Anyone who has followed my blog for awhile know that I’ve been struggling lately with my own qualifications to teach. Point blank, I wonder if I’m serving students well.
I think my doubts began back in September when I was given my "effectiveness index" from my assistant principal. This number, ranging from somewhere around -5 to somewhere near +5 is an average of the performance of my students on last year’s end-of-grade language arts testing compared to students of the same background.
A score of 0 represents "average" teaching. While my score–a .02–falls within this average range, it was one of the lowest effectiveness scores on my hallway. I left my assistant principal’s office embarrassed that my work hadn’t measured up to the work of my peers. To be the "least effective" teacher on my hallway despite working longer hours than anyone was something I could have never imagined. I packed my things and bolted for the door, too ashamed to talk to even my closest friends on the hallway.
As I made my way through the parking lot, a parent waved me down from the carpool lane. "Mr. Ferriter," she said, "I just wanted to stop and thank you for being who you are. As a mom, I send that which is most precious away to school each day for hours and hours. Knowing that he is in your hands gives me a great sense of comfort.
"He comes home each day and talks non-stop about what he is learning in your classroom. He loves you and is more excited about school than he has ever been before."
Talk about mixed messages, huh?
What’s even more interesting is that I would bet that many of my families would choose to have their children in my classroom even if they knew that I had the lowest test scores on our hallway. Parents still seem to value the intangibles that teachers bring to their work each day. The ability to inspire passion, determination and curiosity are seen as equally—if not more—valuable than the ability to produce results on mandated multiple choice exams. Parents are looking for difference-makers—which they define in much broader terms than educational policymakers.
I wonder if those mixed messages are a part of the reason that educators have long been skeptical of merit pay programs like those in the Houston Independent School District, where teachers who produce the highest gains on end-of-grade tests are eligible for bonuses of up to $6,000.
Houston Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra took the recognition one step further, describing bonus recipients as "the cream of the crop" and "dedicated." While few would argue that teachers should be held accountable for student learning, measuring that impact based on standardized test scores alone—and defining dedication by numbers only—oversimplifies teaching and learning, which are incredibly complex processes dependent on human interactions.
Are there any solutions to this disconnect between our well-intentioned desire to reward accomplished educators with additional compensation and our incomplete definitions of "effectiveness?"