Thursday, April 28, 2016

Rated Moderate?

I am rated on multiple factors during the year including the following:
  • Classrooom Observations
  • Narrative and evidence that proves I've done well with student learning, professional learning, curriculum and assessment, teaching all students, family and community engagement, and professional culture.
  • District determined measures that rate my work.
  • Standardized tests. 
This is not only the time of year when we give students lot of standardized tests, it's also the time of year when we are rated as educators.

I work a lot (probably too much). One reason I work a lot is so that I can try out new ideas. If I just worked the regular hours, I couldn't meet all the expectations of the system and develop my craft too. The only way I can grow is to do more, so I do because I believe greatly in developing what we can do in schools in very positive, proactive ways.

So today when I learned that I've been rated "moderate" on one of our District Determined Measures (DDMs), I became deflated. I knew I was going to be rated on this assessment. I also knew that many of the questions on the assessment are not a part of the current Common Core Standards for our grade-level so that for students to do well on this test meant moving from the expected curriculum down a large number of other content paths. I thought of clever ways that I could teach the expected subject matter and weave in the new content too. I worked really hard at this and coached students. Most students scored way above the grade level and all but a couple out of 68 students demonstrated growth, growth that was greater than the national mean. I was delighted with this result and so were parents when they looked over the scores. I felt like I could then go back and work on the expected curriculum with greater depth.

Then I got the rating scale, a scale that is based on how teachers and students do in our system, not a scale based on national means. It turns out that the growth I was so happy with and the work I, and others, put into this was "moderate" - that's all. No thanks for your extra effort or good job in helping every child grow, just "moderate." 

Now this didn't come from the building leader, but from other sources, and like most teachers, I'm not super teacher. I go to work every day and do my best. I engage in substantial professional development, and I continually develop my program with the best interests of students in mind.

However, this "moderate" makes me wonder a lot about how we use rating scales. First, it makes me realize how demeaning these scales can be. Second, it makes me feel "small" as while I know how my students did, I don't know how anyone else did. I have no idea where I fit into the system achievement except for the fact that I'm "moderate." Yet my leaders know well where I fit in, and that feels uncomfortable not knowing, while those that lead me do. And, it makes me realize how my hard working, persevering students feel when they've been rated "moderate" even though they did their best and gave it their all every day. I'm also curious about the validity of my measure. For example one child who showed no growth, got 3 wrong on the first test and 3 wrong on the second test--just three problems wrong and he rated towards the top of the test scale both times. Another child scored 100% and showed good growth, but just think if the test had a further reach with more problems he may have shown even more growth.

Last year, my math colleague and I scored similarly to the way I scored this year. We were delighted in how well the students did, and both somewhat deflated when we learned of our "moderate" rating.

I guess one high point is that since this rating system was put in place our systemwide average for the test has steadily risen. Teachers know they'll be rated and they do what they can to get good scores because they don't want to suffer the consequences of bad scores. Yet, I worry about what this kind of rating does for students, classrooms, and teachers--does it uplift us or hinder the fine, creative work possible.

I believe our focus should be on progression rather than rating performance and judging one teacher against another. As we coach growth mindsets and an attitude towards positive progression in children, it should be the same for teachers. Instead of rating me "moderate" what I would do instead of a rating would be to look closely at the data. To tease out which individuals and groups that I teach are making substantial progress and which groups that I and others lead are making less progress. Rather than "moderate" I'd like to focus in on those groups with our best collective analysis, skill, and ability to help those students achieve more. That would be a meaningful result--a point to develop whereas moderate just puts you in the teacher line, and is it stands now I'm in the middle--I wonder how many people are on either side of the line?