Friday, October 05, 2012

GRADING TEACHERS: L.A. Youth’s staff writers say there are better ways to evaluate teachers than using students' test scores

by the LA Youth Teen Staff - From the September Issue of L.A. Youth, the newspaper by and about teens,

At a recent staff meeting, we talked about how schools can determine if a teacher is effective at helping students learn. It came up because the Los Angeles Unified School District wants to use student scores on standardized tests as part of their teacher evaluations. The district believes test scores are one way to measure how effective a teacher has been. But the teachers union says test scores are unreliable. Our teen staff agreed, although a judge recently ruled that the district has to use test scores in evaluations. Our staff share their ideas for how to grade teachers.

Illustration by Shirley Loi, 17, Sierra Vista HS (Baldwin Park)

I admit it. This year I was one of those students who fell asleep halfway through taking the California Standards Test (CST). And it wasn’t because I didn’t get enough sleep the night before. It’s just that the test is boring, especially the English portion. I have to read all those long articles to answer five basic questions that correspond to each article. It feels like a waste of time.

I know the tests are important because my teachers have told us how the state uses the test results to determine whether our school and our teachers are doing a good job teaching. But to me the CST is not an accurate way to evaluate schools and teachers because there are a lot of factors that aren’t taken into account, like students who fall asleep halfway through the test. My teacher didn’t notice me sleeping because my face was turned away from him.

Students like me are why I believe that the district should not use standardized test scores to determine whether teachers are good. It wasn’t my teacher’s fault that I slept during the test and ended up having to guess on most questions.
Izuriel Marquez, 17, Chavez Learning Academies (San Fernando)

I think it’s important to have students be part of teacher evaluations, since we are the ones who spend the most time with the teachers.

The best teachers I’ve had are dedicated to their students and the subject they teach. I have always hated math. I usually get As, but in math I got mostly Bs and sometimes Cs. But last year, I had a teacher who would show up to school at 7 a.m. for tutoring and help me one-on-one. My teacher would make class fun (as much as math can be). And when someone asked a question, he was happy to answer it. With all that, I managed to get an A. Finally!

He was a teacher who was considered “bad” because his students’ standardized test scores were not always the best. I think asking a student would change that perception. I would say that my teacher was good at making sure that we understood everything, and didn’t make you feel afraid to ask for help. It was the first time that I didn’t hate going to math.
Emily Bader, 15, Cleveland HS (Reseda)

As a student, I always thought my voice should matter but no principal has ever asked me how well a teacher was performing in class. I would have loved to share how my woodshop teacher was hardly there and we were left alone with big saws and dangerous machines.

But in 10th grade I transferred to a program where students’ opinions counted. When a couple of my classmates complained about how our English teacher wasn’t doing a good enough job keeping students quiet and didn’t assign enough work, our advisory teacher got concerned. Our advisory teacher came up with the idea to make a survey to evaluate every teacher.

We were thrilled because it meant our voices were going to be heard. Within weeks every student had completed a survey for all of our teachers. It had questions like, “How well is this teacher prepared for class?” and “How is classroom control with this teacher?” After the surveys our English teacher assigned more and harder homework and the students treated her with more respect.

We saw how crucial it was to give feedback. If a teacher is not doing a good job, students get affected the most. I didn’t see or hear anyone criticize teachers just for being mean or say a teacher was doing a good job just because they gave out easy As. It felt like a privilege to have our opinions valued so I think all of us were honest in our evaluations.
Jazmine Mendoza, 17, Chavez Learning Academies

I interviewed my anatomy teacher because I wanted to know how he thought teachers should be evaluated. He liked having an arranged evaluation because it allowed him to show the administrator what he wanted to be evaluated on. But instead of the same administrators evaluating the same teachers, he preferred that they rotate because administrators with a science background would be able to understand and appreciate his methods. He said that teachers tend to behave better under observation, so there should also be a minimum of three unannounced visits. “And as a teacher, I need to be OK with that,” he said. “I should be proud of what I’m doing and if I’m not, I should be looking for another profession.”

I agree with this. Toward the end of the year in my history class, I kept falling asleep and my teacher didn’t call me out on it. If an administrator had observed my history teacher unannounced and saw me sleeping, maybe they would have questioned his teaching abilities. Unannounced visits allow them to see how much energy a teacher puts into making sure their students learn.
Heidi Carreon, 17, Gladstone HS (Covina)

My favorite math teacher, Mr. Vriesman, is one of the best teachers out there but his students don’t get the best test scores. He explained to my parents that he doesn’t follow the standards, but teaches us things that we will need to know in later years of math. I had him for Algebra 1 and I got an A. I understood everything that he taught me. However, I got “below proficient” on the CST. But the things he taught me came up this summer in my calculus homework, like parabolas.

He is one of the most dedicated teachers I know. He runs an after-school program every Monday and Wednesday where kids do their math homework in groups and have access to math teachers if they have a question. He came up with the idea and it started with a few dozen kids, but now 50 to 100 kids show up.

Mr. Vriesman makes us want to do our math homework by reminding us of the consequences if we slack off, like a lower grade or how important college is. Also, he is very reasonable. I bombed the first test of the semester in trigonometry. He had me in Algebra 1 and knew that I wasn’t a bad student. So he helped me learn the things I didn’t understand and then he let me retake the test, and I got an A.

If a teacher like this, who is so dedicated and understanding, doesn’t do the greatest on the CSTs, should that really be a part of proving how good a teacher is?
Camille Didelot-Hearn, 16, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies

It doesn’t matter how well a teacher teaches if a student doesn’t put in effort outside of the classroom.  Last year my English teacher gave us a week to write an essay. She explained what we had to do in such depth that I was confident this would be easy. She also stressed that she would be available during nutrition, lunch and after school if we needed help. But I never got my work edited by her and didn’t start the essay until the night before it was due. As I was sitting in front of the computer screen, rereading my work for about the hundredth time, I regretted not getting her help.

By 11:50 p.m., I had finished. I knew that my teacher would write comments about how I didn’t put in much effort. When I got it back I knew that I deserved my B- and her comments noting she was surprised about the lack of originality in my essay.

I’m not the only one who waits until the last minute to start on work for school. I think teachers should be held responsible for 40 percent of a student’s education while a student should be held 60 percent responsible because while a teacher has to lecture and offer to help students, it’s up to us to study what we learned that day.
Jacqueline Uy, 15, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies



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