Putting Education Reform To The Test

Classroom Contemplations: How School Grades Get It Wrong

Miami-Dade teacher Jeremy Glazer says the state's school report card system often doesn't send a the right message.

Editor’s note: Names of teachers and students have been changed.

Professionals should be responsible for their job performance and should be evaluated and retained accordingly.

Who doesn’t agree with that?

My problem isn’t with accountability or evaluating teachers.  My problem is with the schemes I’ve encountered so far in my career that have been designed to hold teachers accountable.

I’ve been lucky enough to teach at a range of schools.  And even though I’m the same teacher, I’ve been treated (and paid) differently in ways that had more to do with the kind of school in which I was working than with my performance in the classroom.

My first encounter with Florida’s school grading system and the accompanying bonuses for teachers happened when I was teaching in a large urban school in one of the poorer neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County.  The system is designed to combine many pieces of data, such as student test scores or percentage of students taking advanced classes, and reduce it to a simple A through F letter grade.

My high school was graded an F.  My colleagues and I not only suffered the shame of being publicly labeled failures, we were denied the bonus given to the “successful” teachers at higher-performing schools.

Three years later, I taught at one of those higher performing schools, located in an affluent suburban neighborhood.  My school received an A grade and I got my accolades and my bonus.

Was my teaching different?  If anything, I worked harder at the failing school. I was trying constantly to be innovative and to engage my students who were not used to rigorous academic standards.

I was not a better teacher when I was in the suburbs.  But, my students’ test scores were better, so I got rewarded.

I’ll talk more later about the problem with equating test scores with teaching, but first I think it’s important to look at what such poorly-designed accountability systems have done for our toughest schools.

See, the deck is already stacked against lower-performing schools in terms of attracting and retaining teachers.  Many of these schools often lack resources, community support, parent involvement, and strong academic cultures for a variety of reasons and teachers tend to quickly burn out or seek other options.  These schools have a tremendous need for a stable, committed, highly effective teaching force and often have a harder time attracting and maintaining one.

And these accountability systems make that even worse.  When teachers get punished at tough schools and get rewarded at schools that are already high-performing, we create another incentive for teachers to flee low-performing schools.

These “accountability” systems are more about where you work than how well you do the job.

It is the opposite of what we should be doing with our policies.

Jeremy Glazer is a Miami-Dade teacher writing about classroom issues for StateImpact Florida. Want to sound off on something Glazer has written? Want to suggest a topic for him? Send us an email at Florida@stateimpact.org and put “Classroom Contemplations” in the subject line.


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