George Lucas Educational Foundation
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At the end of a school year, there are so many measurements which could indicate that a teacher was "effective" -- graduation rates, grades, test scores -- quantifiable and ostensibly objective. Whether a teacher was effective must definitely be measured by how much his/her students' learning increased over a period of time, but it can not be the only measurement.

This year, I have a simple formula to categorize an effective teacher, based on a very raw maternal assessment, but perhaps that's the best kind. I know without a doubt that my son had a very effective first grade teacher at his Oakland public school this year. And I have the evidence. Here it is:

#1. The "data" overflows from two paper shopping bags and demonstrates his learning over the year. An array of writing shows how in the beginning of September, he couldn't really write a sentence, but by February, he was writing paragraphs. His math assessments show increasing mastery of skills and concepts. But most importantly, he can sort through the piles and recognize his own growth and talk about his process of learning. My takeaway: The student of an effective teacher has documentation of learning over a course of time and can explain it.

#2. A secondary pile of data took the form of creative and artistic projects that his teacher integrated into content areas, especially into their study of science. This spring, they did an intensive project on the seashore and used a variety of materials to create all kinds of creatures and representations. They wrote in a half a dozen genres (poetry, short stories, and expository) and conducted experiments. But in the bags there was more evidence of this learning: a cardboard loom with a yarn weaving, a batik, ink prints, handmade paper, watercolor paintings, handmade books, a paper mache globe, and a series of haikus. In summary: An effective teacher integrates the arts into content areas and gives students experiences with a range of media.

#3. All this concrete evidence is good, and then there was this, on the second day of summer vacation: "I'm kind of glad it's vacation and kind of not because I already miss my friends and I'm really going to miss Ms. ____." This statement was not an anomaly to how he spoke about his teacher this year. Consistently, his feelings about her were positive -- and I knew the feeling was mutual. As both a mother and teacher, this is an equally important measurement of effectiveness: An effective teacher likes her students and her students like her.

Big surprise! I knew all of this already! During my 12 years teaching, I worked to develop my capacity at ensuring that my students could cite their growth in learning, I integrated the arts and met different learning styles, and I always liked my kids. Yet this year, I came to value the qualities of an effective teacher in a different way than I have before because this was the first year that my son had a truly fantastic teacher and I felt constantly grateful. It's such a different (and scary) experience being on this side of the education equation -- the side where it's your baby that you're sending off to a stranger everyday.

Valuing Qualitative Data

The question that's burning in my mind at the end of this year is how we, as parents and teachers, can continue insisting that these other qualities be valued as much as testing data. They're hard to measure and tedious to gather the indicators, but we could start with inviting children to share their feelings and reflections more often.

Here's what my son just blurted out when I asked him why Ms. ____ is a good teacher:

"She's a good teacher because she takes us on really fun field trips, she had fun projects that we did, she sang the silly birthday song to me, she taught me a little bit of multiplication, she gave me challenging work, she taught me interesting stuff that I had never known before, she taught me how to read fluently, and she read me great stories."

If in one quick response a seven-year-old can cite engagement, kindness, and community building, rigor and high expectations, skill development and relevancy as indicators of an effective teacher, then imagine what kids might say if we gave more of them a chance to share their assessments of their teachers on a regular basis. That data would speak volumes.

And, I just discovered, such an endeavor is planned in the Memphis, Tennessee schools where student feedback will constitute 5 percent of a teacher's evaluation. If it's done well, I'll be a big fan.

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Shayna's picture
Fourth Grade teacher that teaches at a charter school from Battle Creek, Mi

I enjoyed your article and agree with you. As a teacher that has her pay and raises based mainly on test scores, I wish other things were taken into play. I love the idea of having student feedback be part of teacher's evaluations. What better way to really know how your child's education was, then from your child. Every year I get anxiety at the end of the year as the students are taking their test's. Thoughts such as " Did I teach them anything?", "Did they learn anything?", and "Is there anything they will be able to take away from my classroom that I taught them that will help them be a better person?"enter my mind. Education and teacher salary should not be all about test scores.

Morgan's picture

Thank you for posting this! It was great to read from a parent and teachers perspective how much of an influence we truly have despite test scores. It is those moments when a student can recognize their own growth and be proud of their accomplishments when you feel as though you've made a difference. In my classroom I like to save published writing assignments and put them into a 'memory book' for the end of the school year. Kids are amazed at their growth from the first day of school and have something to take home to keep and look back on. It is so important for others to be able to value the 'effective teacher' for what they have done to support the individual academically, socially, and emotionally...not strictly through test scores. Thank you for sharing!

ARF33's picture

First off, phenomenal article! I think it would be a great idea to include student feedback,in context, as a part of our evaluations because in the end, our goal is to meet their needs and influence their lives. I do not believe this would be able to happen in my professional learning community but I do believe it would be a nice "pick me up" for my colleagues to hang up in their classrooms as reminders that the small things we do for our students and the efforts that are over looked make a huge difference!

Stacey's picture
3rd Grade teacher from Georgia

Reading your blog was very inspiring. I am starting my first year as a 3rd grade teacher. I am a little worried about the focus on the test scores. However, if my students can say those things about me, I feel that I will be a very effective teacher. I also feel that the quality of the teacher should be measured by the growth of the students, not just passing the test.

Jennifer's picture
Kindergarten teacher from Georgia

This is very true. As the saying goes "We should never judge a book by its cover". Therefore, we should never judge a teacher by their test scores".

brittany's picture

I work in a school where the passing percentage for the English II test is only 47 percent passint. There, the teachers work very hard to reach the students; however, the failure rate is exceedingly high. As a new teacher, I will be stepping on the field to join my fellow colleagues in teaching English II. Even with all of the data and evaluations, my school is still a failing school. Your article has inspired me to work even harder to work with my colleagues to help out students reach success and determine their destiny.

High School Math Teacher from Guyana

I firmly believe that true student success and teacher effectiveness does not lie in the results of a test. A student may be failing as it relates to a specific target determined by the teacher, school, or district, however, that same student can actually be experiencing growth even though they are missing that target.

Students with special needs for instance, may never be able to multiply by a three digit numbers, however, achievement for them may be being able to multiply by a two digit number. In addition, if a teacher is given a class with high achievers and she is able to maintain their level of performance, she should be considered less effective than a teacher who worked with low achieving students and demonstrated growth among them.

Teachers should work together to determine strategies to measure student success and teacher effectiveness. Richard DuFour in his article 'Schools as Learning Communities' spoke about schools and teachers that typically suffer from the DRIP syndrome--Data Rich/Information Poor. However, our focus should be on continuous assessment and observation of our students and making decisions based on those observations.

1stteacher11's picture
First Grade Teacher from Michigan

I agree with you when you stated that too often teachers are immersed in piles of data regarding where specifically their students are. While it is important to consider this information, teachers need to realize that it is not the only information that indicates and supports progress of learning. The purpose of data is not to only indicate which students are above, at, or below grade level in specific areas of curriculum, but to also provide information that will help guide teachers in their direction of instruction with each student. It is, as educators, not only our job to teach the objectives, but also to ensure that they are learning it. This is accomplished best through the collaborative and reflective efforts of a grade level professional learning community. Through careful examination of curriculum, instruction, assessment information, teachers are able to strategize in the direction of instruction for all students.

1stteacher11's picture
First Grade Teacher from Michigan

Like you, I also work at a school where my final evaluation and salary are based on whether or not at least 70% of my students meet their growth targets on tests. Every spring, the school is a tense ball of energy as the students are testing. Teachers are very clearly aware of what is riding on their scores. While I realize that the focus on teacher accountability, I do not feel that so much should ride on a single test score. It is merely a snapshot of where a child is at that particular moment in time. As I am sure that you are all too famiiar with, test scores during that "snapshot" can be greatly affected by lack of motivation, lack of sleep or breakfast, or the stress of home. It is unfair to place the this much stress on a teachers. Tests should be a tool that is considered, but the ultimate measuring stick of their learning and my worth as a teacher.

Carlo's picture
4th grade teacher

I can definitely relate to your blog. Teacher efficiency should not be based in test scores. I work in an urban, public school that has a high number of English learners with low socioeconomic background. Some of these students attain low-test scores in language. However, when you analyzed their work, you see improvements in their writing mechanics and speaking. They can formulate comprehensible sentences and able to describe a picture. Through the evidence, you can tell that these students improved in certain skills. The effectiveness of the teacher should focus on the growth of students.

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