Unexpected Change – Assorted Stuff


“Speaking of teacher evaluation (which I was in yesterday’s post), Jay Mathews has changed his mind about the use of standardized tests in that process.

I used to think student test score gains were a good way to rate teachers. I don’t think that any more. Grading individual teachers with scores is too approximate, too erratic and too destructive of the team spirit that makes great schools. Rating schools, rather than teachers, by test score gains is better, at least until we find a way to measure deeper indicators of learning.

My immediate response was, it’s about time. Teachers do not do great work in isolation. They have always had a support system of some kind and we should be evaluating and rewarding everyone as a team as well as individuals.

Anyway, so what changed the mind of Mathews? Well, he doesn’t make that completely clear in this column but it has something to do with his admiration for the teachers receiving the Agnes Meyer award, given annually by his employer, The Washington Post, to the teacher of the year in each of the DC area districts. Plus other teachers he has written about over the years.

Mathews goes on to note that the assessment system used in DC (and elsewhere) puts too much emphasis on student test schools, rarely mentioning the “creativity and vitality” of the teacher or schools, and making a “big deal” out of adhering to the rules. I actually agree with him that the teachers who do the best work for kids are usually the ones who are not afraid to challenge and break those rules when necessary.

While I’m not sure I subscribe to Mathews’ idea that we should go back to the “old fashioned” system in which teacher evaluation is based solely on principal observations, at least he’s headed in the right direction.

However, if Mathews would only change his mind and abandon the incredibly narrow and “too approximate, too erratic, and too destructive” system of evaluating the quality of high schools known as the “challenge” index (which, of course, is his invention and also ignores “creativity and vitality”), that would be very unexpected, and welcome, change.”