Teacher: ‘Don’t tell me that I don’t want accountability’

Teacher evaluations should be a way to ensure that children are learning, according to Allison Hunt. (Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images)
(The Washington Post/Getty Images)

I published a post last week titled “Seven things teachers are sick of hearing from school reformers” that was very popular with readers. There has been a lively debate in the comments section of that post, with some people critical of the teacher who wrote the piece and others supportive. I am publishing a response from a reader identified as “teechur” because it sums up the way a great many teachers feel about the issue of “accountability.” In this school reform era, “accountability” has largely come in the form of student standardized test scores.

The drive to hold teachers accountable for student performance has placed so much emphasis on test scores that we have seen situations in which individual teachers have been judged on the scores of students they don’t have or subjects they don’t teach. Many teachers feel that school reformers insistent on test-based accountability are ignoring warnings from assessment experts about how unfair the practice is, and are tired of hearing from critics that they will do anything to avoid evaluation.

Here’s “teechur’s” response to such comments in two consecutive posts:

teechur
12:02 AM EST

Hmmmm…that’s interesting because I am a teacher who has been teaching for 19 years. I just received my cumulative evaluation (which goes to the state) this last week. I sat down and pored over it. Why? Because I wanted to know what I can improve upon this year because I take my role as an educator very very seriously. I didn’t go to school for 7 years so that I could sit back and collect a fat paycheck. If that’s all I cared about, I would have skipped college and gone to work across the street (Boeing). All of my friends who work there sure have a lot more fun toys than I do!

We do want accountability but what we want is to be able to teach and be accountable in a way that makes sense. You simply cannot take a population of ANY group of people and expect across the board outcomes. It just doesn’t happen unless there is some form of selecting the incoming candidates. Even there you are still going to have a variety of outcomes because there are so many incoming variables that are beyond our control.

I happen to teach a rather homogenous group. In my class I teach self selected nerds. I teach a program called Computers, Servers, and Networking and it is Nerd HQ. I have 11th and 12th graders who are interested (theoretically) in careers in IT. These are kids who love computers. Out of the 50 students I have in one day (which is a teacher’s dream, most teachers will have 150 or so kids, but our programs are half day classes), this is pretty close to the makeup of my class:

3 girls
47 boys
16 students on IEPs
9 languages spoken

teechur
12:09 AM EST

Ran out of space! I can be a wordy one…

My point isn’t that these kids can’t learn, in fact they all did learn with varying levels of success. However they were not all able to learn in lock step with each other because they were all individuals! I could not control, nor could THEY control, the external and internal impacts on their day to day lives. My poor homeless kid who also suffered with severe anxiety AND whose mother had cancer would apologize to me for being absent.. My God it was amazing he was AT school and I was always so happy to see him every day because I knew that for three hours he was in a safe, stable environment where he could just be a kid without worries for awhile.

So don’t tell me that I don’t want accountability. My heart bleeds accountability for my kids I teach. Every single year my goal is to be a better teacher than I was the year before. I’ve spent all summer taking courses to be a better teacher because I haven’t perfected it yet after 19 years, and my colleagues would say I’m a pretty good one right now. (That would probably be because I strive to be better every year.)

I want accountability, but I want REASONABLE accountability! Don’t tell me that I have to get a kid on an IEP living with a single parent on disability who is intelligent, but has poor reading comprehension to pass a test he gets one crack at on one day or I get punished and that snapshot is “accountability”. Let me show you how far this kid has come in my class from start to finish and there you go, reasonable accountability. (This is actually how my state is doing it. Go Washington!)

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · August 18