Monthly Archives: July 2012

Student Performance Determines Teacher Success – Fair or Not?

The primary difficulty I have with student performance determining teacher performance is that natural ability seems to play a role in this phenomenon. My experience as a teacher for sixteen years has shown me a few things.

  • I taught 8th graders in an affluent district with kids who had always been successful on our state tests. Parents ran the school with an administration that let kids get away with almost anything for fear of parent interference, the principal was fired (actually promoted to the district offices), and the students did not seem to learn as well as I would have liked. I worked hard that year trying to get 8th grade math into their brains, but did not feel as successful as I had in the past or in the future with that endeavor. In the end, almost all of my students passed the state test that year.
  • I taught Pre-AP Algebra 2 students for four years. I had virtually 100% pass the state tests year after year.
  • I have taught in a dropout recovery program for the last six years. The state test has become easier, and I have become better at working with the students over the years. While there are years when there are great successes and times when things do not go as well, we are still able to get about 80% of the students to eventually pass the state tests. These are mostly kids who would have skipped the state tests at their home campus or failed, some with a record of failing the state math test every single year since they started taking the tests (usually third grade). My feeling is that every kid that passes should be a celebration, but if I happen to run into a semester with a 50% failing rate (which will eventually become 80% or so), that could be devastating to my performance review.

The second issue I have stems from the preceding information. Why would I want to work with the most challenging students to find some success when I could simply work with the best kids in the best districts and cruise through state testing results regardless of how much education was going on? Teachers will fight for the best kids in the best districts. Teachers will fight to get rid of kids on their rosters who have shown a lack of success over the years. Teachers will lie, cheat, and steal to give the appearance of student learning through a state test, especially in lower grades where science and social studies are not tested, for example. How does the fifth grade teacher who is responsible for kids passing a science test for the first time deal with the fact that the third and fourth grade teachers did not teach science to focus on math, which was being tested? Why would I share my teaching strategies that have shown success with my peers (competitors) because my successes will improve my chances of getting the better classes and not helping the other teachers will help weed them out? Why would I help a new teacher who is essentially trying to get my job when I have a track record of success with the GT kids?

Ultimately the only fair way to assess teachers’ effectiveness through student learning is to be able to determine exactly what each student has learned in the past, determine exactly what knowledge and skills have been added purely from that teacher’s efforts, and compare each students potential to the realization of that potential each year. I am pretty sure none of that is possible, let alone through a mostly multiple choice state test given on one day of the year.

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Is technology the answer to educational woes?

Who does not love a new piece of technology in their hands? This is true especially when that technology is specifically designed to improve that persons life by simplifying a dreaded task: calculators, word processors, apps, GPS, etc. The question becomes for education, does or will technology improve education and most importantly the learning of students?

I recently read Larry Cuban’s post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/the-technology-mistake-confusing-access-to-information-with-becoming-educated/2012/06/17/gJQAt8PFkV_blog.html

This really got me thinking about technology as a teacher in a 1-1 school, where all students have a laptop computer in their hands every day in every class. As a math teacher, also, I have experienced the calculator revolution: https://rootingformatheducation.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/do-calculators-make-us-smart-or-dumb/

Technology absolutely has the potential to improve learning. However, as Cuban pointed out, technology is often poorly implemented in classrooms. My experience has shown that teachers are less willing to integrate technology into new modes of learning than as tools to do the same “learning” a different way. Schools and districts prefer to use technology as ways around learning in the classroom, with less effective strategies as credit recovery or original coursework learned through self-taught information and video explorations similar to online classes in colleges. These opportunities often are misused, provide too-easy possibilities for cheating, or do not match the learning styles of the students.

My primary question about technology concerns purpose: Are we pushing technology into the classroom because of its effectiveness in improving learning or is it being pushed as a money making opportunity? Next, I wonder why educational technology infusion has not become more standardized nationwide. Are teachers the specific roadblock? Is there so little educational technology support and software that everyone is just standing around waiting for the next big thing? Do students dislike technology as a tool for learning? Should education recruit the Halo team to create a Algebra 2 based video game, for example, featuring conic sections and three-variable systems of equations?

Ultimately, why has technology not been fully integrated into learning like cell phones in society or television into households? What are the specific challenges to merging the worlds of education and technology?