Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How Do You Measure Your Effectiveness

It's that time of year again. The final push in the marathon school year that ends with North Carolina's End of Grade Tests. I always have a mood change when the stress of the daily grind takes over at this time of year. I asked myself, "Why am I feeling this way?" I have some ideas.

This mood hit full force this morning on the way to work when I realized that most of my Wednesday afternoon would be reserved for test administrator training. That's usually a 2-hour or so ordeal where we go over things like the Testing Code of Ethics (again - and yes it's important), and dissect the test administrator's manual. Highlighters whiz across pages at breakneck speed and we all pay special attention to all the warnings and directions about how to administer these assessments reliably and ethically.

I fully understand assessment is necessary, and accountability is ultimately a good thing. Every business has it, and education needs it too. It's just that I have an issue with what our method really tells us at the end of the year.

This morning I was helping third grade students take multiple choice test items using ClassScape. Teachers can pull test items by state goal and create assessments that return detailed data about what students answered correctly and incorrectly. It's a powerful tool that lets us as educators know how our students are doing and what we need to review and reteach. It's basically an EOG test on the computer. Usually, when our students come to the lab I see a little excitement in their eyes and motivated pupils who know we're going to do something creative and "cool." Today, the reaction was just the opposite. That reaction was powerful too.

I can't answer for for anyone except myself, but I know I got into education because I wanted to make a difference. I know that's cliche', but it's accurate. I believe most good educators got into the business for this reason as well. But what does that look like? How do we define and assess the difference we made at the student level like we attempt to using standardized test scores?

The fact is - I don't think we do, and that leaves me with an empty feeling.

At the end of the year all we are left with are rosters with scaled scores, percentages, breakdowns, and roman numerals. That doesn't tell me enough about my effectiveness as an educator.

I'd like to know that I helped develop more than a good test taker, but helped develop the whole child. I'd like to be able to look at my rosters and say, I helped motivate a child when there was little motivation. I'd like to know I taught students successfully to understand and accept classmates that were different with different opinions. I'd like to know if what I taught was clearly conveyed as necessary for successful living. That list goes on, but you get the point.

I want to try something different with our students using our teaching blog at the end of this year by allowing them to reflect on their school year and see what they can convey about what they have learned. I'm still working on the prompt, but at least I will have an assessment of sorts that is bigger than any scaled score. The responses will be valuable because the students will define the assessment by reflecting on what was significant to them. It won't be constricted to an A,B,C, D answer on a bubble sheet. I don't think students reflect enough, and that is a valuable lifelong skill to master. Of that I am sure.

Help me, if you will, shape this prompt. How do we as educators measure our authentic effectiveness?


  1. This is a tough question and I agree, that it does leave you with reflections. Having the students write reflections seems like a good thing. As teachers I don't ever stop reflecting on what worked with a student or a teacher I'm helping. Over time, I have become more comfortable in that I'm now working with the students of the children I taught in 1st, 2nd, 3rd grade, or computer lab. They come back and visit and talk and have fond memories; I know this isn't assessment, but they are functioning adults who are engaged in their children's education and that is enough for now.

  2. I am not exactly sure how to get a true measurement of my effectiveness, but I think comparing what my students were able to do (or knew) at the beginning of the year with what they are able to do (or know) at the end of the year is a good place to start. I have had my students at various points during the year, write blog entries about what they have learned and how they can use that knowledge in the future. I hope to do that closer to the end of the year also.
    I have discovered that I can learn a lot (and gather a great deal of information) by listening to (observing) the conversations my students have while they are working and/or with others about what they have worked on in my class. I am able to figure out what lessons have or have not worked, what skills need some or more work, and more ways to stretch the critical and creative thinking of the students.
    I guess I could do a formal comparatve analysis project to prove effectiveness, but for me I think the simple comparision (and realization) of the change in students from the beginning of the time period to the end (whether the time period is a day, week, month, or school year) is enough. Writing down the observation and things I learn is a way for me to document both student progress and my progress.

  3. I have done a lot of work with my students this year using Problem-Based Learning (PBL) experiences. In the beginning of the year, I was more of a teacher and director during these explorations. I introduced a PBL activity two days ago, and as I observed my students working, I reflected on how far they had come in terms of their thinking skills, reasoning, providing support for ideas, and critical/creative thinking skills. Those skills are not easily measured on a standardized test. My role in conducting PBL activities shifted from teacher/director to providing guidance as a facilitator.

    The technology things we have done this year have also followed that same progression. I smiled when I saw how quickly my students went to our class blog to type about their thinking and what things they did to solve the problems.

    These observations and personal reflections are a few of the ways I am "measuring my effectiveness" this year.