Teacher Evaluation and Licensure – What Are We Really Assessing?

As a new teacher, I am on a “provisional certification,” which means that my teacher license is good for only two years. During those two years, I am supposed to document evidence of my growth in Maine’s 10 Teacher Certification Standards (http://www.maine.gov/education/aarbec/tenstandards.html) in order to show that I have met the criteria for professional certification. Because this process is one of the few guided and supervised opportunities that I will have to create a formal plan and goals for improving my practice, I was eagerly looking forward to laying out an ambitious and challenging agenda for myself to follow over the course of the next two years.

During a teacher leadership course that I took last year during my Master’s year, I had heard a lot of negative things about teacher evaluation — particularly how it often fails to adequately measure what makes for successful teaching practice and it’s tendency to indicate that almost all teachers demonstrate effective practice. Despite what I learned in this course, I tried to go optimistically into my professional certification action plan (PCAP) approval meeting this past Tuesday.

I had spent hours laying out three very ambitious goals with 5-8 meaningful action steps apiece. I based this loosely on the template with which my district had provided me. My three goals were to design multiple and rigorous thematic units based on my district’s measurement topics, foster transparent and effective teacher-parent relationships, and to facilitate the growth of self-directed learners. I met with my mentor teacher to discuss my goals prior to the meeting and she thought that my goals and action-steps were thorough and challenging, though perhaps a bit more ambitious than they really need to be. I took this to mean that I could certainly submit my goals as is and assumed that my extra effort would be appreciated.

I could not have been more wrong. When I arrived on Tuesday with my mentor, I was forced to select just two goals and to keep my formatting exactly as their template suggests. I was also required to parse down my action steps — not for my own sanity or to make sure I more adequately focus on these steps — but so that the committee does not have to review products for more than 7 steps total over my two years. Finally, I had to update my “due dates” not to reflect times when I will fit completing these objectives into my own schedule, but for one of two times during the two years when the committee will be reviewing my materials. As such, the focus of my goal sheet seemed to shift from creating a rigorous and personally-meaningful path to follow over my first two years in the classroom to a practice designed to make my professional approval run as smoothly and simply as possible for the committee. While I can understand that it does take time and effort to process the plans of 10+ new teachers, I am disappointed that this effort doesn’t seem to be deemed important enough to pursue. What could be more important than ensuring that only truly qualified and motivated teachers are permitted to continue working in the classroom?

As written, my new plan seems both hollow and shallow. In fact, I could probably hand in most of the pieces of required “measurable evidence” that I am supposed to need two years to finish by the end of the month. It is now becoming more clear to me how easy it would be for an ineffective teachers to continue on in the classroom — at this point, so long as I don’t treat my students egregiously and do just an average job in the classroom, I could easily coast my way to professional certification. It doesn’t seem like it should be that easy to become licensed to do one of the most, if not the most, important jobs in any society. I am disheartened that it seems that I’ll be the only one pushing myself to become the best educator that I can possibly be.

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6 thoughts on “Teacher Evaluation and Licensure – What Are We Really Assessing?

  1. How sad that your high goals and standards needed to be watered down to a hollow and shallow shadow of their true selves to enable evaluation against a set of easily measured but practically valueless criteria. I fear this is all too common an event in standards based education when teachers and students alike are forced to conform to easily measured standards, wasting time in meaningless and repetitive tasks which can be tested in order to provide a score against a benchmark which has no value in or beyond itself. Forcing teachers to conform instead of respecting their professional judgement and creativity reduces, rather than raises, the overall standard of teaching and learning.
    Please remain true to your obvious passion for education. I’m sure you won’t accept the limits of the short sighted criteria imposed, but will continue to challenge yourself and your students with ambitious goals. It can be a lonely and difficult road, and you may feel overwhelmed at times (I know I did / do), but the effort is worth it for yourself and your students.
    Just over 30 years ago I wrote a poem expressing my views on the differences between education and schooling. I believe your post alludes to some of those differences. My poem “Education is ” can be read on my blog http://wp.me/P3O5Jj-r.

    • Wow! I just read your poem — I think you really hit the nail on the head on the difference between “education” and “schooling.” Thanks, too, for the encouraging words — I fear my experience is far too common! But, I also know that so many teachers do continue to hold themselves to higher standards — thank goodness!

    • Hi again! Yes, my experience was almost the same. They justified it with “focus on doing less, better” – which make sense, but I had the sneaking suspicion that it was actually just meant to be less work for them! I suppose once the certification body is able to show with some superficial ‘evidence’ (and like you said, evidence that you could realistically fluff your way to in less than a month), they figure it’s out of their hands and up to Principals to ensure you’re up to standard. It makes me fearful that there may be some pretty ordinary teachers out there!

      • Unfortunately I think our fears are realised. But remember – there are lots of other wonderful teachers out there too, and you are one of them!

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