I follow the posts on the MiddleWeb blog. On January 27th, Elizabeth Stein posted “Co-Teachers: What a Tangled Web We’re In.” In her post, Elizabeth focuses on serving the needs of special education students through coteaching and poses thoughtful questions about how educators should or can be evaluated in coteaching situations in terms of student learning outcomes. Her concerns and questions remind me of several conversations I participated in at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia last month.
One of the challenges in determining a causal relationship between teachers’ teaching and students’ learning outcomes is a false assumption that there can be a valid, undisputable cause and effect relationship between individual teacher’s teaching and individual student’s learning. In middle and high schools, interdisciplinary learning and teaching must be considered. For example, a student’s ability to comprehend a narrative math problem may be the result of her learning in English language arts as much as her learning in math class.
Other educators in the building such as librarians, reading and literacy coaches, music, art, P.E., special education teachers, and more (to say nothing of the home and community influencers) all contribute in varying degrees to students’ learning outcomes on any particular assignment or standardized test question for that matter. Even in a self-contained elementary school classroom, other educators in the building may make a measurable difference in student learning.
How then can students’ standardized test question results be ascribed to the teaching efficacy of one teacher and one teacher only? This may be especially problematic for school librarians whose work focuses on teaching students processes that are transferrable to all content areas and contribute to their ability to be effective lifelong learners.
Is it possible to drill down into test results and determine a causal relationship? Do you agree that teacher evaluation tied to students’ standardized test scores is a messy construct? What are your ideas about how to address this issue from the perspective of coteachers — and school librarians or special education teachers, in particular?
Clip Art from Discovery Education
This type of evaluation is a one dimensional and inaccurate slice of teacher and student ability. Student learning is based on many factors as you mention. Tying student outcomes to one teacher does not provide an accurate indication of the teacher’s ability especially when there are students who are promoted with skills well below grade level in a given class.
I am a school librarian in a PK-8 elementary setting. I use the TRAILS assessment with my students to assess their abilities and build my curriculum content. That being said in giving that assessment I also contend with the bubblers, burnt out students, sick students, students below grade level, and students who don’t test well for a variety of reasons. I only consider this as one of the tools I use to measure skills.
I believe that Project Based Learning using standards based content to deliver cross curricular tools gives a much richer picture of student’s ability to apply skills and meaningful content. Couple that with a standards based report card to reflect the true learning outcomes for individual students. Not a perfect fix but perhaps a more accurate view.