05 April 2015

Can I Have Your Number?

When the movement towards data-based decisions started to get traction, I have to admit, I was a little excited by the idea. As a science-minded person, I would much rather use cold hard facts to back up my decisions rather than just my gut. Unfortunately, as we strive for more data we are creating systems that are standardizing education; trying to tie everything to a number and removing the human element. But, is this just creating an environment that creates feelings of resentment between colleagues if they don't perform as well?

In NJ, if you take the average of your evaluations and factor in your SGO data, using a carefully determined formula, and have a value of 2.60 or higher, you are considered an effective teacher. If you manage to score a 3.50 or higher, you are HIGHLY effective. A simple formula that anyone can follow. Great!

Here's the problem with the system. Previously, most teachers I talked to were evaluated on a system of something similar to what you would find in an elementary classroom to measure reading comprehension. You had 3 or 4 categories like Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory, Needs Improvement, Not Observed. Occasionally you found a school that had an Excellent or Above Average category. Most teachers ended the year with all Satisfactory, which, if you think about it, is the highest rating possible. But Satisfactory is like getting a C. Schools set up a system where the BEST you could be is
SATISFACTORY.

Not Good. 

Not Excellent.

Not Above Average.

And the worst part was teachers were fooled into thinking that scoring all Satisfactory meant they were Great.

Now enter a scoring guide that actually separates not only the Highly Effective from the Effective, but also quantifies how effective you are. Earning a 3.4 is very different from a 2.75. Teachers who were used to scoring the highest in every category are suddenly shocked when they are scoring a 3 out of 4. Do you know what a 3/4 is? 75 percent. That's a...C, a perfectly Satisfactory grade. 

Teachers are now getting resentful. 'How could I possibly earn a 3 in that category?!' 'Why did he get a 4 when I only got a 3? I work just as hard as he does!' 'How could he earn Teacher of the Month when I scored higher than he did on my SGO?'

In all of this movement, we have forgotten that in data-based decision making, the data is supposed to be a way to identify our areas of strength and the areas that need improvement. And, from that, we have a place to start creating goals to drive our classroom/professional development/school forward. Why is our first response to fight the evaluation rather than see it as a guide for future decisions? 

We need to stop focusing on the numbers on the page and start working toward improving the education that is happening in our classrooms. If we view evaluations more as a motivation to better ourselves (like when you look down at the scale and say 'I can get rid of those last 10 pounds') and less like they are personal attacks, maybe then we can start having real conversations on changing schools.