A Teacher’s Shocking Realization Regarding the PA Teacher Evaluation System

this is a guest post by John Gabriele, an arts educator in the Derry Township School District in Hershey, PA. 

I recently participated in an in-service day at my school district. The topic for the day was Student Engagement and applying it within an H.O.T.S, (Higher Order Thinking Skills) model. In past in-services, we have looked at examples and non-examples of classroom engagement by both the student receiving instruction and the delivery of that instruction by a teacher. Also in our district we are implementing the HEAT Framework and using the Danielson Model of Differentiated Supervision. So we are very heavily involved with the latest philosophies and I must say it is very pleasing that our district is pursuing these ideas. However, as an aside, the H.O.T.S. model was developed alongside Bloom’s work and his taxonomy way back in 1956. It was some time ago that people realized what good teaching entails and I find it very interesting that we as teachers are finally putting these views into practice.

On a part of this recent in-service day, we watched various videos that were gathered from TED Talks on engagement and how the current school model needs to be very different if we are to achieve high levels of student engagement so that students can be lifelong learners, get to the highest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, etc. Again, I was very pleased because TED is one of my daily websites that I access to see a variety of speakers on a variety of topics. We were placed in small groups to better facilitate discussions on the videos. We were charged to answer two questions: 
  1. How do we wake-up kids – really engage them in meaningful tasks and learning while still operating in the educational system that is imposed upon us? (PSSA, Keystones, Standards, etc.); and 
  2. How might grades act similarly to money to describe how motivation works? 

One of the videos we watched was Dan Pink’s talk on motivation in which he provides scientific evidence that giving monetary rewards does not make a better product, produce better individuals, etc.  As many of you know, this is the age old query stated as, “what is better: extrinsic rewards or intrinsic rewards?” Being an Arts Educator, I follow the “process is better than the product” method. After the discussion period of this video a fellow teacher very accurately stated, “The new PA Teacher Evaluation system is based on extrinsic rewards!” Sorry, if this was evident to many of you in the past, but I finally realized that to make better teachers and ultimately better teaching, one can’t give “grades” to achieve the best. After this realization, I can’t believe that others don’t see this also.  

How can a teacher create a classroom that has authentic engagements with collaborations that extend beyond the classroom when we are forced to achieve a certain ranking? The same things that we as teachers hated doing to our students are now going to be done to us. How can we achieve those lofty goals of every educator: having students love learning, giving students a sense of self-worth, being productive members of society, etc., if we have to follow a predictable routine? I know that in PA a teacher has great latitude in the daily lesson plan, (it is not a “one size fits all” curriculum), but at the end of the day the teacher will be trying his/her best to be labeled proficient/advanced. This is like giving candy or money to a child to achieve a certain outcome. Yes, it is fine a couple of times, but it doesn’t produce a level of commitment to the job of teaching that is required for our students to learn in the 21stCentury. 

Is all this test-taking (which even the students know is just to get a rating/score that isn’t related to learning beyond the classroom) worthwhile? And more importantly, might teachers now try to get the best ranking/score without regard for whether the student has fully understood the material, be able to transfer the knowledge, or have profound learning which shapes students’ habits and worldviews? I think that finally we are going to have a lot more teachers “teach to the test.” I also think it is time I get back to writing lesson plans.


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