Academic journal article Language Arts

Teacher Performance Assessment

Academic journal article Language Arts

Teacher Performance Assessment

Article excerpt

Growth through Language Arts and the Conundrum of Teacher Evaluation

Peter Smagorinsky

I have adapted the title of this essay from John Dixon, whose Growth through English (1967) was among the books written in the wake of the Anglo-American Conference at Dartmouth College in 1966. This event led to major changes in the teaching of English and language arts in the United States. The ideas generated at Dartmouth helped to found the National Writing Project in 1974, brought Rosenblatt's transactional theory of literary response greater attention, helped to shift teachers' attention from learning product to learning process, and introduced to North America other changes away from formalism-an emphasis on the final form of texts-and toward the processes and experiences of students as they engaged with texts and each other. According to this "growth model," the purpose of engagement with an English or language arts curriculum is to promote the personal growth of individual learners. Dixon and other British participants argued that emphasizing texts at the expense of the learner prevented students from growing as people through their reading, writing, talking, performing, and other activities available through language arts.

The monolith that Dixon and colleagues worked against sounds quite a bit like the formalist curriculum that our policy leaders are imposing on teachers today. He said, for instance, that when culture undergoes rapid change, "there is a tendency to panic, to define an external curriculum-a system into which teacher and pupil must fit-i nstead of helping teachers, in departments and larger groups, to define for themselves the order and sequence that underlies their best work" (p. 84). This description could fit many present-day school systems that are adopting some version of the Common Core State Standards (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) or other national curriculum in order to force uniformity upon a population that is increasingly diverse (United States Census Bureau, 2012). Dixon continues, "[I]t seems an elementary mistake to demand a list of skills, proficiencies, and knowledge as the basis for an English curriculum. Demands of this kind produce two wrong kinds of answer: answers so detailed that we determine, let's say, the books every child should read by a particular stage; or answers so general that the skills, etc., described are not amenable to being put in order one after the other" (p. 5).

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

But some things do change. One is the definition of "growth model." I live in Georgia, where the state Department of Education (DOE) has now announced a new way of measuring student and school progress and unveiled an interactive Internet tool that provides easy access (gastudentgrowth. According to the DOE, it produces "[t]he metric that will help educators, parents, and other stakeholders better understand and analyze the progress students make year to year." Sounds fantastic, doesn't it?

The "Student Growth Model," as it is officially known, relies on two measurements. One is based on the percentage of students who meet or exceed state standards on, for elementary and middle school students, Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests; high school students' growth is measured by scores on End-of-Course tests. The second measurement is designed to assess year-to-year progress of each student, in comparison both to students in other Georgia schools and students at the national level in "academically similar" schools in terms of demographic and socioeconomic statistics. And here's where things get predictably dicey: these measurements contribute in a big way to the state's new teacher assessment system because the model assumes that there is a one-t o-one causal relationship between individual teachers and individual students in terms of their test scores, scores that serve as a proxy for learning, for growth, and for teacher effectiveness. …

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