Teacher Evaluation reform: Why the #PhysEd profession needs to pay attention
Authors note: The context of this post is written in response to United States educator evaluation reform and the state of Oregon. Specifically, requirements imposed by the U.S. Department of Education for the majority of educator evaluation to be based on student learning and growth (SLG) as per requirements for states to keep ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) flexibility waivers from some of the stricter provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. I have no knowledge of teacher evaluation reforms that are taking place outside of this context so this post may not be entirely relevant for everyone.
This week I had the opportunity to attend the Summer Assessment Institute in Eugene, Oregon with the curriculum team in my district. While spending three days talking about data, numbers, metrics, and assessment may not seem like everyone’s favorite way to spend three days, there are some very important lessons to pay attention to as physical education teachers who are part of the #PhysEd profession. The last session I attended (which actually will play pretty heavily with my new position) talked about the new student learning and growth goals that educators must write and be held accountable for as part of their evaluations. My intent is not to describe the details of them, but rather inform you of one very important take away and it is this:
Federal and state requirements MANDATE that student learning and growth MUST be included as a significant factor of educators’ summative performance evaluations.
Let that sink in for a minute…
Now, let’s break down what that actually means before we begin to discuss implications. What that is saying is that (at least in the state of Oregon) physical education teachers must set two student learning and growth goals that are academic (directly tied to state or national standards) that must include baseline data taken by pre-assessment and then compared with data from a post-assessment to determine the exact level of student learning and growth that has occurred. This information WILL be used to determine an educators’ EFFECTIVENESS based on a rubric score. This is serious business. Professional lives hang in the balance with an evaluation system such as this. Therefore, it will be my argument that as a physical education profession we must stand up and let our voice be heard so that we do this right with respect to best practices of the profession AND what is best for the students we serve.
Before I continue, I want to be very clear. This post is not a critique on including student learning and growth as part of educator evaluation. Frankly, at its core, my personal belief is that this change to educator evaluation is not a bad thing. In many ways, I feel it professionalizes the physical education profession. I am afraid misinterpretation of how to do this could have dramatically negative effects on students and how teaching happens in physical education classrooms. A couple things to know:
1. These student learning and growth (SLG) goals are to be initiated by the TEACHER.
2. Assessments used MUST be common across the district or school building level. They may not be classroom level assessments.
3. The primary goal is to promote professional growth and continuous improvement of educators’ practice.
I have been reading a lot of the work done by Elmore lately. Particularly, his work with instructional rounds and the instructional core. For those unfamiliar, the instructional core refers to the triangle of:
The idea is that if you are going to create sustainable change that is beneficial, you have to change all three of those conditions. For example, districts could adopt new curriculum (content and materials) and they could provide professional development in how to deliver it (teachers). However, unless what the student is being asked to do (students) changes, then the outcomes will not be improved. As Elmore states, “task predicts performance.” Bartalo puts this another way when he says, “Classroom after classroom is dominated by inactive student passengers with an active teacher driver doing most of the thinking” (Closing the Teaching Gap, p. 49)
So what are the implications on the physical education profession; ergo, why should we care? I want us to look at Elmore’s triangle of the instructional core in a slightly different way. Instead of Teacher — Student — Content, look at it as Teaching methods — Assessment literacy — Student learning and growth. This foundational shift in how physical education teachers will be evaluated is putting considerable pressure on physical education professionals to not only be current with the best practices of the profession, but also have a knowledge level of assessment practices that many of us do not have at this moment. How many PE classes could we walk into (which are probably significantly larger in class size than other classrooms) in the United States where you see students assessed in this way (or something similar):
10 points a day
1 point for being on time, 3 points for dressing down, 3 points for good sportsmanship, 3 points for “participation.” Every student starts the day with 10 points and you can only lose points when you don’t meet these expectations. Of course this is simplistic, so usually it is only 70% of the grade and 20% would be dedicated to quizzes/tests/journals and 10% might be personal fitness plan projects with respect to fitness…fitness testing.
Wait a minute…I’m going to say that again…
Now, there are many educators who DO NOT grade in this way, but let’s think about how many that still do. Further, what is a common thread amongst almost ALL Physical Education professionals? Fitness testing. It is not the data that is important, rather how we use that data. I am quite fearful that if we do not use our voice as a profession, fitness testing pre/post scores will become part of many physical education professionals educator evaluation processes because: 1.) there are criterion based tests (Fitnessgram) and 2.) many physical education professionals and administrators do not possess the skills in current best practices (Teaching methods) and modes of assessment (assessment literacy) to make this jump without significant professional support in these areas. In fact, I have already seen one physical education example that was being developed by the Oregon Department of Education that included fitness test scores as exactly the data used to write these professional goals. Additionally, in conversations with a handful of hardworking administrators I have had about setting SLG’s, it is often suggested as part of a brainstorm, “why don’t you use fitness test data from the mile, pacer or push up test?” Can you see the direction that this could be going? These are hard working people, but clearly they haven’t even taken the time to browse the Fitnessgram website which clearly states:
Inappropriate uses of Fitnessgram
- Using student scores to evaluate or grade students—either the raw score or as a percentage of improvement
Posting students’ individual Fitnessgram scores (in keeping with the HELP philosophy, these are considered personal and should not be made public)
- Student scores should not be used to evaluate teacher effectiveness
- Student scores should not be used as a sole measure to evaluate overall physical education quality
I am deeply troubled at what this might mean for teaching and learning practices in the physical education classroom. If all of a sudden, some physical education teachers are writing student learning and growth goals that depend on data from fitness testing (and therefore their job evaluation) what kind of learning opportunities might that person create for students?
So what do we need to do as a profession to create awareness before it is too late? I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book Farenheit 451 by Bradbury as something to think about and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
I saw the way things were going, a long time back. I said nothing. I’m one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out when no one would listen to the “guilty,” but I did not speak and thus became guilty myself.