No apologies. Certified psychology teacher that I am, this post, nevertheless, does not pretend to use “invalid” in its psychometric sense. No concern here with validity or reliability of test measurements, either.
No. This post makes an argument about the invalidity, as in inappropriateness, of student- test-score-driven teacher evaluations. That argument is based on continued reflection, begun last post, of Henry Adams’ quote: A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
And this “affecting eternity” and the concomitant “never knowing the effect,” it seems to me, reveal the flaw in the current teacher evaluation systems based heavily on student achievement demonstrated in test scores.
The most lasting, and I daresay most important, impacts of teaching–the effects that affect eternity–are not always recognizable to the recipients without the passage of time. Not that the recipients want to be blind or feign being blind to the contributions made by a particular teacher, but just that what has changed them in their core—opened them up to reach higher goals, to believe more in themselves, to take chances on themselves, the attitudes that affect learning, need time to manifest themselves if they are to be deeply ingrained and permanent.
The efficaciousness and effectiveness of teaching machines, robots, digital programmed learning—those inhuman instructional delivery systems—rightly can (only) be appraised on student test scores.
Teachers, on the other hand, who impact students as total human beings, with emotional, social, psychological, moral needs, not just minds to be filled with information—cannot and should not be judged as if they were inhuman dispensers of information—mere teaching machines.
What has struck me over the years whenever I have read student testimonials about their teachers is what students self-report that has stood out for them.
Never do I read that “You helped me raise my math scores by X number of points.” Or, “Now I’m in X percentile. Thank you.”
No. It’s something deeper that teachers touch. What I read are comments like “You inspired me to like [fill in the subject].” Or, “I never thought I could do [fill in the activity].”
A teacher affects eternity. And things that affect eternity are lofty enough that they need to be treated reverently and respectfully, with wisdom and patience. Teachers plant and water seeds; some seeds are planted on soil that is not as ready to receive. Some seeds take longer to grow.
And if it is true that no teacher can say for sure whether s/he has been effective or ineffective in making an eternal difference in a child’s life…If only the child, perhaps, once fully grown, in retrospect, knows to what extent or whether or not… Then, how can the child’s test scores, which present a still-frame snapshot on a given day–presume to reflect the teacher’s effectiveness with regard to that child on a fully human basis?
Next post, I will share an experience that I hope will shed light on how teacher evaluations based on student test scores make it harder for teachers to reach for the higher goal:
A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
Think of the teachers in your life. What lasting impacts have they had to help shape your beliefs, attitudes, confidences; to hone your thinking and creative abilities,—not just your knowledge of facts and figures—no matter how rudimentary or advanced? What did they do beyond what any inanimate teaching machine could do?