Iowa Teacher Evaluations Tied To State Tests? My Beef With This and Why

Sunday morning I started my day with a cup of coffee and the Sunday edition of the QC Times. It was not long before I came to an article that really fired me up. 

Battle over teacher evaluations helps stall Iowa education reform

I shared some of my frustrations with this article on FB and Twitter and I need to go into more detail over my issues.

This article talked about how government is stuck making any further decisions until teacher evaluations are tied to test scores. I have real issues with this idea. The Republicans are ones that are not allowing things to move until test scores are tied to teacher evaluations. I could care less about politics and whether it is Republicans or Democrats, but I do care about this new wave of people making decisions about education that have little experience about what happens in the classroom. When was the last time these policy makers walked the halls and taught students day in and day out?

In the article, Democrats are claiming that schools need time to digest all the new changes that were made last year before adding another thing on the plates of teachers and schools. I could not agree more. Teachers are burning out faster than ever before. Every year we are stacking more and more on the shoulders of teachers and schools, but yet the tasks from the year prior have not been resolved. What typically happens is that same old system when an agenda starts and slowly just falls apart because all these new ideas are forced upon us and those ideas are eventually left to the wayside. How many times have started down one path to only find the path no longer available the next year? Why even invest or work towards these agendas when experience has shown us that 2-3 years later it is dropped?

A perfect case of a poor way of thinking by our leaders in this nation and state is when Tom Narak, and lobbyist for School Administrators of Iowa, states “It’s the way (evaluations)going now.” 

Really? Just because it is the way means we all need to do it? I mean is that really the message we want? We see this poor mindset with standardized tests. We keep using this over and over and yet it does not help us really see how our classroom affects learning. How does filling in bubbles show high level learning? It doesn’t and just because other states are using state test scores for teacher evals doesn’t mean it works. Has anybody not looked at the issues in other states with cheating, scandal, stress, and frustrations?

Paying teachers for test scores? Has anyone not studied history to know that this idea fails miserably over and over again. Hello….The Cobra Effect? Perhaps these people should listen to Freakonomics podcast on this whole paying rewards and the failing consequences that ensue.

We already have schools in trouble for cheating and they are not even tied to test scores yet.

I think Herman Qurmbach raises a valid point in this article when he states

“We haven’t fully implemented the Iowa Core, which is also the Common Core. We don’t have our (student) tests aligned to that, there are at least three testing systems out there, and none of them are finished,” Quirmbach said. “Those are the standards we’re supposed to test students on, and they’re not done yet. You’re telling me that we should tie teacher evaluations to an incomplete system? I don’t think so.”

We need to finish the current work we have that is incomplete. The state tests are not set in stone, Common Core is still being worked out, and schools are trying to adjust to both. 

What bothers me is this “punish the whole system method” employed in the education world. I agree that teachers need to be held accountable. However, I know that state test scores do not show what I teach. What happens in schools is that we never address the specific issues at hand. If a teacher is not doing their job, then call them out. Tell them, show them how they are messing up, and then give them a plan to improve. Help them with necessary skills. If they choose not to improve or they simply don’t improve, then you let them go. No more of this keeping teachers for 30 years and for 30 years they have been bad. That affects too many children that need good quality teachers. Hold us accountable like we should be holding our students accountable.

Instead what schools do is they punish the whole staff. They implement a major plan that does nothing but burn the wrong teachers. The teachers that need help don’t realize the plan is because of them. What happens is the quality teachers take the plan to heart. It is just like a classroom. A classroom punishment does nothing but upset the good kids while the kids who created the problem are oblivious or don’t care. This approach to issues does nothing more than frustrate the teachers who are doing their job. This leads to staff morale issues which is becoming an issue all over the place.

As a gifted education teacher I don’t know that anything I teach is measured on state tests. I work on real world problem solving skills, 21st century skills, collaboration techniques, problem solving, and high level thinking. How does a multiple choice math test or reading paragraphs showcase these skills? It doesn’t and therefore is invalid to evaluate me.

If you want to create a quality teacher evaluation system talk to the people most impacted. Go to the source. Parents and students. The community can tell you who the quality teachers are as well as the mediocre and poor teachers. Work with the community members to create an effective system. Let the people most directly impacted have a say. Why not tap into this powerful resource? They are not the enemy. Students are the most perceptive people on the planet. 

The positive to all of this is that everyone is working hard to do what is right. I don’t agree with the teacher evaluation system, but I understand their reasons for it. I just don’t think it will work. But I know their intentions are good. At least Jason Glass is proposing a three year system to implement so it is not rushed and done right, but I don’t know that now is the time. I don’t know that the answer is to do this because other states are doing it. If you talk to teachers in other states you can feel frustration. They don’t have a voice. They don’t have a say and that is not right.

If you want to do it right, talk to the people that are most affected. Education is not a business, it is a public good. 

I would love to hear other opinions and thoughts.

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A moment at home in regards to my Tech Savvy Students

Tonight my son was playing on an app on my iPad when he shouts from the other room, “Dad, you have a message from Facebook.”

I asked him how he knew it was Facebook. He responded, “Because I saw the little “f” with blue.”

Scary to think my 6 year old can identify Facebook.

Not sure if it changes my thought on the tech savviness of students, but it sure makes me ponder the difference between being Tech Savvy and Tech Awareness.

Thoughts?

**This is continuation of my post from earlier today:

Are Students Really Tech Savvy? I don’t think so because….

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Are Students Really Tech Savvy? I don’t think so because….

Pencil Labs?I see time and time again expamples in my classroom where students are not able to perform very simple functions with technology(yes, I take the time to stop and teach what I assumed they knew how to do – I don’t ignore it and become the problem that I complain about).

I think there is this mystique with kids that we think they can do everything with technology. I won’t argue that they know how to text, watch YouTube(perhaps make YouTube videos), and anything related to viewing media.

However, they cannot

  • *type
  • *understand statements like “Copy and Paste”
  • *web address vs. search box
  • *how to search properly
  • *Google and Google Images is not a valid link for citingn information
  • *using email and other forms of communication outside of Facebook
  • *use database for accurate information OR
  • sift through the millions of websites to determine what is valid and invalid

I should back up and state that this is not the case for every single student. However, the more I push technology, web 2.0 tools, wiki, etc. into my class to help flatten the education atmosphere the more I realize that they are clueless.

They need to be taught.

Teachers need to understand the components first. Then we need to teach. Now we barely have enough time in our classroom now to get through the required professional developments and teaching necessities to add technology teaching in our classes.

I think schools need to figure out how to incorporate the foundations of technology use(not device specific, but general skills) so when they reach the higher levels we can dive into more specific tricks of the trade.

I don’t know, maybe I am wrong here, but I am just not seeing the basic technology skills in students. Districts are pushing technolgoy more than ever, but we are forgetting one key component – teaching parents, students, and teachers how to use them effectively.

My nerd rant is over. Back to the nerd cave to create more nerdy things.

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Blog Transition Day – More For Your Pleasure

This is my, “Oh crap, I have school today face!”

Today starts my first day back to school for teacher in service. This is going to prove to be a challenging year by the vibes already received. I am not going to go into much of a rant or details now as I have a limited amount of time to get ready for school upon returning from my run, but I just wanted to let everyone know who follows and reads this blog that as school begins my blog will slowly be including more post topics about education, life, projects for students, nerdy things, etc.

The blog has been extremely focused on my training lately as one of the things I have worked during the summer and testing out for my book I am writing is having one goal at a time. This has proved to be quite effective and in the process I shut out all things school during the summer. It was a nice breath of fresh air, but the time has come to begin talking about the important topics that come with teaching.

Just wanted to give you all a heads up because I am sure the thoughts and ideas will start flowing today after a day of in service.

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A Story About How An Email From Borders and Amazon Lead Me To Thinking About Education

The other day I received the email that I am sure many of you also received from Borders about them closing up for good and thanking us for being customers over the years. Reading this letter really bummed me out as it made it a reality that one of my favorite places to go to get away will no longer be around. I can get lost in a bookstore for hours if you let me. Let me buy a coffee in the winter and let me escape to the rows and rows of books wishing I was loaded with money to buy them all.

As I finished reading that email my next email was from Amazon talking about their latest Kindle book sale where there are over 900 titles up for sale for the Big Deal sale. It was just a few weeks ago when they had the Sunshine Deal where I purchased a ton of books for $3 or less. Here was another batch of books up for sale very cheap.

Talk about contrasting business ideas. One type of business can no longer sustain while the other is thriving. How does a store compete when a major business can sell the same merchandise for much cheaper? We are in a pivotal moment in history as we change from one technological age to another. We are seeing, living, and breathing firsthand the effects of the world changing due to technology. Just as people had to transition in life from Copper to Bronze to Iron. You either adapted and upgraded or you were lost in the shuffle. This is happening now. In some ways scary because for the first time I actually feel part of a major historical movement and in some ways cool to see how things evolve. The effects are also in the economy as we are all well aware of as many jobs that sustained families are no longer needed.

I think back to my job as an educator. We are in a more pivotal moment of teaching than ever before. Prior to us teachers knew the job market. You farmed, worked factory, went on to accounting, etc. Today we are prepping students for a job market that nobody knows what is needed or what the job market is going to be. To make matters worse, we have people running education forcing us to teach the same and incorporating methods of assessment to gauge the learning that don’t work. They are forcing us to be robots and uniform when that system is no longer needed. The future depends on people creating new jobs, new ideas, new ways to problem solve. No longer is filling in bubbles and memorizing a few facts needed. Why even memorize facts when I have Google at my fingertips at all times in my life?

The point of this post is this – the time is before us where we need to change. We cannot teach the same way in which we were taught(unless we had an unbelievable teacher). We cannot teach the same uniform way because the world is far from uniform. We can no longer rely on things always being there for us(Borders how I miss you already) because it can serve no purpose from one day to the next.

We must teach our students to be advocates for themselves. We must teach the value to constantly educate themselves to stay on the frontier/cutting edge. We must teach them to be problem solvers(even when they have no clue about something they must acquire the skills to engage and learn).

There is the Hebrew Proverb that reads, “Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.” This sums up our current state of life and education. Teachers must be innovative and think of new ways to teach. We must force ourselves to think differently and approach education in new ways.

Dr. Medina presented at a conference this year and he made the following statement(found this on David Warlick blog)

“The human brain is designed to solve problems related to surviving in an unstable outdoor environment and to do so in nearly constant motion.”

Then he said something to the effect of, “If you wanted to design a learning environment that was directly opposed to the way that the brain works, you would design a classroom.”

Here I finish typing my little rant staring at the massive pile of books and magazines I purchased at Borders before they closed to hang on to my lasting memories of a great bookstore. I look back through my post and realize that another school year is approaching. This will be my chance to help several hundred students work to acquire the necessary skills for a future yet undetermined. To think that this all stemmed from two emails from two companies.

How are you going to approach your classsroom this year? What will you do to engage students and help them be successful in their lives?

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Plugged back in and time to refocus

First time on the computer since Thursday. Playing single dad(wife had a weekend with the girls in Chicago) really makes one appreciate the few moments you get to yourself when you have someone else to help with the kids. Honestly, this is the first time since Friday at noon where I have had 10 minutes to actually sit down and look at a computer or book.

I have a major blog post or two to type in today. So many thoughts to share.

Plus I had a complete eating like a slob breakdown the last two days and must talk about minor setbacks to achieving our goals.

Happy Father’s Day and hope everyone enjoys their day with family.

And at this point I must attend to a crying baby and two other children with a list of demands.

Look for posts later about Getting It Done and training for a marathon.

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Summertime = Not Caring

I love summer because I no longer care about time, deadlines, stress, and all the above.

Yes, I have so many things I want to get done, but just don’t have the drive to start.

And I am okay with that.

I believe it is part of the process of recharging my batteries to prepare for the onslaught of projects that I will try to conquer in the near future.

Here is to the days of summer when we can just drink coffee and tea all day on the deck, play with my kids, and read books.

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Today is the Last Day of School

We did it. We survived yet another year.

I had some great things happen this year.

My students accomplished some amazing things both in my classroom and outside the classroom.

I am ready for a break. My brain is fried. I have used up all my patience and it is time to step back and recharge my batteries for another year.

I already have 3 big new ideas that I am ready to unveil next year. I cannot wait to get started, but first I need to refuel before embarking on another great year of teaching next year.

As I type this I cannot help but think how important it is for us to sometimes take step back and just recharge ourselves. Whether it is to step back from our hobbies, our passions, sports, job, etc.

I know right now I am trying to read some great books, but it feels like work. I am trying to set up some new projects on my blog and it feels like work. All this “work” and things are not enjoyable anymore.

I will step back. I will hang with my family. I will sit on my deck and relax. I will train for my races. I will get back to a place where nothing seems like “work” anymore, but rather it will all be fun.

Life is too short to “work”. Life is perfect to pursue our passions and interests.

Live on and let summer begin.

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Story from Paulo Coelho blog and my reflections

http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2011/04/26/20-sec-reading-the-asylum/

A story by Kahlil Gibran

I was strolling in the gardens of an insane asylum when I met a young man who was reading a philosophy book.

His behavior and his evident good health made him stand out from the other inmates.

I sat down beside him and asked:

‘What are you doing here?’

He looked at me, surprised. But seeing that I was not one of the doctors, he replied:

‘It’s very simple. My father, a brilliant lawyer, wanted me to be like him.
“My uncle, who owns a large emporium, hoped I would follow his example.
“My mother wanted me to be the image of her beloved father.
“My sister always set her husband before me as an example of the successful man.
“My brother tried to train me up to be a fine athlete like himself.

“And the same thing happened at school, with the piano teacher and the English teacher – they were all convinced and determined that they were the best possible example to follow.
“None of them looked at me as one should look at a man, but as if they were looking in a mirror.

“So I decided to enter this asylum. At least here I can be myself.’

This story just strikes a chord with me. It almost haunts me. How much truth is in this? As parents it takes a lot of willpower to not force your kids to be like you. Do you know how much it kills me to see my son have zero interest in sports? Yes, I could force him into everything, but why would I do this. He is such a cool kid with a passion for the outdoors, bugs, animals, and just building things.

As a teacher, we have to try our hardest to keep students engaged. We must not try to convey that we are the best, but simply one more element in their lives to make them find themselves.

As a teacher I realize how easy it is to think that what we are teaching is the most important. However, when we take a step back we are not the most important. As a whole institution we are  important, but not independently and as a sole individual.

Think about all the ways in which we are pulled as adults. Multiply that by about 10 and we are back in middle school and high school. I think what is most important for us to do is not pull, but rather offer structure to help the youth find their way without losing their vision of themselves. The ones that lose their vision of where they want to be are the ones that find themselves in a whirlwind.

Offer guidance, but not by grabbing shirtsleeves and feeling that we are the most important. We are just one pebble in the river my good friends.

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Why We Need to Raise The Expectations in the Classroom

Some basic brain research to support what I keep preaching in class about your Google Presentations.

This research comes from John Medina in his book, Brain Rules

Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things

• Slides with lots of words are BORING! You know this so why do you continue to make these slides?

Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses

• Hear a piece of information and three days later you remember 10%

• Add a picture and you will remember 65%

Key Points

• Structure presentation around meaning and the big picture

• Don’t start with the details. Start with the key ideas

• Clean up your presentation. Too many words

o Slide are boring

o Nobody wants to read a bunch of words on the screen

*As I shared on all presentations, how would your presentation look if I deleted sentences and slides with too much info? Could you pull off your presentation in a persuasive manner?

I provided this feedback to all my groups in my latest project in my class.

Why is it that even though the students hate boring presentations with lots of words and a monotonous speaking voice they turn around and do the same thing?

Can anyone explain this to me? Is it because it has been what they have always done? Can they not think on their own two feet anymore?

It drives me nuts. Hence the reason I have now banned PowerPoint from any class activities and projects.

Students need to learn how to deliver the goods. Be persuasive, be passionate about their work, be organized and prepared.

Students need to learn to begin to think in new ways. We as teachers need to quit doing the same things over and over because it is not fresh. This is hard to do when we are being forced to be robots and teach the same way at the same time, but we must fight this.

Be original. Be creative. It is the way of the future people. If you don’t know how to ask the right questions, problem solve, and be creative, then the future is not looking good for you.

Students it is time to step up to the plate and begin to realize your potential.

Teachers it is time for us to change the way we teach and how we teach to provide students a chance to realize their potential.

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