May 26, 2013

Will you allow the system to dictate how you teach?

Teachers are scared. In fact, some are terrified. Many are working harder than ever on their exit strategies, planning to flee the profession as quickly as possible. Why is this?

What I hear when I encounter teachers around the country at conferences and workshops, while on Twitter and while reading blogs is that teachers are horrified that they will be forced to become slaves to the new test-based evaluation system that is becoming commonplace in public schools.

If you have read any of my work, you know that I am a results-only teacher, meaning I work in a place where students are guided by inquiry, collaboration and 21st-century web-based instruction. There is messiness to this place that makes learning fun, while abandoning the order that the bureaucrats, testing lobbyists and authors of the Common Core so desire.

How would you fare?

Not long ago, a college professor, who had read my book, asked me how I would fare under the complex scoring model, upon which the new evaluation system is built.

“I probably wouldn’t do well,” I admitted. This isn’t because my students don’t pass high stakes tests; in fact, they pass at considerably higher rates than their peers in traditional classrooms. “There is a two-fold problem with scoring well on this evaluation, while working in a student-centered classroom,” I explained.

First, teachers are now being judged on the Value Added scale, a convoluted statistic that attempts to measure growth over the course of a single school year. Value Added, though, has more holes than all California golf courses combined, not the least of which being the fact that its creators refuse to share its formula with teachers.

The other problem with the new evaluation system is that it attempts to turn teachers into automatons. Those who score only at the average level must have their students recite standards like some bizarre choir. To be just average a teacher must run standards-based, rote-memory lesson plans, while students play puppet to the teacher’s puppeteer. There’s not much independent learning possible with teachers who run their classes strictly by the new evaluation playbook.

The system won't work in a ROLE

There is no room for this kind of teaching in a results-only classroom, where learning outcomes aren’t delivered like the daily mail. Students have to think, collaborate and choose from a wide array of tools provided by the teacher, who takes on more of a coaching role. Some movements and activities may appear chaotic to an evaluator, using a canned rubric to judge learning. Thus, the teacher in this class will likely suffer on the evaluation.

Will all students in this environment reach their Value Added number (sounds a lot like a prison uniform to me)? Perhaps not, but they will all become independent learners, while their teacher may be tagged as incompetent.

“So, what would you do, if you had to face this evaluation system?” the college professor asked. 

After a moment of contemplation, I responded. “I might score poorly,” I said, “but I would never change how I teach, because my students would suffer, and teachers have a responsibility to the kids, not to the system.”

Now, you’re faced with the same question. When the new evaluation system hits your school, what will you do?

Will you play the game, or will you help your students? Sadly, you probably can’t do both.

Don't miss Mark's book ROLE Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom, now available in the ASCD store, Barnes & Noble and at

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