Reimagining Education

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A Special Ed Teacher’s Take on Value Added Evaluations

By Amanda Henry, Guest Blogger

I would like to thank Joe Robertson for this thoughtful piece “Some fear tying teacher evaluations to student performance ignores many variables” that appeared in the July 5, 2012 edition of the Kansas City Star. Explaining the value added method of evaluating teachers is a complicated task and I commend him for taking it on.

However, I would like to add another perspective to the debate over whether student performance (value added) should be considered when evaluating teachers. I have been a special education teacher for four years in the Saint Louis Public Schools. During this time, all of my students have come to me academically behind and/or with severe behavior needs.

Take for instance Darrell who was diagnosed with a “specific learning disability” when he was eight years old. In addition to his diagnosis, there was plenty of other “noise”, as the researchers call it, in his life that might affect the way he learns. He was from a single-family household. His mom had him when she was 16 and never graduated from high school. And to top it off, he had seen one uncle shot and another taken to prison.  The first assessment I gave him told me that while he was in sixth grade, he was reading at about a second grade level.

As Darrell’s teacher, I knew that even with all that noise in his life, meeting him at his second grade level and moving him forward was my job. By the end of the year, Darrell was reading at a fifth grade level, well below what would get him the coveted proficient score on the MAP test, but well above what most would have expected for him. Not only had he grown academically, but he had gained far more than a few grade levels in reading—he had gained confidence, problem-solving skills, and self-worth.

Under the current system for evaluating me, all his future teachers will see, my employers will see, and our community will see is that he was another student in my classroom who didn’t score proficient—who isn’t where he “should” be at his grade level. If we had a value added measure, his future teachers, my employers and our community would know what he, his mother and I learned and celebrated together—that he could learn and grow at an alarming rate with my continued dedication and hard work.

I understand moving to a value added measure is complicated and a big change from the current way Missouri evaluates its teachers, but I strongly encourage the teachers union and associations to think about how using a value added measure could benefit their teachers and the families and students they are serving. A value added measure can prove that our students are progressing, and that they are meeting the challenges they face with courage, hard work, and the dedication of teachers working hard to ensure students’ academic and personal growth.

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