Teacher to Teacher—Listening to Teachers about a New ESEA

The Teaching Ambassador Fellows from the Department of Education plan to have conversations with you: Teachers. Teachers listening to other teachers about your ideas on a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Many of us know federal education law as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), not as ESEA. NCLB was the name given to ESEA’s 2002 iteration, but ESEA is a law that’s been on the books since 1965. Having conversations with you now is more important than ever, since ESEA is up for reauthorization.

The Teaching Ambassador Fellows are classroom teachers who were chosen from across the country in a competitive process to work with the Department for a year. Our job is to learn more about and contribute our thoughts on policy at the Department and, in turn, reach out to teachers about the direction of education policy. We want to be your eyes and ears.

There are plenty of hot topics to address: testing, accountability, empowering local educators, and teacher evaluation, to name a few. We hope to get to as many of them as possible in live conversations. We also want to use this space to keep the dialogue going. We’ll be reading your posts and updating this blog with notes from our conversations in the field. And we’ll be communicating your views to leadership here at the Department.

So let’s get started. Here’s our first question.

Many teachers say they support ESEA’s accountability measures, but that they need to be fair, based on students’ academic growth, and can’t be arbitrary or based on a single test score. What are your thoughts on how we do this best? What would it look like in your classroom? What would tests have to look like for you to think they were fair?

Stay tuned for announcements about conversations in your area. The Teacher Ambassadors hail from most regions in the country, so we hope to hear from many of you. Read more on us and where we’re from.

Teaching Ambassador Fellows


  1. “that the reason Johnny can’t read and has difficulty learning basic math is because the reading math programs or methods are changed too frequently by many school systems.”

    I can’t agree with you. The problem is not to find in any change. It is just human to have a special way of learning, the system of having 30 students in a room pushes a teacher to prefer the way of learning of the majority, if a child is in the minority needing different ways of learning, he will have difficulties.

  2. Maybe they didn’t teach you well enough in your AP class. Don’t condemn your peers for not being motivated to learn. Instead, try to look at the bigger picture and understand why they don’t want to learn. Teachers are in many classrooms, not just high school ones. At each step, there’s something that can mess it up for a student. Often, that something is a dismissive teacher. Having the tenacity to continue, despite receiving discouraging guidance, is a hard thing to do.

  3. Within this new system of the evaluation of performance, I believe that both teachers and students need to be evaluated on academic growth and development. If teachers and students alike are evaluated, the system is kept fresh: the teachers that are deeply motivated on their career path will be happy to be evaluated inline with their students performance.

  4. The first step to a better education system is to jettison the Teacher’s Union. They don’t care about eduction… they care about keeping themselves in power. Let’s face it. If a teacher is incompetent, they should be fired – not protected.

  5. Yes, I think a problem lies in the way we have always taught students. Traditionally, I.Q has been the ‘intelligence’ we focus on. I.Q has always been apparent and clear to us, academia has been optimised for I.Q! But there must be a balance with everything…

    Emotional Intelligence is an age old idea but has only recently been coined with a name during the latter half of last century. Some examples of emotional intelligence are:

    Impulse control

    TThere are many more aspects of emotional intelligence but isnt it clear how important these are. You may have incredibly intelligent students, but if they are not motivated, not good at communicating and not perservering they will fail. Who gets egg on their face? The teacher!

    We all know that SATS have a predilection for I.Q, and I’m sure there will be revisions in the future but currently, the only way we can have the greatest influence over our students is to assist them as time goes on. i.e Course work and NOT tests.

    You may be the best teacher in the world but on the day of the test, if your student isnt emotionally fit for it, he/she won’t perform to the best of their ability. This system is just so archaic in my opinion. Perhaps science will hold the answer for us…

  6. One thing that plagues modern education is over-testing and the stress produced in students and teachers. Why must education be measured by testing and not by using other means as well? Why is the success of a student always measured and reported by the performance under test conditions..there surely should be more focus on progress and interaction, query and interest by the student. An overtested student is not necessarily a productive or constructive one. And what of creativity in our educational system? thanks for giving us a means of discussion into improvements…

  7. Yes, I am glad we have this opportunity to put our two cents worth. I have a class of students from Mexico and other Central America areas, whose English level is 1 and 2. I am suppossed to teach them, Imaginate, a soffisticated L.A. program who is difficulty to our E.O.’s.

  8. As a secondary teacher, I am extremely tired of my job security being based on the number of students that pass the Alabama High School Graduation Exam- yet another high stakes test- before the students can receive a high school diploma. High stakes tests have rendered teachers from truly preparing students for life or for higher eduction due to the pressure to have students pass standardized tests. Thus, teachers concentrate on preparing the students for the purpose of scoring well on the test. Little time is allowed for teaching problem solving skills.

    Teachers who graduate from any qualified college or university should be highly qualified. My questions are: Is every cabinet member or congressperson highly qualified for their position? Why is education the only profession in which its members must be highly qualified in order to be hired? A highly qualified teacher is not synonymous with an effective teacher. Highly qualified status often varies from state to state; therefore, interpretation is 9/10 the law.

    Teachers should be allowed to teach. An effective teacher ensures that all students make academic progress…but remember that all students will progress at the same rate or to the same degress. The key is academic progress.

  9. A better model would require that the determining body/agency provide, at minimum, quarterly pre-tests for material to be required to guide teachers and therefore students, to success. The current model allows too much possibility for failure, not to mention corruption of data, in every sense of the word.

    Regarding the effects of the current test design:
    The long-term effects of developing a generation that can follow directions and complete tests that, for the most part, test memorization and functional capabilities, remain to be seen. Creativity has yet to be rewarded with the current NCLB model. Discussions on that would be most fruitful, it would seem to me.

  10. Teachers should be rewarded by the hours they spend at work preparing engaging lessons. Teachers should also be rewarded for having a classroom of students who show growth in learning. If a teacher is only rewarded for students who are on grade level, special education teachers would be at a disadvantage because their students have difficulties to overcome that other students do not have. Any system for rewarding teachers needs to be fair to all teachers, or else there simply wouldn’t be a point to doing that.

  11. There are some many variables that impede educators it is difficult to know where to begin. The simple solution would be to state our frustration with “what is,” rather than “what it could be.” Other countries prepare the most capable students for college. Other students are channeled into other tracks of their interest. Why not eliminate those students that are not interested in school and finding a vocation or other professions that will offer them success. Also, Title I funds schools until they succeed. Once that is accomplished, the funds dry up. Good schools should be given additional funding to continue to succeed and produce exceptional students. Lack of performance on a test reflects the lack of importance parents, appointed official and other stake holders place on the student as the important focus of the educational system. Teacher carry the major responsibility for educating students and are blamed, ridiculed, punished, threatened and disrespected by critics. Give them the tools and imput to contruct better intruments to measure achievement and success.

  12. I applaud the move toward standardized curriculum across the country. Having common expectations for grade level success enables future employers to gauge educational proficiency in our mobile society. However, the means to that goal may be varied, depending upon the learning styles, cultural norms, etc.

    I also don’t mind standardized testing as one means of assessing student progress. We need other indicators of progress as well, however. These might include anecdotal evidence, portfolios, practical application through internships in the high school, or some other proof that students have mastered what we teach them. Unfortunately, at my school, the standardized testing translates into two weeks of time lost from instruction. This time lost is in addition to the three times a year we administer a state test in reading. That’s quite a bit of testing! Students sometimes become complacent about the importance of the test results when so many tests are administered. Under such conditions, are test results truly reliable?

    As a veteran teacher, I have found that no matter how much money we throw at education, the single most important determiner of student success remains unchanged. We may add ancillary/support personnel, new books, or more administration, but teacher-student ratios rarely change. We should understand that students need attention and recognition; that cannot be adequately addressed when one teacher meets 35 students in a 45-minute period. Let’s lower the PTR and make a true commitment to our children. Such a move would also make authentic assessments more feasible.

  13. I am with Amy too (feb 26th), and Steven March 3rd. One single test is not ever going to be accurate. I am the mother of an online student who has cognitive above grade level capabilities in history, science and math, but below grade level when reading and writing. He NEVER does well on assessments, unless they are modified to be verbally completed. Does this mean he should never be really assessed for what he knows, and not what he can write down that he knows? I was excited about the all around education-but bummed at the prospect of more standardized tests that will ultimately show nothing.

    Please…accurate evaluations!!!

  14. As I read the postings, I can hear the frustration from the educators. However, I have come to the realization that testing is a necessary evil because without it many disadvantaged students would not be taught many of the basic skills necessary. What I have found in my experience is that the students I serve start off behind from kindergarten. Nonetheless when I receive them from behind, I am expected to get them to pass a fourth grade reading, writing, and math assessment. I recently had a heated discussion with my administrator wherein I learned that the expectations for me as a testing teacher was different from the primary teachers. In fact, there were “NO” expectations for the primary educators! I believe that in order to increase our educational standards the primary educational system must be fixed. School does not begin in high school, middle/Junior high, nor does it begin in third grade where many states begin testing. I read in the Race to the TOP that an excellent teacher isn’t one who can get a student to increase by one grade level but by two or more. That angered me because it is apparent that it is known that primary education is lack luster and the upper elementary and above are expected to close the achievement gap which is quite unfair. I wish as some of you have suggested that teacher observation and assessment alone could be trusted, but I know for a fact it cannot. The administrator at my school has just implemented that our primary teachers cannot assess their students any longer because the testing results do not indicate the students abilities, but it does show a lack of instruction, creative instruction, or a know attempts at providing intervention for struggling students. The notion brought out earlier about determining a students growth from where the student was when entering a new school, I believe should not only be done when entering a new school but when entering and leaving each grade level. Because research does show that students that live in poverty tend to lose some ground during summer break. The use of a portfolio could help in this early assessment as well as a normed tested computer assessment. At this time, I personally use data from the computer program istation bought by the district, accelerated readers star reading and math, as well as the state mandated tests to determine student growth. Behavior was another issue addressed in this forum, and I would hope that if the issue of primary education was addressed that many behavior issues would be eliminated not all because there are students who just don’t care and the parents are clueless as how to assist us. I also agree that if teachers are to be held accountable parents and students must play a part in the accountability process. I also agree with the notion that the gifted and AP students should have assessments that meet their needs above the minimum standard. I think the idea that we are such a great country impedes us from taking on models from countries that are out performing us. Most countries have a national educational standard something we must seriously look at changing here in the U.S. Also, there needs to be to avenues in which a student should be able to take after junior high. Either a high school preparing the student for higher education through a college/university or the arts or technical route for those who are more gifted in those areas.

  15. One subgroup that is glaringly missing is the academically gifted student. We, as an education community, are concentrating so much on the academically deficient (for whatever reason be it LD or socially founded) that the other end of the spectrum is being pushed aside. It is false that these students will “get it” naturally or that they don’t need additional help. Yes, they don’t need additional help to reach the minimum and that is exactly what is happening. These students are not achieving at the same rate as the “underachievers.” They need as much support as any other student because they should be growing at more than one year’s worth in their gifted area and yet if all we do is test them at the minimum passing or even at minimum growth they will learn to shoot for the minimum or become frustrated and totally drop out because their needs are not being met. Any growth model should take these students into consideration and apply the same rigorous standards to them, based on the research that indicates the growth expected of the gifted.

    However, the school systems also have to have the supports in place so that the students who are ready for high school level courses in middle school, or are ready to move into middle school subjects in elementary school can do so, and be tested at their academic level, not their “registered grade” in order that the school show a higher score. That is what is happening in my district. I am teaching a group of 5th graders a combination 6th-7th grade math, and yet they must take the 5th grade state math test and those scores will be averaged in with the other fifth graders, creating a false increase in the school’s fifth grade math scores. Not only that, but next year because of cuts, these students will be placed with seventh grade math, not bad but they will have already mastered much of that content, so they will again be bored in their math class.

  16. The fact of the matter is using a single test score is the easy way out. It is the easiest measure to access by the data hounds when they need to report results.

    However, ease of access does not make it a valid or complete measure of achievement, it just makes it easy to quantify.

    The best suggestion I have heard so far comes from AMY’s posting dated Feb. 26th, 2010 where she suggests a number of “authentic assessments” that can be applied to both Gen.Ed and Sp.Ed students.

    I agree and could not have said it better.
    Are you listening Mr. Duncan?

  17. The fact of the matter is using a single test score is the easy way out. It is the easiest measure to access by the data hounds when they need to report results.

    However, ease of access does not make it a valid or complete measure of achievement, it just makes it easy to quantify.

    The best suggestion I have heard so far comes from AMY’s posting dated Feb. 26th, 2010 where she states:

    “As NCLB and the federal government’s role in creating successful systems of public education is reevaluated, I urge our politicians to support authentic assessments. These would include:

    * models based on observation,
    * portfolios,
    * parent/ teacher collaborations,
    * accomplishing the goals of individual education plans,
    * high school graduation rates that follow individual students from elementary school through high school,
    * the percentage of students pursuing further studies after high school.

    They would address the breadth and depth of the education given to students, the adequacy of the facilities, the support for teachers, and the continuity and scope of services offered to students and their families who enter school at a disadvantage.”

    I agree and could not have said it better.
    Are you listening Mr. Duncan?

  18. Regarding NCLB standards:
    One flaw in the current NCLB model is that standards are given, yet are vague enough to allow for teachers to spend a good deal of time exploring interesting tangents that are, it will turn out, outside the parameters of the standard. All that teachers have as far as official, universal support to help plan for the upcoming test are tests from previous years that may, or may not, influence the following year’s test.

    A better model would require that the determining body/agency provide, at minimum, quarterly pre-tests for material to be required to guide teachers and therefore students, to success. The current model allows too much possibility for failure, not to mention corruption of data, in every sense of the word.

    Regarding the effects of the current test design:
    The long-term effects of developing a generation that can follow directions and complete tests that, for the most part, test memorization and functional capabilities, remain to be seen. Creativity has yet to be rewarded with the current NCLB model. Discussions on that would be most fruitful, it would seem to me.

    Regarding the need for a qualitative component in evaluation:
    More breadth of knowledge can be achieved by allowing teachers time to explore whatever facet of a particular standard s/he chooses, to whatever end s/he determines, delivering a qualitatively appreciated final product. This product would complement the more quantitative standardized testing in some sort of aggregate evaluation of student/teacher/school/district/policy/etc.

    Regarding teacher compensation based on student performance:
    An element the current model and current, official discussions have yet to include is that of the behavioral deficiencies in various subsets of students. Some students are fundamentally more difficult to educate than others. Any teacher in any challenging neighborhood will tell you this. Therefore some consideration has to be given to this factor. A numerical consideration might be assigned to students with recidivistic behavior of varying degrees, for instance. No doubt other variations would have to be included. As much as it feels distasteful to quantify behavior, some sort of measure needs to factor into the evaluation of the yeoman’s work the teachers of these students do every day. One can teach receptive students almost anything. Those that resist vigorously pose a block well beyond the measure of the current standardized tests, on any level.

  19. I teach 2/3 to students whose English level is 1 and 2. I can’t imagine competing against teachers who teach to children who speak English well, and come from a household of 2 educated parents vs a parent trying to hold 2 jobs, because the other parent is in prison.
    NCLB is like one size fits all. Wake up and get real.

  20. Some very passionate and intriguing points have been raised so far. I have a few thoughts to offer.

    First, I would like to approach the issue of teacher evaluation being tied to student assessments from another angle. While I understand the apprehension many of us feel towards being unfairly judged by a our students’ performance on a certain standardized test on any given day, I wonder who IS currently being judged fairly? I am from a family of teachers, and in all of their experiences, as well as my own, I have never seen or heard of an evaluation system which accurately measures the effectiveness of classroom teachers. Administrators, “master teachers” and whoever else might be sent, almost without fail, come in with a ridiculous checklist that attempts to objectively judge the quality of a teacher in the course of 30 minutes or an hour…In my own school, I almost invairably see the teachers I know of to be the best in the school – the same teachers who are the most popular among the students because their classrooms are wonderful places to learn – to still receive low evaluations because they didn’t have enough “flare” on their bullitin boards or standards on their walls. In my own school, I have started two successful after school programs, my students score high on tests and enjoy my class, and my A.P. students last year were the first in the school’s HISTORY to receive a higher score than a “1” on the U.S. History exam (I teach in a pretty rough area). And my evaluation score was “needs improvement” in that same year because, in the words of my administrator, I joked around too much during faculty meetings and because I didn’t turn in my attendance early enough each day. When she told me the result of my score, even she was surprised, after simply filling-out a series of 2’s, 3’s and 4’s on a chart.

    So, point being, I see OPPORTUNITY in this issue. I see an opportunity to be judged actually by what my students learn and not by the personal reaction of an administrator and by their checklist. As a teacher that truly believes I am doing a fine job at teaching my students the material that is expected of me, I welcome the opportunity to prove how silly current process is.

    Now, of course there is a very large possibility that moving towards this system will result in equally unfair treatment of teachers. So, a few things should be included:

    1. Tests should measure growth over the year.

    2. Students’ economic background, prior grades, and the school’s overall performance should be inherent factors in evaluating how far and much a teacher should be expected to teach their students, and then teachers should be evaluated based on those expectations.

    3. Accommodations MUST be made for students with special needs during the CREATION of the tests, IN ADDITION to accommodations at the ground level. Tests should be made in collaboration with experts in special education to ensure that they will in the very least be somewhat modified to meet the needs of special education students.

    4. Teachers should be judged only in part by the tests. Other factors, such as contributions to the school, observations, peer reviews, etc. should create a significant amount of the overall evaluation.

    Regardless of the inns and outs of how this could be done effectively (there are people, including many of you, who know far more about how it might be done effectively), the question begins with whether or not the idea is inherently unfair…while I see many of you starting with the premise that it is not, I encourage my fellow teachers to see this as an opportunity to finally be freed from the current awful evaluation process that they probably face in their own schools, and then perhaps with your help we can make sure that it works correctly.

  21. I teach special needs students. They all have disabilities ranging from mild/moderate to severe/profound. I think tests should show student growth. The students should be able to use the modifications they use during classroom assignments on tests. These are listed on the students’ IEPs. The students should have the option of demonstrating learning through projects that require specific skills, but also foster student creativity. These projects could be art projects or projects using technology, such as creating a story using Voicethread or creating a power point presentation or creating a video.
    Also, all student scores should count toward the API score. Currently, only a certain percentage of students who pass modified tests can be counted as passing these tests. Any students above this percentage have to be counted as not passing the test, even if the students actually did pass the test. My school district had most of the special education students pass the modified test. However, many of these students had to be reported as not passing because there were more special education students than the percentage allowed. A school district should not be penalized because they have more than 3% of their students who need to take modified tests.

    Teachers should be rewarded by the hours they spend at work preparing engaging lessons. Teachers should also be rewarded for having a classroom of students who show growth in learning. If a teacher is only rewarded for students who are on grade level, special education teachers would be at a disadvantage because their students have difficulties to overcome that other students do not have. Any system for rewarding teachers needs to be fair to all teachers.

  22. I continue to fear that labeling schools as failures and tying teacher salaries to student performance will ruin the education system in low-economic/ high transiency/ lower performing schools. Good teachers work in these schools, but if teachers will essentially be punished for working there, they will soon leave. Where will the schools find teachers then? Eventually struggling schools will not have any qualified teachers, when they need the best the system has to offer. Teachers need support and resources… not blame and criticism.

    In my kindergarten class we keep running records of student skills. They are assessed on a regular basis on introduced skills, and then skills are targeted to work on from there. These lists clearly show academic growth. I know that this is not a solution for all grades, but it is appropriate for K. Unfortunately everyone is looking for a cookie cutter method, and that is not possible in the education world.

  23. I am a recently retired teacher, who had watched with dismay the dismantling of teaching in favor of scripts and pacing in order to be sure the test score goals are reached. Take a look at Linda Perlstein’s excellent book TESTED.

    After much study, over 90% of parents in the public school program where I still substitute teach, and a sizable number of parents in other programs in our district have chosen to opt their students out of the high stakes tests that California administers. As a result our district is labeled as needing “program improvement.” But one visit to our classrooms and it will be clear that we are the exact opposite of a failing school. Almost every student from our school graduates from high school, they are highly represented among honors students, and the vast majority attends college.

    NCLB punishes us for having creative teachers, a strong educational philosophy, and extremely involved parents. Why should that disqualify the proportion of our students whose families are economically disadvantaged and qualify for the help offered by Title one funds? Why aren’t the measurement models that would affirm our success getting the acknowledgment they deserve, so states could incorporate them into their accepted assessments?

    Our district:

    * Encouragement based
    * Honors individual needs and strengths
    * All children have value
    * Values parents’ insight and input
    * Uses a variety of measurement tools
    * Teachers create a rich and varied curriculum
    * Promotes community involvement
    * Performance based teaching: child learns at his/ her natural pace
    * Developmental stages of a child are honored
    * Supports teaching by concept, and experiential learning

    The current version of ESEA:

    * Punishment based
    * Honors test scores
    * Labels children: far below basic to advanced
    * Discounts/disallows parent input
    * Has a single measure: standardized tests
    * Testing inescapably drives curriculum
    * Takes away local control
    * Mandates that all students learn in a defined sequence and rate
    * Children who are developmentally young are treated as failing
    * Does not encourage or assess higher level thinking skills

    As NCLB and the federal government’s role in creating successful systems of public education is reevaluated, I urge our politicians to support authentic assessments. These would include:

    * models based on observation,
    * portfolios,
    * parent/ teacher collaborations,
    * accomplishing the goals of individual education plans,
    * high school graduation rates that follow individual students from elementary school through high school,
    * the percentage of students pursuing further studies after high school.

    They would address the breadth and depth of the education given to students, the adequacy of the facilities, the support for teachers, and the continuity and scope of services offered to students and their families who enter school at a disadvantage.

  24. No Child Left Behind focused on using high stakes testing to hold schools accountable. As a result, dropout rates have increased, the achievement gap has stopped closing, and up to half of our U.S. schools or more have narrowed their curriculum. On top of that, many of the poorer students stuck in scripted-curriculum schools do not have physical education in the name of test preparation. The honorable Michelle Obama has made the call, as have others, for children to have at least 60 minutes of physical exercise each day, much of it being in school. How will this happen with testing abuse being so rampant? The idea that “turn around schools” can save education is also rubbish. The schools that were supposed to be the model for the current Race to the Top proposal were shown to be a failure in Chicago. The Consortium on Chicago School research just reported that there was no significant impact on students who were transferred to these institutions. NCLB is a civil rights disaster, as evidenced by UCLA’s latest report. Thus, we must look to reform our assessment program.

    We must begin to look at what successful countries like Finland and Japan are doing. Assessments are localized and are focused on QUALITATIVE results to determine student mastery. Also, teacher collaboration is the hub of what makes their schools successful. It is in these teacher learning foci that their curriculum is developed, experimented with, analyzed and improved. Their teachers are the experts and are respected enough to drive success.

    We must also start looking at other ways of judging overall school success. The WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) program is very intense and forces schools to show all aspects of themselves. Through interviews and on site visits, schools are driven to design goals and missions for themselves and then showcase that they have achieved them. This creates innovation, transparency, and a variance in school type that can be appealing for many parents. Students are then looked at as wholesome human beings with something to offer than just a test score. Those things can be shown in these aspects:

    Identity – Develop unique talents, gifts, interests, and abilities. Give my child a sense of self-worth, a person with confidence to be a special contributor to society.
    Inquiry – Cultivate curiosity and the ability to ask important questions.
    Interaction – Promote courtesy, caring, communication and cooperation.
    Initiative – Foster self-directed learning, autonomy, self-confidence and will power.
    Imagination – Nurture creativity in all of its many forms.
    Intuition – Develop emotional intelligence, the sixth sense — the ability to recognize truth with the heart as well as intellectually. Develop humility.
    Integrity – Develop honesty, character, morality and responsibility for self.

  25. We seem to agree that we need to include student progress instead of just absolute student performance to judge schools fairly.

    But if you use the students’ previous year’s score as a baseline this sets each teacher in competition with the teacher in the previous grade.

    If you use the school’s performance in the previous year as a baseline (such as with “safe harbor”) you risk rewarding a school who does horribly one year just because they did a little less horrible the next year.

    So, for each non-elementary school you should use the student’s proficiency on entry to that school as a baseline. Each student should contribute the difference between their proficiency percentile now minus their proficiency percentile when they entered the school. The contributions should be weighted by the number of years the student has attended the school.

    So let’s say a student takes a 10th grade English assessment and scores in the 65th percentile. The student’s most recent assessment at a different school was his 8th grade English assessment where he scored in the 50th percentile. This means the student should contribute +15 to the performance index with a weight of 2.0 (the number of years that passed between the assessments).

    This rewards good instruction and avoids backwards incentives.

  26. This is a wonderful discussion and I hope that it doesn’t just stay at the discussion level. I teach early childhood special education and I am so proud of the progress my students have made this year. Some examples include the little boy who could not focus on anything for more that a few seconds in August but can now sit with his class through a full story book, and the little boy who couldn’t talk at all in August and just this morning requested crayons by color. There are not many who can appreciate how hard these children work.
    I think that measuring student achievment with IEP goals and portfolios is a wonderful idea. Also, perhaps a school official could observe students at the beginng and ending of each school year. I think that the key is to look at each child individually.

  27. Dear Secretary Duncan:

    It would be great if every political candidate for state or federal office were forced to teach for a week. Instead of having a politician stop in and visit a third grade class for twenty minutes, we could make his or her nomination contingent upon teaching in a classroom for a week with no aides. Let’s see what that politician does when a student won’t follow a reasonable request to do a class assignment or homework, when a student throws something at him or her, and when a student curses that politician in front of the classroom. How will that politician feel when a parent calls cussing him or her out? How will that politician feel when he or she needs to go to the bathroom and can’t because he or she is in the classroom and taking care of personal needs is not allowed. If she has her period…too bad!

    Teachers cannot force students and parents to do their part in the education system. We blame teachers for everything, making it a co-dependent profession nobody will want to enter after a while. This action of firing the teachers in the Central Falls District will probably be good for the district budget because it will allow the district to hire cheaper teachers, but I have to wonder what the test scores will be after using new, inexperienced teachers. How will these new hires feel after a year. Will they feel they are any better than the teachers who were fired? I want to see the scores after a year.

    There is one thing I wanted to ask. In the case of a student telling Supt. Gallo that his teacher told him to get a G.E.D., did she speak with the teacher or just take the word of the student?


  28. No one is serious about teacher pay and student achievement. All of the discussions are for show. I see states offering a $5,000 bonus for outstanding teaching. What a joke. Teachers should put their careers on the line with student achievement goals for an additional $50 a week takehome pay? Nevermind.

    At every school, the best teacher should make as much as the highest paid administrator at the school. That is the scale of pay for achievement that is serious. The best teacher in the district should be the highest paid employee in the district. If this were to ever happen then, we would see some serious looks at successful classrooms.

    Right now, the entire discussion is about posturing.

  29. Dear Teaching Ambassador Fellows,
    Thank you for opening up a dialogue with teachers. At the Teachers’ Letters to Obama Facebook page more than 900 teachers are actively discussing thee issues.

    You asked what it would take for tests to be fair, and how that would look in our classrooms.

    First of all, we need to be clear about what is unfair in current law.

    It is unfair to expect students who live in poverty and violence to have the same outcomes as students who live in privilege and wealth. Poverty and violence have repeatedly been shown to have major effects on student performance. I am NOT saying that teachers and schools do not make a difference, but hunger and the trauma of violence also make a difference, and it is unfair to punish schools and teachers in impoverished areas when their scores are not as high as those in wealthy areas. This unfairness is compounded by the inequity of resources — where schools in wealthy areas get more funding that those in poor areas. Teachers in Oakland, where I have worked for 23 years, are the lowest paid in the region — and now our district must cut $40 million from next year’s budget.

    It is unfair that the law requires all subgroups to rise simultaneously. I understand the intention was to ensure that attention would be paid to all groups of students, but this puts diverse schools with multiple subgroups at a HUGE disadvantage. I taught at a school where we made big gains with our African American students one year, but we had a large influx of English Language Learners, and so our Latino group dropped by a few points. We were labeled a failure. The next year our African Americans and Latinos went up, but our Asians, already performing at a high level, stayed the same and did not rise. A failure again. This was completely demoralizing for our staff.

    It is unfair that we test primarily reading and math, and largely ignore other subjects. This results in the well-documented narrowing of the curriculum. I work as a science coach in Oakland, and I can tell you there are elementary schools where teachers are NOT ALLOWED to teach science because they are required to spend every available minute following scripted curriculums in reading and math. Of course the wealthier schools in the district have time for science. A law that was supposed to create equity is having the opposite effect.

    So what would it look like if it were to be made fair?

    First of all, we would remove the absurd requirement that all students be proficient by 2014. We would create a system that allows each school to conduct an investigation into performance at their site, and set goals. These goals would extend beyond reading and math to encompass the other things that are valued in that community. We all know that we expect schools to do much more than teach reading and math. We need ways to set goals and measure accomplishment for more than reading and math. Can the students create a scientific investigation? Can they create an artistic performance in music or visual arts? Can they understand the past by reading historical documents? Our assessments should reflect much more broadly what we value.

    What should those tests look like? They should be much more than multiple choice. They should include authentic assessments of critical thinking — and they should focus on growth over the school year. For example, in science, a student could be given the task of making observations and coming up with a scientific hypothesis, and then designing an experiment to test his hypothesis. This task could be repeated in the Spring. This would encourage teachers to give students practice actually doing science, rather than merely memorizing facts for a multiple choice test.

    We should ask schools to look at the performance of subgroups, but we should eliminate the expectation that every group should move up every year. We should allow schools to set goals for their subgroups, and reflect on what is occurring with them.

    We should shift away from the emphasis on punishment and labeling schools as failures. We should move towards giving struggling schools support and encouragement to improve. Repeatedly studies emerge that the most powerful things we can do is give teachers time to collaborate. We need to set high expectations for teachers — that they are capable of tackling these problems, and then give them the time and resources to do so. We should carefully evaluate research that shows the lackluster results of wholesale school reconstitutions in which staffs are blamed for the school’s “failure” and required to reapply for their jobs. We should stop labeling schools as failures and shift towards a more constructive engagement with staffs, giving them time to collaborate, problem-solve and develop creative solutions involving parents and students.

  30. While high expectations are important for all, assessment of special education students held at the same level as their nondisabled peers is ridiculous. If the student receives modifications (for example reading a test to them) all year and then this modification is withheld for assessment, we are setting these students up for failure. The special educaton student should be assessed at their ability level (as determined by their evaluations) or based on their IEP goals. That is truly where we see their growth anyway, not through a sit and get, mega stress, humiliating assessment that further demonstrates their inability to produce grade level work. If they could perform at grade level, we wouldn’t have them in special education regardless of their disability.

  31. I am Principal of a school in India age 40 years. I have an experience of 17 years teaching Physics to class XI-XII, which includes Indian School Boards as well as International- A level and IB.

    I am convinced that problems of classrooms across globe are same with local hues. In India there is serious discussion among all stake holders students’, teachers’ and parents’- One Exam v/s Continous and Comprehensive Evaluation. Its difficult to answer which is better as each has its own merits and demerits.

    All our assessments and evaluation must focus on one thing….as brought out by John- Emotional which cannot be quantified. With geographical boundaries getting blurred emotional health will be key factor to shape future world.

    Therefore, systems and procedure must be devised assesses emotional, spiritual and academic progress of our students. We live life as a whole not compartmentalized into English, Physics, Chemistry, History……..

    Teachers encouraging this kind of environment in class must be appreciated and more over teaching community as a whole must be given due respect. If teachers are uncontended and unhappy….they would certainly pass on these unhappy vibrations to their students and that would defeat the very basis of our education paradigm to make the world a better place for everyone.

    Dhirendra Singh

  32. After 34 years of teaching grades 1 to Adult, I’ve come to the realization that the reason Johnny can’t read and has difficulty learning basic math is because the reading math programs or methods are changed too frequently by many school systems. The importance of getting an education is not only the responsibility of a school system, but also the parents. I try to encourage my students to do the best they can to get an education no matter what the circumstances are at home. I’ve never understood the logic of holding only teachers totally responsible for students to succeed acdemically when there are many outside forces that also effect the success of students. Hold me accountable, but also the parents for doing what they must do to provide the best education for their children.

  33. I would love to see more equity with regards to how students are assigned to teachers from year to year. While there seems to be much praise heaped on teachers who show effectiveness in the classroom, these same teachers are usually given the higher, smarter, and often, better-behaved students. At the same time, novice and less effective teachers tend to get more than their share of “challenging” students. With Inclusion models being the fad nowadays, assigning one particular team as your Inclusion team is yet another instance of administrators creating a playing field that is definately NOT level for all teachers. Adding students with emotional issues to the mix presents an additional glitch to the year’s classroom climate. This is not going to be an easy or quick fix at all!

  34. Why can’t we utilize testing principles on the computer, freeing up the teacher for other teaching tasks? My background includes teaching toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners, elementary students, middle school students and adults. Testing is an evaluation principle that is needed to find students’ levels of mastery of previously taught concepts, and comparing them to where they should be. Testing does not have to be as formal as a two-week test in the fall and in the spring. There are ways to incorporate skill evaluations without interrupting learning. As a middle school math teacher, I utilized a program written for reading and math proficiencies. Students tested themselves after confronting a new math concept. We set-up goals and rewards from the beginning of the school year. Even kindergarteners can answer questions by pictures on a computer. We need better computer programs to add extra instruction and to aid our teachers in preset standards or benchmarks. Hence, this thinking follows the lead idea of Education Portfolios which would follow the child through their educational years.

  35. I agree with much of what has already been said. I used to be in favor of growth model assessments until I realized that in our state the 4th grade test is easier in many ways than the 5th grade test so that the trend is for students to show improvment from 3rd to 4th grade and then have declining test scores from 4th to 5th grade. It’s unfortunate that it’s too impractical and time consuming to have students demonstrate mastery through completion of projects. I would never want to see student test scores used to determine teacher salaries or tenure. It just cannot be done in a fair and equitable manner.

  36. Recent reaction to the fired teachers in Rhode Island. Mr. Secretary, how can you support the blanket firing of those teachers who have worked so hard in a low performing school. You are not in their situation! I respectfully request you see all sides before supporting their firing. I have taught for over 30 years and what makes education so incredible is when the stool has three legs: 1 the teacher must be credible and enthusiastic 2 the parent must be supportive of the teacher and help the child through disciplining and making school THE priority.3 the student must be accountable also. When these three “legs” are in place the “stool” is very stable and successful!

  37. Teachers are endlessly frustrated by two basic issues:
    testing and discipline.

    Overtesting does not work. Research tells us that we are not preparing our students for the 21st century. While these changes are recognized, and catch phrases such as “higher level thinking skills” and “problem solving” are being called out, we still cannot address these issues because our very JOBS depend on the result of a multiple choice test. Our curriculum is based on the requirements for that very test. Talk about mixed signals. The test does not allow for any creative thought or growth – it is all pass or fail.

    The other major issue is the laws protecting students and leaving teachers out to dry. A special ed student, for example, cannot be sent to an alternative campus even though he physically attacked two different people within a 3 week time period? Accountability is fine, apparently, for teachers – but the students and parents have none. I’d really like to see that addressed.

    Me, personally, I would also like to see more of the people in our lawmaking positions actually come to the classroom and spend some time. I believe strongly that they cannot possibly know what we need if they have not been there. I am willing to begin by having one of those individuals come teach my class for a few weeks. I will be there to help, but this would certainly give them a whole new perspective. Suppose there would be any takers?

  38. Exit examinations in english, Math,physics ,and chemistry for 12th grades.English and Math examinations for 8th grades.The tests must be different for each student to cover the subjects.

  39. For starters, teacher evaluation should not just be based on quantitative measures like test scores. We need to pay attention to whether a teacher is able to make the classroom a place where students want to be. Do the students see the teacher as caring — or mean? Does the teacher yell at the kids on a regular basis? A teacher who does so but gets good test scores is not making the students love learning.

    In short, let’s not forget the all-important emotional (affective) component, even though it’s not as quantifiable as other measures.

  40. ESEA sets the expectation that there will be tests, but does not stipulate what these tests are. The state education agencies (SEAs) have taken this responsibility and developed standardized testing — or, in at least one case, satisfied the requirement by using the SAT that most college-bound students take anyway.

    I wonder what would happen if the SEAs passed the responsibility to the LEAs, or even directly to the teachers.

    Teachers complain vigorously of the testing that is imposed on them. Perhaps there should be an opportunity for them to choose their students’ assessments: by district testing as available, by state testing, by national testing (like the SAT), or by portfolio using a standardized rubric.

    Teachers are, after all, practiced experts in assessing their own students.

  41. I have long been concerned about the contradiction that teachers have been forced to accept: one size instruction does not fit all yet all students take the same pencil-paper assessment in June that determines if a teacher had taught effectively and students have learned. We have become a standardized test factory without any real concern for authentic, enduring student learning. We only care about a single test score that is discriminatory on so many levels.

    If a student comes to class in September, achieving years below grade level, and doesn’t pass the state test in June, but the teacher can show that the student has made tremendous growth, is it fair to label the teacher and student negatively? That’s a question that echos across the country and must truly be discussed.

    Portfolios might be a road to authentic assessment. It would allow students to show mastery in differentiated forms, show evidence of growth, etc. Accountability is important, but if we expect teachers to differentiate instruction, we need to be accepting of differentiated methods to show mastery. Not all kids master all skills in one year.

  42. I can’t begin to express to you the frustration felt by the teachers in this state! We are asked to do more and more (not teaching…which is our job) but paperwork yet we are furloughed and treated poorly in return. The mere suggestion that a teacher’s pay increase should be based on the achievement of their students on a single test is ludicrous. The teachers of the gifted students and AP level students would get huge raises because their students always test well (with or without great teaching). However the teachers of the average or lower level students who actually work harder and tutor more would not get the same raise because their students are not capable of performing extremely high on the tests given. As a techer I have taught all levels of students…if I teach the same way to three different levels of students the test scores will still not be the same…like it or not some students do have intellectual limitations that no amount of excellent teaching can overcome! I could understand the requirement that the students need to show improvement or gain in knowledge and understanding but that can not be tested by a single test. What is unbelievable is the fact that the people making these decisions are not classroom teachers and have NO CONCEPT how hard a job teaching is and how unappreciated we feel. Attending school when you are younger does not give you any idea what a good teacher does on a daily basis.

  43. How can a special education teacher’s student scores on state test be connected to job security if IO’s are below fifty?

  44. This is such a fantastic opportunity to be heard! Many teachers from our area are asking that we “test less” which IS so important so that we can “teach more”.

    They are asking for “authentic assessments” and I encourage them to think more deeply about how these assessments would be reported so we can continue the gains we’ve made in accountability and identifying students who need different approaches to instruction even after they’ve left your classroom or school.

    These aren’t easy questions but I’m convinced teachers hold a critical piece of the answer.

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