Thursday, October 8, 2009

Student performance, teacher evaluation, and adverbs

Newsweek's Gaggle-blog reports that:
Education reformers were pleasantly stunned when the American Federation of Teachers announced today that two of the winners of their new Innovation Fund grants planned to use the money to create teacher evaluation systems that give weight to students' standardized test scores.
The report is heavy on people who suggest that the AFT has steadily opposed using scores in evaluations, and light on descriptions of AFT actions that illustrate that opposition.

The one example offered is that "
AFT president Randi Weingarten, while head of the New York City teachers' union, helped push through state legislation banning use of student test scores in teacher evaluations for tenure." But then the story adds that Weingarten herself says that action was a response to specific problems with a specific approach then being proposed for the city school system. It wasn't a general objection to other ideas in the same ballpark.

Here's the thing. People who work in a field (any field) come to hear nuances and speak with nuances in discussions of the key issues in that arena.

They say things like "we oppose evaluations exclusively on scores," and they mean the "exclusively" part. They're deliberately leaving the door open to a system using that data in combination with other information.

They say "we cannot support relying solely on testing data for tenure decisions" and can easily mean "we can support considering test results for planning professional development."

They aren't wasting words or key strokes when they include terms like "exclusively, "solely," "for tenure" or "for planning professional development." They're adding detail on an issue where details matter. Adverbs can be wasted, but they can also add important meaning.

The AFT grant decisions--like the NEA comments on Race to the Top--suggests a real opportunity for national progress on evaluation systems that value student results. It's good news for improving teaching quality.

Meanwhile, though I admire the Gaggle-phrase "pleasantly stunned," I for one am cheerfully unsurprised by this development.

Update: the AFT press release on the grants is here.

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