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Measuring Student Success and Teacher Accountability

A teacher high-fives one of her students.

Student success has always been the primary goal of teaching. Procedures that measure success have, however, changed over the years. Most recently, for example, standardized testing has been the yardstick by which students are measured, and many educators have mixed feelings about this method of measuring achievement. In fact, teachers have different opinions about their role in helping students succeed in general.

Measuring Student Success

A school's success is measured by many metrics, including graduation rates, retention rates, student satisfaction, and social and emotional learning. But test scores remain the major component of how success is evaluated.

Further Reading: The Truth About the Effect of Teacher Optimism on Student Performance

Results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the National Assessment of Educational Program (NAEP) were revealed in late 2019, and the outcomes were disappointing: 15-year-olds made little or no progress on the PISA between 2015 and 2018, The 74 reports, and fourth and eighth graders made no significant progress in reading or math on the NAEP. Excessive testing isn't helping students improve academically.

How do these results affect teachers and their performance evaluations? It largely depends on the school.

According to ACT Research and Policy, teacher evaluation changed in the late 2000s, when the procedures used to evaluate K-12 teacher effectiveness "began to incentivize states to adopt teacher evaluation systems that included measures of student growth for teachers in all grades and subjects as a significant factor in the evaluation." States enacted legislation that incorporated measures of student growth into teacher evaluations.

 

However, implementation challenges, public opinion, and lawsuits challenged the legality of these evaluation systems. The Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed in 2015, removed the focus on student growth as part of teacher evaluations; it doesn't even require every state to have a teacher evaluation system. With no federal mandate or incentive, districts are left to decide how teachers are evaluated, and, in many cases, test scores still factor heavily into that analysis.

I spoke with several public school teachers about issues of accountability, the quest for student success, and the dangers of teacher burnout. Here's what they had to say.

How can teachers establish good boundaries to avoid burning out?

Grace, a public high school teacher: Teachers have always been accountable for their students' success. That's nothing new. However, tying teachers' evaluations to test scores isn't an effective measure, especially when we know that a great deal goes into a student's scores, such as socioeconomic background and individual effort. The most reliable predictor of a student's test score is still their zip code. I'll be happy for the move away from endless testing and a focus on true learning, but we must focus on the inequities that hold some children back.

Mekaye, a public high school teacher: Exactly. We need to acknowledge the socioeconomic realities and at the same time work diligently to help low-income students succeed. Growth is often based on one test, but myriad factors affect student performance.

Arlene, an administrator for grades 5–12: Teachers are accountable for the learning that results from their work. If students aren't finding success, teaching is part of the puzzle.

Paolo, a public school elementary principal: It's also important to note that pressure from the state, district, and school administration can often hinder success.

How does this accountability contribute to teacher burnout?

Arlene: I think burnout results from many factors, but accountability is definitely part of it. The focus on social and emotional learning has also made us think about our students in new and overwhelming ways.

Grace: There's a direct correlation between child poverty and student success. There's only so much a teacher can do, yet we shoulder the load and receive a great deal of the blame. That can be overpowering.

Paolo: Teachers are inundated with data meetings and professional learning group meetings. Sometimes, when a functional team is trusted to work on its own, with support when needed, teachers are happier and more successful.

How can teachers establish good boundaries to avoid burning out?

Grace: At the federal and state level, do what's necessary to mitigate the effects of poverty. Fully fund schools. Get rid of unnecessary meetings and data review. Give teachers the resources they need to be successful.

Paolo: One way to lessen burnout would be to let teachers who have a proven track record of success make their own decisions. As long as teachers review the data and know which students need what, let them teach. Extra accountability and detailed reteach plans are useless.

Arlene: Keep email off your phone. Work at work, and be home at home. Laugh as much as possible. Monitor how much headspace is dedicated to student issues.

Mekaye: Work smarter, not harder, by creating a sustainable workload that maximizes student learning without wasting time on menial tasks.

Districts expect an increasing amount of work from teachers. How can teachers cope?

Paolo: Self-care! You can't pour from an empty cup. Divide and conquer the load. Share lessons. Self-advocate if something is wrong.

Arlene: The issue isn't more work. The profession has changed. There's no way to accommodate the more traditional ways of teaching and the methods students need in the 21st century. Let go of the old to make way for the new. If you try to do both at once, it'll feel like too much work.

Mekaye: We need to work on communicating to the public what we need—not for a pity party, but to better illustrate our responsibilities. We have to accept what's out of our control. Part of it's being able to do our best and accept the results.

The Teacher's Role in Student Success

As we enter 2020, it's clear through the teacher activism we've seen across the country that teachers' voices are being heard and that teachers are continuing to fight for a seat at the table, especially when it comes to looking at measures of student success. As Grace's, Arlene's, Mekaye's, and Paolo's answers reveal, teachers have varying perspectives on how accountable they should be for their students' successes and how measurements for success affect teachers.

Further Reading: 3 Ways to Avoid Teacher Burnout

But one thing is clear: success isn't always defined by a test score. These teachers—and many others—agree that socioeconomic status, regulations, and access to resources all contribute to students' achievements.