Counting

Albert Einstein was a very smart man, and while I’ll concede that his brain was often too busy to remember to have him tie his shoes some days (an anecdote that was corroborated by my great-uncle, who once worked with Einstein), he was wise about an incredible amount of things–among them the way we judge what is important. Said Albert, “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” Let that sink in…no, give it another minute…

So how does that apply to your day today? Does it count that I’m still not well from my stay in the hospital and now have a cold? Not really. Does it count that my dog has made it her job to try to jump up and lick my nose every time I come home–whether I’ve been gone for 20 minutes or 20 days? Maybe. Does it count that my children are mostly self-sufficient, self-confident young women? You bet.

I want to say here (because it’s my blog and I can–that’s what blogs are for) that teachers count. All of them. Everything they do makes an impact, whether it’s for the good, the bad, or the ugly. Ruby Payne tells us that there IS no learning without relationships, and she’s right–they count. And whether I like it or not, test scores count. But so do all of the things they DON’T tell you unless you look deeper than the soundbite on the evening news that says AYP was or wasn’t met. Any gain is a gain. Any move in a positive direction is positive. (And as an aside–David’s confrontation with Goliath happened BEFORE he was king–when it looked like he was a nobody making absolutely no progress…)

But in our push for accountability—that sense by those in power to make certain they’re getting what they pay for—we further marginalize nontraditional writers and their teachers. The practical part of me doesn’t disagree with the need to hold instructors accountable, but in an atmosphere that sees education and writing as a product to be scientifically measured, Rose argues that the “cult of efficiency” (“The Language of Exclusion: Writing Instruction at the University” 589) is “built on a set of highly questionable assumptions” (“The Language of Exclusion: Writing Instruction at the University” 590). This mix of a fetish for accountability with the connotation of writing as a SKILL, not a body of KNOWLEDGE, according to Rose, places writing “in the realm of the technical” —for academia, “the kiss of death” (“The Language of Exclusion: Writing Instruction at the University” 591). Labeling composition as a skill assigns the discipline itself second-class status, an implication that the skill is drilled until “fundamentally developed” (“The Language of Exclusion: Writing Instruction at the University” 592).

If just looking at test scores is flawed when evaluating student progress, it is just as flawed when evaluating teacher performance.

This from a posting on NCTE’s Open Forum:

Even the most sophisticated use of test scores, value added modeling (VAM), is a flawed and inaccurate way to judge whether teachers are effective or ineffective.

The heavy use of VAM in a teacher evaluation system will misidentify large numbers of both effective and ineffective teachers. Leading authorities (such as the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Education, and researchers from RAND and the Educational Testing Service and a recent Economic Policy Institute paper by a group of prominent scholars, Problems With the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers) concur that VAM is too inaccurate to be used as the primary way to evaluate teachers. Most uses of test scores in teacher evaluation, in practice, actually fall far short of the flawed VAM measures because of a lack of appropriate data and the adoption of weaker statistical methods.

Because what can be counted doesn’t necessarily count, people, and what counts can’t necessarily be counted…

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