‘Teaching to the Test’ Over, Time for Evaluation to Evolve

When chatting with a reporter, especially investigative reporter Will Carless with the Voice of San Diego, it’s hard not to recognize true subject enthusiasm.

We struck mutual gold when the issue of teacher evaluation cropped up. A client, UPforEd recently conducted some excellent polling via another client, Competitive Edge Research & Communication, highlighting beyond question that San Diego Unified School District parents care greatly about measuring teacher performance.

Likewise, the polling also revealed that parents care similarly about all students having access to University of California and California State University prep courses.

Overall, the research seems to indicate San Diego Unified parents hope to see their kids taught by the best teachers in the hopes that they will attend a good college, if they choose.

Makes perfect sense.

But how do we flip the culture within San Diego Unified School District to embrace the notion of teacher measurement?

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Mr. Carless examined the complicated, sometimes emotional resistance to change in his Voice story, “Why San Diego Isn’t Joining the Teacher Evaluation Revolution” which re-ran in the May 2012 issue of San Diego Magazine as “Behind the Curve: Local teacher evals: #FAIL.”

In concert with his lengthy investigation piece, my client Shelli Kurth, executive director of UPforEd, opined on the national debate in “What’s Fair in Measuring Teacher Performance?” in which she ruminates on the politics behind evaluating teachers. A preschool teacher, Kurth recognizes that “teaching to the test” may cause teachers resist any talks of accountability may stifle the conversation progress, but as a parent, she hopes that her own kids are set up to attend university in an increasingly competitive environment.

So, while we examine ways to fairly measure teacher performance, we cannot simply ignore the importance of student test-taking as a means of judging the effect on our children’s futures. But teachers and parents both agree it cannot be the only way. – “What’s Fair in Measuring Teacher Performance?”

In a counterpoint, California Teacher Association President Dean E. Vogel wrote “Time to Stop Looking for the Easy Answers,” which agrees more with Kurth’s opinion than not in stating that a complex and important act, such as teaching children, deserves a thoughtful assessment metric.

Interestingly, much of what Kurth notes in data-driven research on teachers shows they actually crave evaluation so long as its fair, but what that means or looks like differs teacher to teacher, parent to parent.

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Carless interviewed change agents within San Diego Unified creating their own data-driven evaluation independent of the district going above and beyond for their students.

Exhibit A: Principal Tavga Bustani of Edison Elementary in City Heights turned around her school by becoming data obsessed and a classroom observing junkie. But her dedication paid off.

Using her data-driven system, Bustani’s getting excellent results: When she first came to Edison, only 21 percent of students were proficient in English language arts; now that figure’s 67 percent. In math, those figures have gone from 35 percent proficiency in 2008 to 74 percent today. Bustani’s not sure how many other principals are following her lead, but she has an idea. – “Why San Diego Isn’t Joining the Teacher Evaluation Revolution”

It’s an impressive display of professionalism. Hopefully, such efforts highlighting this important discussion leads to the creation of a district-wide metric to give teachers the guidance they want and students the learning environment they need.

Learn more about UPforEd at www.upfored.org.

Erica Holloway is the principal of Galvanized Strategies, a public relations firm in San Diego. Contact her at erica (at) galvanizedstrategies.com.

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