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So, What Does it Mean?

Earlier this week I shared my teacher data report with several co-workers at an academy meeting (my school is divided into four “mini-schools” or academies) and the readers of GothamSchools. Why did I share this somewhat private information, especially when it was so unflattering? I decided to share my data report because I really believe it is meaningful. I also decided to share my data report because I really believe it is meaningless. Let me explain.

The teacher data report is meaningful because of what it says about my performance as a teacher, and even more so, what it says about the dominant movement in education reform. With regards to my performance my data report shows that my students did not show the expected level of growth in one year. Regardless of my misgivings about the formula behind this calculation or the test itself, I have to concede that every other teacher in the city whose students took the grades 3-8 math and reading tests was evaluated by this same standard and therefore comparing poorly to my peers is cause for reflection.

Furthermore, while I have my qualms with the reading test, I do believe that a good reader can and should pass the test with a 3 or a 4. No matter where my students started the year, it was (and is) my goal to turn all my students into good readers. Therefore it was my goal, no matter how unrealistic, for all my students to pass with 3’s or 4’s. Falling short of this goal means I need to reflect and reevaluate my practices and how to help all my students become good readers.

Finally, as I said, the data report is most telling in what it says about the direction of education reform. Like it or not, test scores are the primary metric of evaluation for students, schools, cities, states and now teachers. Every indication from policy leaders from Obama down to Joel Klein suggests this will not change for the foreseeable future. So my data report is meaningful in its indications for the future of teacher evaluations, tenure and merit pay.

Now, how is my teacher data report meaningless? This an obvious statement for most, but I need to say it anyway. Test scores aren’t everything. They certainly don’t give a complete picture of all the growth my students make in a year. Nor do they show all the work a teacher puts in during the course of a year. Whether or not you believe they can accurately assess a student’s aptitude in reading and math, we can all agree they can’t account for social skills, emotional maturity, self-confidence and countless other areas of childhood development teachers are responsible.

At the end of last year I received my students’ test scores, and I had very mixed feelings. I felt proud of the many students who moved up, and I felt disappointment at the students whose test scores stagnated or dropped. And yet, in the last week of school I sent home a homemade evaluation along with self-addressed envelopes. I asked the parents of my students to assess me in several areas. Did they feel my work was too easy or too hard? Were they happy with the growth their child made in the year? Had I made their child feel safe and welcome? These are a few of the questions I asked, and in less than a week after the school year ended I received almost all of my surveys back. I was gratified to see parents had given me score of 4 and 5 (5 being the highest) on every category.

Now my homemade survey was probably at least as flawed as the teacher data reports, but I think my point is clear. The connections made between a teacher and his or her students, the partnership made between a teacher and parents, the formation of a community cannot be boiled down to a percentile. Teaching is made up of so many tiny moments — sharpening pencils, missing homework, uncontrollable laughter, hurt feelings, publishing parties, field trips — and the vast majority cannot be quantified. So I appreciate what the data report tells me, but I’ll still keep my pride, because I’m well aware of all the things it cannot.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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