Teacher Evaluations Overhaul

Feb 8, 2018 by

It sounds too good to be true but it’s music to teachers’ ears, despite some dissonant tinnitus.

A new teacher evaluation system is under development in New York State. There’s no disputing its necessity. MaryEllen Elia, the state education commissioner, wants it to be a departure from the current discredited one. To succeed, she believes the system must be hammered out in collaboration with teachers rather than be imposed upon them.

The present evaluation system is dysfunctional and impertinent.  Kids, less prone to dressing up raw emotion with cooked words, would say it’s “messed up.”  It’s a political document stripped of science, common sense and fairness.

Its replacement cannot wait, but will likely be delayed because the commissioner wants to consult not only educators, but an array of others, including policy-makers and elected school board members.

Their contributions may, however, be driven by considerations that are not predicated on knowledge of teaching and learning.

They must not be allowed to skewer the findings that lead to a rehabilitated evaluation system. If they are, then the whole project will be self-defeating, despite being sweetly-conceived with the best of intentions.

Consensus is only desirable when it is achieved among people who know what they’re talking about and are guided by the right values.

It is also preferable that evaluation systems are devised locally rather than handed down in their totality by the state.”One size doesn’t fit all”. New York City is not Pine Bush. Every district differs from every other one in many crucial respects and so do their needs and the suitable determinants of measurement.

Since 2015 there has been a moratorium on linking teacher performance ratings directly to the standardized tests scores of their students. That linkage is one of the most notorious, ill-conceived, senseless and often maliciously-applied ‘initiatives” in the modern history of education. When the moratorium expires next year, will there be a logical and humane system in place to supplant it?

Commissioner Elia seems to be not only amenable, but enthusiastic about breaking the back of the student test score/ teacher rating fiasco. But she will be under a lot of pressure from extreme influences whose professed interests are the upholding of teaching standards but whose actual priorities are highly-charged with venal demagogy.

Teachers have ample reason to be repelled by the evaluation system now largely “on hold”, but that doesn’t mean they’re opposed to being held accountable or fearful of it. But they reject being held answerable for the complete combined effect of factors in their students’ lives over which they have no control. The same teacher, performing identically, can be the best or the worst in the world, depending on the world they’re working in.

By being preoccupied and hamstrung by precise notions and arbitrary means of evaluation, we are retreating from the true battlefields on which the wars for quality standards are fought.

Ron Isaac

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