Monday, March 31, 2014

What exactly is a good (or great) teacher? (Part 2: Test scores?)

This is part two of my series examining various criteria people (e.g. the public, teachers, administrators, government officials) seem to mention when answer this question: What is a good teacher?

As I said previously, there's no universal standard by which to define a good, let alone great, teacher. There are no universally agreed upon measures rubrics or checklists. And saying "I know a good teacher when I see one," is woefully inadequate, at least with regards to official designation.

Today's topic is a contentious one: test scores.

Are good teachers those whose students get the highest test scores?

Almost any teacher would say absolutely not!

It seems government leaders think so.

The general public seems to lack consensus, as well they should, being caught between propaganda machines.

Let's ask some questions:
  • How high would those test scores need to be for a teacher to be good? Would the evaluation be based on what the scores were before that teacher began teaching those students? Would it take into consideration yearly variation of students? Would evaluation take into consideration regression to the mean? (I.e. Excellent years are most likely followed by less performance, and terrible years are most likely followed by better performance.)
  • Given that poverty is one of the best predictors of academic success (see references below), would the test score litmus test control for poverty?
  • Should a good teacher be able to teach well regardless of the school and regardless of the students? That is, should a teacher in a poverty-stricken urban school be able to teach equally well in a wealthy suburban school? Should teachers be required to teach in both so as to "prove" they're good teachers?
  • If a teacher is consistently able to get students to attain the highest test scores in a school or state, but that same teacher destroys the students' desire to ever study the subject again in the future, is that a true success? Is that a good teacher?
  • Are the best teachers those who teach students to pass the tests or to understand the content? (I hope there's no debate over that question.) Could both be done?
  • Who should make the tests? Educators? Administrator? Education policy makers? Academic organizations? Universities and colleges? Government leaders? Here's an idea: What about having business and industry create exams to test for life and job preparedness?
  • Who is to say the exams are written well? Should teacher or students be punished for poorly written or designed tests?

I am not a proponent of increased testing. That's an understatement. I don't really like testing at all, as a student or a teacher. Only two tests ever really motivated me. One was the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) Chinese test. But, even that was born out of a love for learning Chinese. The other was an oral exam in a contemporary Chinese society during university. The novelty of an oral exam was simply intriguing.

More often than not, however, I felt as if exams got in the way of actually learning new material and new skills. I just wanted to learn. As a teacher, I just want to teach.

Other posts in the series:
Part 1: Inspiration?
Part 3: Student evaluation?
Part 4: Grades and scores?
Part 5: Closing thoughts

Follow me on Twitter @MatthewTShowman

References (from Krashen)
Ananat, E., Gassman-Pines, A., Francis, D., and Gibson-Davis, C. 2011. Children left behind: The effects of statewide job less on student achievement. NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) Working Paper No. 17104, JEL No. 12,16.

Baker, K. 2007. Are international tests worth anything? Phi Delta Kappan, 89(2), 101-104.

Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential:  Out-of-School Factors and School Success.  Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.

Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership  55(4): 18-22.

Zhao, Y. 2009. Catching Up or Leading the Way? American Education in the Age of Globalization. ASCD: Alexandria, VA.

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