Teaching, Learning and Assessment: Getting It Right

May 8, 2011 at 6:54 pm Leave a comment

posted by Susan Ochshorn ’99, founder/principal of ECE PolicyWorks

This piece is re-posted from Susan’s blog on HuffPost Education.

Google “Teacher Evaluation and Student Performance” and 827,000 entries spring up in the queue; do the same for “Teacher Effectiveness” and the number plummets to 84,300. Such a gap, and so revealing. Teacher effectiveness has become the Holy Grail for the modern education reform movement, one of whose faithful adherents, Shael Polakow-Suransky, headlined a panel last week in New York City on “Teacher Performance,” moderated by Bank Street College of Education’s chief academic officer and dean, Jon Snyder.

Polakow-Suransky pierced the consciousness of Gotham’s education community late last year, in the wake of Cathie Black’s appointment, assuming the role of deputy chancellor for performance and accountability to buttress his boss’ subpar C.V. Dubbed “a data mining administrator” by The New York Times, he was introduced to the locals with the menacing headline, “New Schools No. 2 Wants More and Better Testing.” A child of progressive schools and a student, no less, of education visionary and reformer Ted Sizer, his faith in the infinite perfectibility of tests seemed unwavering.

Recently named the NYC DOE’s Chief Academic Officer, Polakow-Suransky is now deeper than ever in the weeds of performance and accountability. He’s grappling with the demands attached to $700 million of federal education funding, won by NY State last summer in the second round of Race to the Top, and made possible by legislation doubling the number of charter schools and plans to tie teacher evaluations to test scores. This, while a ferocious debate rages across the land about the wisdom of assessing teachers’ effectiveness by such means. As our top education policymakers embrace teacher quality as their mantra, and the states go hungrily after funding, experts — including Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond and Diane Ravitch — warn of the “Problems with the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers,” and teachers are quaking in their classrooms.

“If I were in your shoes,” said Snyder, not unsympathetically, to the city’s chief academic officer, “I don’t know how I could sleep.” But Polakow-Suransky, whose face is smooth and inscrutable, exudes great serenity. “For decades,” he declared, “we’ve had no accountability. As you start to reform a system that’s been deeply neglected, where kids have been failing, you need to push.”

What form that push takes is the question. Nothing less than the future of teaching and learning is on the line.

The role of student learning in teacher assessment is a — if not the — critical question of the moment. One that revealed deep fault lines among the panelists, who also included Margaret Ryan, co-founder of Harlem Link Charter School; Barnett Berry, president of the Center for Teaching Quality; and Frederick Frelow, the education and scholarship program officer for the Ford Foundation’s Knowledge, Creativity and Freedom program. Polakow-Suransky, ever optimistic, envisions great opportunities to “go beyond bubbles,” while maintaining the importance of value-added data.

“When you raise the stakes, there’s a tension,” argued Frelow. “A single test is not a good metric for performance. The more examples you have of performance, the more a teacher can get a better sense of the zone the kids are in.”

Ryan championed “more portfolio and rubrics-based assessment.” “Critical thinking,” she said, “develops over time, and this all has to be part of an evaluative package.”

And Frelow, using a poignant example of his own son, who has struggled with learning disabilities and was recently admitted to Rochester Institute of Technology, reminded us that “learning is not linear,” the case for all children — those who develop typically, and those who do not.

Early childhood educators know this well. While the first five years of life are a time of explosive growth, cognitively, socially and emotionally, young children’s acquisition of skills and knowledge unfold in unique ways, with detours, stop, starts and great bursts. Today’s test-driven, academically narrow times present tremendous challenges to teaching and learning at the earliest end of the education spectrum.

But early childhood practitioners can’t put their heads in the sandbox. As Julie Diamond, Fretta Reitzes and Betsy Grob make clear in their contribution to
The Right to Learn: Preparing Early Childhood Teachers to Work in High-Need Schools
, they must be test-savvy and conversant with the language of standards and accountability; they should be well educated in the methods of observation and assessment; they need to have a rich understanding of curriculum and instructional strategies; and, most important, they must be ready and able to defend their practice, by consistent documentation of children’s active learning.

A tall order, for sure, but one that must be filled.

Susan Ochshorn is the founder of ECE PolicyWorks, a consulting firm specializing in early care and education policy research, program development, and project management. She has managed the Child Care Research and Policy Project at Columbia University; co-directed the Lucent Universal Preschool Initiative; and served on the advisory council for the Early Learning Initiative of the Education Commission of the States. The author of numerous briefs, reports, and other publications, she recently launched ECE Policy Matters, a blog dedicated to bridging professional practice and public policy.

Entry filed under: assessment, dialogue, policy, politics, school reform, standardized testing, standards, teacher education.

Questioning Teacher Evaluation: Your Answers Needed A “Lead-Able” Moment…With Elephant

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

An Online Conversation

Join the conversation among Bank Street College alumni blogging on education policy, practice, and point of view. Explore issues, ask questions, share what's actually happening in our classrooms, schools, museums, and communities. To submit a post, please send it to: alumni@bankstreet.edu.

Your Voice

Post your own opinions about teaching, learning, children, politics, special education, school reform, play, the standards movement, student teaching, museum education, leadership, block building, morning meeting, curriculum mapping, collaboration, isolation, benchmarks, bilingual classrooms, social-emotional development, the arts...right here on The Bank Street Blog!

To leave a comment on a posting, please click on the "comment" link beside the posting date. Comments will be reviewed before they appear.



Some of Our Past Bloggers

Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school
Gloria Arenson ’58, psychotherapist
Bill Ayers ‘84, UIC professor, Chicago
Fred Baumgarten ‘84, writer/musician/naturalist/father
Keith Berman '03, founder/president of Options for College and Bank Street’s LinkedIn moderator
David Bowles ’08 (SFC ’93), museum educator at the Rubin Museum of Art
Elena Canaras ‘07, Special Education teacher, Hawaii
Virginia Casper, Bank Street faculty member
Jim Clay ‘88, director of a Washington DC Quaker preschool
Mary DeCamp Cotterall ‘87, Reading Specialist, Michigan
Judy Coven ’77, retired public school teacher and former Antioch University faculty member
Leslie Day '93, adjunct instructor at Bank Street and author of Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City
Mary Louise (Molly) Day ‘76, Lab School teacher, Chicago
Liezel de La Isla ‘99, Prague International School teacher
Diane Trister Dodge '70, founder and president of Teaching Strategies, Inc.
Meghan Dunn ’08, 3rd grade teacher, Brooklyn
Steven Evangelista ’01, co-director Harlem Link Charter School, NYC
Janine Fetters ‘02, Senior Associate of Parent Engagement at NACCRRA
Dena Florczyk '88, middle school teacher and founder/director of The Nigerian School Project
Hollee Freeman '94, writes about parenting issues for the alumni blog and was featured on BSCAA's April 2012 Career Panel
Ellen Galinsky '70, is President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute and author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs
Joanne Ruvolo Gannett ‘84, Columbia College art history professor, Chicago
Joan Goldstein ‘67, sociologist and educator
Margot Hammond, Director of the Center for Early Childhood Professionals
Carol Hillman ‘67, early childhood educator, author, and Long Trip co-leader
Pam Jones ‘05, Bank Street advisor and instructor
Lee Klinger Lesser ‘87, trainer for the Parent Services Project
Preminda Langer ‘97, teacher trainer
Claire Milam ’97, life coach, Austin, Texas
Rabin Nickens ‘03, Speaker, Trainer and Educational Consultant
Beth Norford ‘89, consultant and former School for Children teacher
Susy Ogden ‘97
Marion Palm ‘95, Leadership in the Arts alum, writing tutor, poet and singer
Jessica Poser, assistant professor of art education at UIC, Chicago
Jesse Pugh '76, BSCAA President
Meg Rauen ‘06, former Chicago elementary school teacher, NY
Linda Reing, Bank Street Director of Alumni Relations
Rosalind Rothman '62, retired NYC teacher and guidance counselor
Kyla Ryman '92/'97, educational coach and consultant
Ariel Sacks ‘06, middle school teacher, Brooklyn, NY
Linda Appleman (Guidall) Shapiro ‘81, psychotherapist and author
Barbara Silver ‘80, literacy consultant and former NYC first grade teacher
Andrea Penny Spencer, former Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Bank Street
Debbie Stone ‘84, former teacher/co-director of High Valley School
Rachel Theilheimer ‘74, chair of teacher education at BMCC/CUNY
Theodore Timpson ’05, founder/president of Young Spirit Foundation
Eleanor Traubman '95, is Editor in Chief of Creative Times, a blog which promotes NYC's performing, visual and literary arts
Allison Warren '08, new mom, recent grad, and early childhood teacher
Max Weinberg ‘03, Francis Parker School teacher, Chicago
Ted Wells ‘07, 4th grade teacher at The Park School, Brookline, MA
Tracy Wiessbrod ’03, kindergarten teacher and stay-at-home mom

%d bloggers like this: