Monday, July 11, 2011

New Teachers, Test Scores, and other Myths

A lot has been written and broadcast over the past several months about unions and tenure. How tenure is keeping bad teachers in and layoffs are keeping good teachers out.

The myth is that veteran teachers are bad and new teachers are better. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Each teacher must be looked upon as an individual. Too many times when you see a new teacher get laid off, you think that the district just let go a fantastic teacher that would have changed the world. We know that's just not the case. New teachers can be bad. Very bad. They can also be good. Very good. But we seem to equate "new" teacher with "great" teacher. We can't in reality do that.

Students only get one shot. We can't say because a teacher is new, enthusiastic, and has different ideas, that suddenly we have a great teacher. This makes us look at veteran teachers as being something less. That they are old, tired, and do things in ways that are not conducive to learning. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Is the system unfair? Perhaps. But in education, experience counts for a lot. There are things that a teacher must learn and master over time.

The system may need to be changed. But we need to stop villifying veteran teachers as a whole. And just because a teacher is new, does not make them effective.

Which leads to standardized test scores. LAUSD is using a value added system to find effective teachers. Test scores are one part. People keep complaining about teachers teaching to the the test. Nothing could be further from the truth either. Effective teachers teach the state mandated curriculum in effective ways that get results on standardized tests. They don't teach to the test. In fact, many teachers that may actually "teach to the test" are not effective at offering up the curriculum, and, their students do poorly.

One key ingredient in successful test taking, is interest and enthusiasm. Teachers that are effective will instill a responsibility in students to do their best. Not just sleep walk through the test.

Standardized testing is here to stay. It is not right that teachers complain about them. Many careers, from plumbers to doctors, and lawyers to contractors, must pass tests. Students cannot get a drivers license without passing a written, multiple choice test. Is a high school education any less valuable than a drivers license? If we can demand that our drivers on the highways pass a written test, how more so our students?

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