Apr 15, 2011

How do you judge teacher performance?

There's another in the perennial line of bills in the Illinois House for a statewide standard on teacher performance. I work in an industry where teachers are even less accountable than they are in a classroom, mostly because no one really pays attention to after school programs except inasmuch as it affects their own child.

As such, it's a microcosm for what's wrong on all aspects of the teacher accountability debate: how do you judge a teacher, why, when, and the big question should you? Teacher accountability standards can only work under the following ideal conditions:

All teachers have proper training and understanding as to what "accountability" and "performance standards" means. I might think my kids have satisfied a performance standard if they come to every class, are attentive, happy and respectful, and practice outside of class. The guy in the next class might only consider the child successful if they accomplish the task at hand each day. Another might not care at all. One might consider a "D" level performance passing, another might want all kids to pass with the equivalent of an "A." Everyone has to agree as to the meaning of success.

All students have the same resources at their disposal. The kids with money will do better, period. They take lessons, their friends take lessons, they skate all the time. If I've got a class full of these kids, I'm going to look like a better teacher than if I have a class full of poor kids who only skate once a week in rental skates.

There are mechanisms to catch cheaters. I'm not talking about the kids-- unlike a math test, you can't copy proper crossovers (or home runs, or laps) off someone else's paper. You can do it or you can't. But coaches pass kids up to the next level for all sorts of bogus reasons.

Differences in a child's ability is considered. Some kids are more talented than others. It's easier to teach them. If you think I'm good with the clumsy ones, you should see what I can do with a child that has talent.

Passing standards are enforced. Every youth sport has passing standards, sometimes written down in impenetrable and tedious detail. At the recreational level, it is very difficult to insist on them. The problem is exacerbated in that every coach you talk to will insist that they are "tough" and never pass kids who aren't ready, when the evidence of your eyes tells you this isn't so.


  1. "Everyone has to agree as to the meaning of success."

    Maybe for skating, no for school. That's what standardized testing tried to do, and it was a disaster. The meaning of success in school needs to be customized to the student. It has to be formulated from a mixture of individual and community desires and abilities.

    Sports can have an agreed-upon standard of success, because if you do not like the standard you can just switch to a different sport. School doesn't work that way.

    For skating, an agreed-upon standard of success has two negative side-effects
    - All the programs are the same
    - Scandal when judges disagree
    For this reason I think IJS should add an individuality component to the score.

  2. Anon, this is exactly my point. There are many measures of success. Knowledge or ability is only part of it. If you think that 80% correct answers is success, but I think getting to school every day is success (and it is, for some children), then we have two competing ideas. They need to be integrated or reconciled, or, as you say, customized to each student (which is also an agreed upon standard).

    I'm not even talking about IJS scoring. Just in the recreational after school programs that I teach there are wildly different ideas about what constitutes a passing standard.

  3. A timely post for me. My daughter is currently in a Basic 5 group class. Her coach told me after last week's class that she "technically" (read, according to the standards typically applied by coaches in this particular Basic Skills program) passed Basic 5, and that it was my choice, she could have her patch and move to Basic 6 for the last 4 weeks of the session, or (the coach's preferred choice), I could let her stay in Basic 5 for 4 more weeks to keep improving on the skills, then go to 6 for the summer session. My daughter just turned 5 years old, so I don't think there's any big rush for her, so I opted to finish the session in 5 as I'd rather she have the skills more solidified before she moves to 6 (also, I personally wouldn't pass her on her 1 foot spins!) I was somewhat puzzled by the whole exchange, but I guess this is exactly what you are talking about in this post.