Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Teaching in Dangerous Times: Culturally Relevant Approaches to Teacher Assessment

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Teaching in Dangerous Times: Culturally Relevant Approaches to Teacher Assessment

Article excerpt

New teacher assessment tools claim to provide more authentic evaluation of teacher competency. However, some aspects of these new assessment tools may actually serve to reinscribe a narrow set of teaching practices that fail to serve all children well-particularly children of color and children living in poverty. This article looks at some of the debate surrounding teacher assessment and raises questions about what is missing in so-called "authentic" assessments of teachers.


In the popular book, Dangerous Minds (initially released as My Posse Don't Do Homework in 1992) former-Marine-turned-teacher LouAnne Johnson is credited with turning around the "class from hell"-a group of urban African American and Latino students on the road to failure in school and in life. This book (and subsequent motion picture) was just one more of what Strop (1996) identifies as among the "teacher-as-savior" genre of filmsmovies that construct an image of teachers, particularly White teachers, as "rescuing" urban students of color from themselves, their families, and their communities (Baker, 1996). Closer examination of these celluloid pedagogies reveals characters who, with missionary-like zeal, struggle to give their otherwise hopeless students hope, raise these students' abysmally low levels of self-esteem, and steer them away from the path of wanton self-destruction.

Unfortunately, most of the teachers in this film genre pay little or no attention to the academic achievement of their students. Thus, while many audiences applaud the Hollywood teacher-images' amazing social work, interpersonal, and cross-cultural communication skills, few real-life educators and/or educational researchers would point to any of these histrionic teachers as exemplary classroom instructors. Nonetheless, what the actors teaching on the silver screen do with students Delpit 1995) dubs "other people's children" is seen as just fine-as long as no one in the real world tries to do the same things with the children whom most of the nation's educators view as "their own."

Given the changing demographics of the student body in the United States and the bifurcation of public school student populations into groups of haves and have-nots, it is important to understand that, rather than confronting dangerous minds, teachers of urban students of color are teaching in dangerous times. One of the most urgent issues facing this perilous era and the cadre of teachers who serve in it is that of being able to more accurately measure what students know and are able to do. Much attention has been paid to new forms of student assessment that purportedly do just that (Newmann & Associates, 1996). However, communities of color, which historically have raised questions about the potential biases built into traditional test measures, have challenged the purpose and design of many of the new assessments (The College Board, 1985; Educational Testing Service, 1991).

The scrutiny of student assessment has been accompanied by a focus in the educational community at large on teacher assessment (Darling-Hammond, 1988; Wise, DarlingHammond, & Berry, 1987). Within three years after the publication of the U.S. Commission on Excellence in Education's (1983) A Nation at Risk report, two national studies focusing on the need to improve the nation's teaching force emerged: the Holmes Group's (1986) Teachers for Tomorrow's Schools and the Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession's (1986) A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century. Among the suggestions offered by these bodies in the mid-1980s were: (a) higher standards for admission into the teaching profession, (b) elimination of the undergraduate degree in education, and (c) improved assessment measures for both preservice and inservice teachers. This era also saw the creation of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC). …

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