Assessment / For Teachers / PACE

Nationwide, teachers say lack of voice in decisions and classroom culture drive them out

NPR featured an eye-opening story about why teachers are leaving the profession. For many, they want more of a say in school policies, including putting learning at the center of the classroom instead of passing. For others, it’s preparation. How can we help support our teachers?

A few teachers were quoted for the story. Here are some highlights:

“I would like to see more of an emphasis on — rather than passing — to have an emphasis on actually learning. The culture of the campus would have had to have a vast overhaul.” -Robert Lutjens 39, is a former middle school science teacher in Sugar Land, Texas, near Houston.

It’s a common concern. Students go on to the next chapter or lesson when the rest of the class does. They only need to know 70% of the material to pass–and that can snowball. Imagine only knowing 70% of basic math, then having to move up to Algebra? Then moving to Calculus?

Danielle Painton, a former Pennsylvania elementary school teacher, talked about a fourth-grade girl who seemed defeated:

“I said, ‘Are you OK?’ ” Painton recalls. “And she said, ‘Mrs. Painton, this just isn’t fun anymore.’ It was haunting me,” she says. “I just kept hearing: This isn’t fun anymore, this isn’t fun anymore. And these are kids.”

Teachers want to teach. Schools and districts need to know how they’re doing. Where are gaps in learning? How do we measure school performance? For most states, that means standardized testing. Every year.

But in New Hampshire, districts are rethinking how to measure school and student progress.

Classrooms are moving to competency education, where students have to show what they know. They have to know the content before moving on to the next chapter or lesson. It means that a classroom might have some students working on an advanced topic while a few students are still working through a challenging lesson. But students are working at their level, not the level of the “average” student. And the emphasis is on actually learning the material, not whipping through content. To Robert’s point, it actually does create a vastly different school culture–here’s what Sanborn Regional High School Principal, Brian Stack, said about it:

“Each day as I interact with our teachers and our students, I am reminded to what extent our decision to move to a competency based model has positively influenced our school’s culture and climate, and our philosophy about learning… Each day I see small victories from our work that range from students who are being held to higher standards to teacher teams who continue to advance their own understanding and application of the competency education philosophy. I challenge you to ask any of my teachers if they could ever go back to a traditional mindset and I can assure you that you won’t find one who would. We have truly transformed our professional culture into one focused on student learning.”

New Hampshire is rethinking testing, too. Instead of drilling students with weeks long worth of bubble tests and test preparation, teachers are working together to design their own assessments. Not only are these assessments given throughout the year, allowing teachers to find out in real time where students excel and where they need more help, they also greatly reduce the number of tests students have to take. Instead of every year in third through eighth grade and once in high school, they only take the Smarter Balanced Assessment three times.

These assessments are rigorous. They’re challenging. They measure student progress just as well as standardized tests because they have strict, across-district grading rubrics. They’re locally designed–real New Hampshire teachers work on them, together, every year. And students talk about how engaging they are:

“Performance assessment puts the focus on real life skills rather than tedious classroom procedures. Personally, this motivates me to do well on the assignments because I know there is value, even beyond the actual subject matter of the task,” said Souhegan High School senior Meaghan Kalinowski

Read the full article here.

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