So I was at a PD session the other day, a book club where we were discussing Daniel Pink’s Drive. As far as PD sessions go, this was excellent–it was completely voluntary and most of it was simply a discussion with some guiding questions.
At one point, we were talking about carrots and sticks and intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation and how these concepts can be applied to not our students (we’d already spent time on students) but ourselves. Almost immediately, the conversation turned to SMART Goals, which is the centerpiece of our current evaluation system. If you’re not aware of what these are, they’re basically a way to hold teachers accountable for student test scores. You create a goal that has measurable data and at some point in the spring you show your evaluator your numbers and you get a grade. This is 40% of the evaluation, the other 60% being a portfolio.
At a glance, this is an idea that seems all right. If you’re setting the goal and using your assessment, you should have no problem with it–after all, you set goals for yourself all the time, right? Well, that assumes that you actually have control over your goals and aren’t expected to craft a goal around standardized tests; furthermore, whatever goal you choose to create has to be approved. Many in my building saw themselves rewriting goals in the fall because while they thought that those goals were solid, the goals were rejected as not properly falling within the criteria of a SMART Goal. So, in other words, create a goal for yourself but it has to be done within the parameters I set. Oh, and portfolio? I’m not sure if that was counted in my evaluation. It seemed that while one of my administrators really took the whole process for what it could be and discussed it all as a work in progress that can be used for constructive self-evaluation, another one seemed to think that 40%=100%.
So basically, we have an evaluation system–and I should pause here to say that on some level my building and my district admins’ hands are tied because SMART Goals are a state mandate–that only exists to penalize. Furthermore, it’s a system that will kill intrinsic motivation because it’s so data heavy and “prove yourself” heavy and that could inadvertently promote cheating. I see some of the stories coming out of various cities where there are massive cheating scandals and I’m not surprised–you put a rat cage on someone’s face and he’ll do whatever he can to get you to stop torturing him.
Now, in the discussion there seemed to be a consensus that SMART Goals and the current evaluation system don’t fit with the idea of teachers being passionate and are going to have a more negative than positive effect on education overall. I added to the discussion by saying that standardized testing is harmful too, and although we cannot control state testing mandates, we can do away with benchmark testing, which is something that sucks up a significant amount of time of the school year. I used myself and another teacher at my table as an example. She was teaching students who were, for lack of a better word, remedial and reading way below grade level at the beginning of the year. I have a class of AP-bound students. We’d both have to take the same benchmark tests. Her students are likely to fail because many of them are just not at that level, even though they’re making progress. My students find the test to be beneath them and a waste of time. Yet we have to fill out data sheets and are judged on that test.
The reply I got from the administrator running the PD session was that they were going to be pushing project-based learning because that seemed more rewarding. So I pushed back just a little more and said that I’m sure there are a lot of people who are doing meaningful things in their classes already. It’s the fact that we could all be doing that but we have to drop everything to prep for a test every marking period, a test that feels completely disconnected to what we’ve been working on, that doesn’t make sense.
And I know that sounds flippant, but I cannot honestly think of any value a benchmark test has brought to my instruction aside from providing data to my principal that … well, I have no idea what they do with the data except spend 15 minutes at a faculty meeting showing it to us on a hard-to-read PowerPoint slide.
I was also a tad annoyed at hearing “project-based learning.” Why? Not because I don’t think project-based learning is a good idea. No, it’s because I felt like I was getting buzzworded. And when you’re buzzworded, you get the feeling that you’re being blown off or that at some point in the near future, you’re going to hear about how you should introduce a new concept to your class on top of as opposed to instead of what you’re doing. Which is why I think many of those I’ve taught with get so annoyed all the time–even good ideas seem like they’re just being shoveled onto a pile of redundancy that never, ever gets smaller.
I don’t know how many administrators are reading this, but I would like to say that if you are in charge of initiatives at any level in a school district, think about what you’re doing. If you read a book or article and want to make a push for project-based learning or BYOD or whatever concept keeps popping up, that’s great and a lot of your teachers probably think it’s a great concept. The whining, bitching, moaning, and complaining comes in when it’s communicated poorly, implemented horribly, and we’re still made to do what we thought this initiative was going to replace.