Georgia's teacher evaluation plan ignores responsibility, role of learner

A Sunday AJC story documented the mounting frustration of Georgia teachers over an evaluation process that will not only consider student test scores, but count them for 50 percent of a teacher's rating.

The story explained:

Georgia adopted test scores in teacher evaluations three years ago as the federal government was pressuring states to create rating systems that held educators accountable for student performance. In December, though, reacting to widespread complaints from teachers and parents that testing had hijacked education, Congress and President Barack Obama undid the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. The new law doesn't mandate that teachers be measured by test results. It also doesn't forbid it, leaving the decision to state leaders.

Teachers in Georgia have seized on the political moment, hoping to strip down a 2013 state law requiring test results to be at least 50 percent of each evaluation, with consequences as severe as termination for teachers rated "ineffective."

Teachers have begun getting their test-based evaluations. However, personnel decisions based on them have been delayed until the state Professional Standards Commission and Department of Education refine and field-test the system, which could take until 2017. "We are going to have to be satisfied the instruments are valid and reliable and ready to be used before we apply them, " said Kelly Henson, executive secretary of the commission.

With that background, here is a response from Georgia educator Rouzier Dorce. A veteran educator with more than 30 years in the field, Dr. Rouzier serves as an assistant principal with the DeKalb County School District where he has worked since 1990.

By Rouzier Dorce

Imagine doctors being paid based on the progress of their patients. How many would remain in the profession if their patients, who ignore their recommendations and do not follow their advice were to determine how much they are paid or if they even have a job?

What is the student's role in learning? Does the state's teacher evaluation process discount the role of students? (AJC File)

The proponents of teacher accountability through student achievement should consider that argument. Even the best doctors have to rely on their patients following their treatments and recommendations.

When it comes to teaching and learning, we have a myriad of false correlations and most of them stem from misunderstandings of what learning is and the role of educators. For years, we have repeated and even accepted the myth that learning does not happen without teaching. We have heard respected educators pronounce that when teachers teach, students learn making learning almost the sole responsibility of the teacher. I recently came face to face with the result of this fallacy.

Last week, a student shared with me that she was taking French 4 (fourth year of learning the French language) and I said “vraiment?” meaning really? She answered, “I don’t know what you said.”

I added, “That’s sad,” to which she responded “My teacher doesn’t teach.” Many of her classmates concurred and supported her assumption that had her teacher taught her, she would have learned.

There is a “YouTube” video, it would seem, for any subject, no matter how advanced or trivial. Our interest, determination, practice time and effort yield our learning results. Yes, the quality of the video and the teaching tips play a crucial role, but remove the intrinsic factors from the learner, even the best videos cannot produce learning.

To have teachers be solely responsible for students’ learning to the point of making it 50 percent or more of their performance evaluation like Georgia legislators have proposed, baffles me. We already have the many incidents of cheating partly attributable to this theory that teachers control learning.  Do we dare imagine the backlash of an evaluation system with 50 percent of the measured outcome out of the hands of the persons being evaluated?

No one would argue against the need to evaluate teachers’ performance. No one would argue against the fact that teachers can and do impact student learning, academic growth and development. A system that measures that impact using test scores is tenuous at best and impractical at worse. Standardized tests are important in education, but they are not without their flaws. Even if we could find the perfect assessment instrument, it would still be measuring the examinee’s ability to recall information or demonstrate knowledge of learned content. It could not measure half of what would be considered teacher ability.

One of the teachers featured in Sunday’s AJC article “Teachers frustrated over reviews” shared that one of the students who potentially caused her to receive a poor evaluation was planning to drop out of school. This is a challenge many teachers face. They are working hard teaching students whose drive and motivation for learning have systematically been damaged or destroyed by social promotion. Few teachers can compete with the apathy and complacency some students have developed after years of being passed from grade to grade even when they have not learned much of anything. This is the reality for many public school teachers. Most take their students’ failures personally and it is no wonder many simply give up.

Evaluating teachers’ performance will have to be done through a comprehensive process that considers their students’ achievement. It will require many data points. It cannot be that heavily dependent on the success of students who have no skin in the game – students who have grown up on the belief that their promotion and learning are someone else’s responsibility. Students who, perhaps with their parents, own their learning usually succeed academically. Perhaps, some emphasis needs to be placed on learner improvement to ensure that teachers have a fair chance at reaching them.

Doctors must be knowledgeable and possess the ability to help us manage our health, but our overall responsibility cannot be overstated. Teachers have a similar responsibility, but the learner’s role cannot be minimized. Our best teachers are those who endure the general criticism and persevere because of their love for teaching and for their students. They deserve a fair and practical evaluation system.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.