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Teacher: Of 8,892 data points, which ones matter in evaluation?

Valerie Strauss Comment: This was written by Charles Duerr, who has taught for nine years at a Title 1 elementary school in Bellevue, Washington. A National Board Certified Teacher, Duerr read the following statement to the Bellevue School Board in response to the district's recent bargaining proposals as well as the national movement to tie teacher evaluation to student standardized test scores.

Reader Comment:
I teach 6th grade social studies at the middle school across the street from Charles Duerr. Despite the heroic efforts of Charles and his peers K through 5th grade, many students arrive in my classroom far behind in reading, writing, and math. It doesn't help that Washington State is 49th in the nation in class size, so my smallest class has 32 students. So much for individualized instruction. Additionally, the Bellevue School District wants to use tests to judge my teaching even though they cannot produce a test that passes simple professional standards of reliability and validity.

When I taught at a high school across town, over 70% of my students passed the AP US History exam despite a 50% national pass rate. I suspect 100% of their parents had college degrees and the average family income was over $200,000 per year. It sure made my life easier that family expectations and resources matched my teaching expectations.

Despite the comfort of teaching at that high income school, I chose to move to one of the district's low income and high ESL middle schools for the professional challenge. Every week I am impressed by the challenges my students overcome to advance their education and how my peers continue to adapt to meet the broad range of needs of our students. However, my low income and high ESL MS school students are destined to always score lower than my high income HS students for the reason Charles outlined so well. Public schools cannot be asked to overcome the timeless realities of family income, even though we do our best to close the gap each day.

I wish to continue helping my students reach their academic potential, but I will have to change buildings if the Bellevue School District insists on tying my evaluation to the economic reality of my students. I cannot risk my career or family well being for an idea that has failed in districts all over the US. If all the district honors is test scores then back I go to the HS, but if they want to support excellent teaching first and foremost, then I will stay in my neighborhood MS school where my students and I make big steps each year.

By Charles Duerr

By year’s end I will have entered 8,892 data points into my district’s data collection systems — Gradebook and Reading 3D. This data is from homework, assessments, and report cards.

Which of these 8,892 data points are the important ones? I mean, which of these data points will count towards my evaluation? And what problem are you trying to address by including student assessments into teacher evaluations?

All of my assessments results are posted online. We have student scores, the District Data Analyzer, and reading progress all available for an evaluator to see. If my scores are consistently lower than my colleagues then that gives an evaluator an indication of where to look and to see that best practices are indeed implemented. This can happen currently.

As teachers we are expected to use research-based best practices. We are held accountable for our ability to implement these practices. It concerns me that policy makers are hoping to adopt a practice with mixed results at best and at worst creates a further narrowing of the curriculum, higher stakes testing, incentives for test manipulation or misrepresentation, and provides no new data to inform my practice than is currently available.

In my classroom I have a pronounced achievement gap. I have five students who are reading far below grade level. All speak a language other than English at home and receive free or reduced lunch. Those traits are not indicators of performance. I have similar students on track to make more than a year's worth of academic growth in 2nd grade.

What is the factor that separates these students?

My five lowest readers do not read or complete homework with any regularity. Facing this I've scheduled interpreted conferences, recruited colleagues to translate letters or have them call home. Often there is no working number and notes home are never returned.

This is hardly surprising. One student lives alone with her father. Her brother is in jail. Her dad washes dishes at a local bar. He works late into the evening but comes home with food. They eat and go to bed. Another student lives with multiple families in a single house. He shares a room with his mother and father. They sleep together in the same bed. Both parents work at the same restaurant along with other families in this house. This student misses his dad and waits up until midnight or later to see him. In the mornings this student often doesn't hear his own name: he is asleep at his desk.

My five best readers have homework averages of 100%. They have not missed a single assignment. I receive calls and emails from parents when their student doesn't understand. Their reading level rises over the summer.

My lowest readers receive support from the ELL & Literacy Facilitators. They receive bi-weekly progress monitoring to track reading fluency and comprehension. I meet with them every day in a targeted literacy group for 30 minutes. One third of my entire literacy block is devoted specifically to these five students and they are still falling further behind their peers.

By all indications I'm an effective teacher. But I am not good enough to overcome the barriers some of my students face. I don't know who is. But I know if next year I have 10 students who face the barriers of my lowest five then you'll see a drop in my students' performance. For this I'll be held accountable. If this is the case what is the incentive to teach at a school which serves our community's neediest families?

— Charles Duerr
Washington Post Answer Sheet





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