I dare you to measure the “value” I add

Guest Post by Donna McKenna

This was first published on March 8 on Donna McKenna’s blog, No Sleep ’til Summer.  She is an elementary ESL teacher passionate about language learners and language learning.  Published with permission.

Note: This post is a continuation of yesterday’s post entitled Quality Teaching: We’re Looking in the Wrong Place.  Evaluating teachers using Value-Added Modeling is shameful and degrading, not only because VAM is unscientific and a fraud, but because it does an enormous disservice to professional teachers and their students. Today, we’re looking in one of the right places, into Donna McKenna’s ESL classroom.

After reading this post, I hope that you will be motivated to share your comments about the real value that teachers add to students’ lives.

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Tell me how you determine the value I add to my class.

Tell me about the algorithms you applied when you took data from 16 students over a course of nearly five years of teaching and somehow used it to judge me as “below average” and “average”.

Tell me how you can examine my skills and talents and attribute worth to them without knowing me, my class, or my curriculum requirements.

Tell me how and I will tell you:

  • How all of my students come from different countries, different levels of prior education and literacy, and how there is no “research-based” elementary curriculum created to support schools or teachers to specifically meet their needs.
  • How the year for which you have data was the year my fifth graders first learned about gangs, the Internet, and their sexual identities.
  • How the year for which you have data was the year that two of my students were so wracked by fear of deportation, depression and sleep deprivation from nightmares, that they could barely sit still and often fought with other students. How they became best of friends by year end. How one of them still visits me every September.
  • How that year most of my students worked harder than ever, (despite often being referred to as “the low class” or “lower level” within earshot of them), inspiring me and the teachers around us, despite the fact that many of these same students believed they could never go to college because of their immigration status.
  • How that year many of my students vaulted from a first to third and fourth grade reading levels but still only received a meaningless “1? on their report cards because such growth is not valued by our current grading system.
  • How that was the year I quickly gained 6 new students from other countries and had my top 3 transferred out in January to general education classrooms because my school thankfully realized I shouldn’t have 32 students in a multilevel self-contained ESL class.
  • How the year for which you have data was the year that two of my students, twins who had come from China just the year before to live with parents they hadn’t seen since they were toddlers, finally started to speak in May. And smile. And make friends. How they kept in touch with me via edmodo for two years after leaving my school.
  • How that year I taught my class rudimentary American Sign Language for our research project; inspired and excited, they mostly taught themselves the Pledge of Allegiance, songs for our school play, John Lennon’s Imagine, and songs for graduation, all in ASL. Then we created an online video-translation dictionary using their first language, English, and ASL. They wrote scripts for skits we videotaped to teach many of these words in context.

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This year, my class represents seven countries, two continents, and three languages in one room. Together, they create a tapestry you can neither see, nor feel, nor imagine. I have students who grew up practicing Kung Fu and Tai Chi before school and now always get in trouble in gym for running. I have students in my fifth grade who never went to school before they crossed the US border last year or the year before. I have students who, although in fifth and fourth grade, are capable of doing 7th grade math while others are still learning to add and subtract well. I have a student who just came this year and is already reading on grade level.

I choose to revel in the richness this kind of diversity can bring to my classroom. The challenges, obstacles and pitfalls that teaching a group like this to work together, to learn, to create and grow both tire and thrill me. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel both excited and exhausted at the idea of tomorrow because of all that teaching a class like this entails.

But never will you be able to judge me or my students by one day or one test. Never will I give one iota of care about your tests, no matter how hard I work to help my students to do their best on it, knowing they aren’t meant to pass it because it is written far above their reading levels, and were written with native English speakers in mind. You can’t measure me as a teacher, because you haven’t imagined teachers like me or classes like mine. Their experiences are outside yours.

Tell me how important your data and tests are, and I will tell you how I don’t value your data because it tells me so little about my students yet so much about your educational system.

Your data says one thing: your system is what fails my students.

I hope that you will be motivated to share your comments about the real value that teachers add to students’ lives.  Tell us what you think.

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