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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