger picture.

Yes, there is a lot of work ahead, but, while not everyone agrees on the right assessment or combination of assessments, we see enough momentum to be encouraged. We are joining as one voice to help accelerate this movement and to make sure it holds up. At the same time, we will be vigilant to ensure that this work is done well, that institutions have the time they need to prepare, and that P-12 educators are involved as collaborators along the way. 

I agree. Pearson and Stanford cannot really help us, and the less control over this process they have, the better. 

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