What is Our Goal? - Mastery of the State Standards -
First, let's just understand, as Marzano stated, that the goal of teaching is that the students learn the state standards to mastery and beyond each school year. That is each and every teacher's responsibility each and every day, each and every school year. Thus, we must have a large portion of teacher evaluation be based upon how the teacher is meeting that goal. So, we do have to look at triangulated assessment data, but the data sample must be broad, not some narrow sample, such as one high-stakes test.
Other Factors – Classroom Safety, Engagement, Age-Appropriate Instruction -
There also must be other factors we take into account when we evaluate teachers. As Tucker and Stronge stated, when an administrator comes into a teacher's classroom, they are able to see how the teacher and students are interacting. Are the students engaged? Is the classroom learning environment safe and caring? Does the teacher utilized research-based learning techniques? Is the classroom environment inclusive for all types of students? We certainly don't want to have students submit day after day to some abusive, cruel teacher who destroys their self-esteem and makes them afraid to come to school, regardless of the learning results the teacher may somehow be able to achieve.
As in everything there needs to be balance. This is nowhere more true than in education. Sadly, the largest mistakes made in education over the years have been the ones in which the pendulum moved too far in one direction or the other, harming several years or even a decade's worth of student achievement and learning. Anyone who has been in education for a few decades has sadly been able to witness that phenomena.
What Kind of Performance Measures? - Portfolios -
Just before No Child Left Behind legislation and the beginnings of high-stakes testing, educators were moving towards portfolios as a means of maintaining assessment data on a regular basis, using them as a means of improving instruction for each individual student. Brantley proposed that portfolios be maintained in order to assess the progress of ELLs in each of their classes. Brantley's idea was that the portfolios contain samples of student work during that school year that demonstrate key measures of learning. Brantley also suggested having students take ownership and be required to choose some of the samples of work that go into their portfolio.
Brantley also advised that students be required at the end of the grading period to participate in a grading conference with their teacher. The teacher has the student speak about their strengths and weaknesses on key measures of their growth towards the state curricular and ELD standards as they look over their portfolio with the teacher. The student is required to take responsibility for their growth and help generate a plan for continued growth. Then, Brantley suggests the student explain their portfolio, current level of achievement and plans for growth to their parent in the parent-teacher conference. As Davies stated, this helps students to take more responsibility for their learning.
How Do Portfolios Relate to Evaluating Teachers? -
The portfolios, if maintained with representative samples of student work and brief notes and plans about remediation and enrichment efforts, become a means of each teacher demonstrating what progress they have made throughout the school year towards each student's mastery of the state standards. This is a much more authentic evaluation of what teachers are doing to meet their goals than one student performance item, such as one or even a battery of high-stakes tests.
What Everyone Can Do Today – Action Call -
If we want our profession to have fair, thorough evaluations for educators, we really need to begin to maintain portfolios of student achievement. That is how we can demonstrate learning and growth towards mastery of state standards. Even more important, that is how we can more accurately triangulate our data on student learning and keep ourselves apprised of changes we need to make to instruction to ensure that all students are able to meet and exceed the state standards.
We also need to ensure we maintain more information on ELLs, RSP students and others who come to us with less than a full grade-level appropriate set of skills.
How can we do this? It is easy to begin today or tomorrow with simply a folder with each student's name on it and begin thinking about what are representative samples of student achievement for the state curricular and ELD standards. We also should gather proof that our RSP students are meeting their IEP goals. After students look over the summative grade on an assignment, it can be placed in their portfolio, if it is a representative sample of present skill levels.
While you are at it, do you have the results from your state's ELD testing for your ELLs? If not, ask your ELL coordinator for those results and look those over again. Write some notes about those goals in the front of the portfolio for each ELL, so you can consult those when you do lesson planning. This will aid your differentiation efforts and demonstrate proof that you are differentiating instruction.
The same goes for your students with IEPs. Do you have your IEP paperwork? If not, get it from your RSP coordinator and again consult the IEP and make notes at the front of the student's portfolio in order to inform your lesson planning and differentiation efforts.
Later, you will begin to take scraps of notes about something you saw during formative assessment and place on top of your desk so that you can devise a plan of attack for the problem that one student or a few students are having. Then, you can place it in the folder with your plan of attack notes. These will be your proof of how you are following through and creating action plans for remediation and/or enrichment. Expect to produce such evidence and results of change in your performance evaluation with your administrator. Let's face it, this is how we differentiate instruction. We should have to demonstrate this proof. This procedure is not time consuming. We are working with quick notes of what we are doing and just placing the representative work samples in the folders. Let the students place their work in their portfolio before they move on to the next lesson.
Principals need to begin to expect portfolios of student performance to be maintained in every classroom. Please don't make ridiculous requirements for some special formatting for each portfolio that are incredibly time consuming. Teachers don't have the time to do all of that. You can, though, require teachers maintain folders for each student with samples of student work that demonstrate growth towards mastery of major standards. Then, you need to make it a part of the evaluation process to look through these folders – not every one, nor every scrap of paper within.
Have the teacher sit with you as you look over the portfolios. Have the teacher explain how they are consulting the portfolios to improve instruction. Ensure the teachers can explain to you situations in which they consulted the portfolios to help them make changes to instruction for the entire class and changes to instruction for individuals. Have them explain what modifications they made to individual instruction, based upon what they observed in the collected data, and have them provide the data pieces that show growth towards improvement. In this way, you can ensure the portfolios are not just repositories of papers that are not being consulted to inform instruction. Also, this saves you time and keeps you from having to look through 25 to 125 or more portfolios for each teacher evaluation you have to do this year.
For All Educators -
We can all do our part in making this change towards assessment of student performance that is sane and reliable occur. The push for portfolios for accountability towards learning outcomes would have happened 20 to 25 years ago, but high-stakes testing took our eyes off of the ball, making everyone scramble and pursue accountability efforts that may not be truly authentic and likely do not go far enough to really ensure any type of accountability for true learning. Now, the ball is back in our court. Let's gain control again of our own profession and truly make ourselves accountable and aware of student progress towards mastery of the state standards by maintaining and consulting portfolios of student achievement and learning.
The Future of Portfolios -
Over time, it may become possible to maintain these notes electronically, so the each portfolio will move with each student from grade to grade. Right now, that may be a bit much to expect. Teachers don't have the time to slave over a warm scanner. Teachers and principals should work together to see if there are aides or volunteers who are willing to work to make these portfolios electronic, or if this is even a desirable outcome during the school year.
It may present too much work for teachers to have to update these portfolios electronically every time there is a change, even if someone else scanned in the bulk of the work. We will all learn best practice with portfolios over time, but the time to begin is now. We are over 20 years behind where we would have been.
Maintaining and using student learning portfolios is the method that education was moving towards around 20 years ago in terms of teacher accountability for learning outcomes. It does not replace the need for principals to conduct formal and hopefully many informal observations of teachers interacting with their students. That is a part and parcel of ensuring that students have a safe learning environment that is welcoming and inclusive. Observations also help ensure teachers are using research-based teaching practices. Adding portfolios to teacher evaluation allows teachers to demonstrate their year-long efforts of producing student growth and mastery towards their state curricular and ELD standards as well as towards IEP goals for students.
It is high time we gained back the control over our profession for the sake of our students.