Pretend you’re a teacher in Ohio. As a teacher, your job is to educate the children in your class. You do this through a variety of methods – talking, listening, correcting, etc. – but it always includes some form of assessment of the students’ knowledge. An assessment takes many forms, but it is always used to gauge how well the students have learned AND is used by you, the teacher, to assess your own teaching and where you may need to reteach and improve your own knowledge going forward. The way you do this is by looking at the assessments you have given the students and evaluating gaps in understanding. If the entire class has missed a key concept, then that is typically an area where you need to do a better job of teaching.
This pattern of teaching and assessing occurs in every classroom whether it is an informal assessment (a conversation with the students) or a very formal and comprehensive midterm or final written exam. In either case, it is always important that the teacher evaluate the results of the assessment in order to improve their teaching and, ultimately, improve student learning.
This concept of improvement by the teacher to improve student learning is a key part of the new teacher evaluation system in Ohio known as OTES. Currently, teachers of math and reading in grades 4-8 receive scores based on how well their students perform from one year to the next on the Ohio Achievement Assessments (OAA’s) These are better known as the Value-Added results that compare a student’s previous performance on the OAA’s with their most recent year’s performance. Simplistically speaking, if the teacher’s students (as a group) achieved higher than expected, the teacher receives a favorable rating, but if the students scored lower than expected, the teacher receives an unfavorable rating.
These teacher-level value-added results (and value-added results for schools and districts) could be used by everyone in the organization to discover what teachers are having success and what teachers need to improve – and that is essentially the theory for including value-added into the new OTES system despite objections by the founders of the value-added concept of measurement. But that’s been argued and lost as Ohio’s legislature passed the laws to include it.
So we find ourselves with this value-added information (and the concept of student growth) as a key part (up to 50%) of a teacher’s annual evaluation. In fact, a teacher receiving a low rating might be required to take a state test over the content, they will most certainly be required to engage in professional training on the content and, if they don’t make improvements, the teacher could ultimately lose their job.
As we already explained, assessments play a key role in this process of teacher improvement and improved student learning, and Ohio’s standardized tests are no exception. If a teacher receives a low value-added rating due to their students scoring poorly on the state test, the first step to helping improve that teacher’s practice should be to look at the assessment and identify what questions and concepts most often tripped up the students. In this manner you, still pretending you’re the teacher, can best identify where your content teaching weaknesses lie and you can subsequently focus on improving in those areas.
Likewise, a teacher who receives a high rating can identify areas of strength and possibly be tapped to work with teachers who need support. This is the concept of replicating best practices across classes and schools to improve teaching and, as a result, student learning.
Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?
In theory, it is, and this process happened in schools across the state for years. The state used to provide an Item Analysis for the Ohio tests that educators could use to analyze student performance on each question of the assessment – labeled by the concept the question was intended to test. I can recall looking at these analyses and learning that students often struggled with the short answer and extended response questions – a realization that resulted in changes to district curricular resources designed to help students explain their answers more comprehensively and score higher on the state tests. That’s the point, right?
The point of the new state evaluation system must also be to improve teachers and student learning in Ohio, right?
Not so much.
This very simple process of looking at the comprehensive assessment of student learning that is used to evaluate teacher performance has been taken away from educators across the state. You, dear teacher, are no longer allowed to access the most important test in the state that could help you target areas for improvement in your teaching that would subsequently result in improving student learning in your classroom. You, dear teacher, cannot see what questions your students performed poorly on, you are unable to identify what knowledge or concepts your students didn’t fully understand, and you are not allowed to uncover some of the most important information that would lead to improving your own practice.
Why, you may ask, is this most important information withheld from educators across the state?
Look at this explanation in the shaded box on the Ohio Department of Education’s website where this information was formerly available:
Since 2011, the invaluable test materials and item analysis reports have not been released due to Ohio House Bill 153. You may recognize that bill as being one of Governor Kasich’s budget bills that passed along partisan lines. In fact, HB 153 was the same bill that implemented the very teacher evaluation system that, supposedly, was designed to improve teaching and learning in Ohio.
Hey teacher – do you think Ohio’s elected republican officials know what’s best for teaching and learning in Ohio?
Hey parent – do you think Ohio’s elected republican officials are truly interested in helping your child’s teacher improve or helping your child learn more effectively?