A reflection on another school year and ESSA

The end of another school year is here; yearbooks are signed, progress reports are finalized, summer plans are made, and the final bell rings, marking the start of summer vacation. The activities leading up to this moment are hectic, exciting, and a definite cause for celebration of the accomplishments made by kids and teachers during the school year.

For students, gains in academic progress, as well as, milestones met in social learning and independence are recognized through mastery of IEP goals, passing scores on tests, and comparison of performance data from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. Teachers also review qualitative data to articulate student changes. These assessment processes require carefully orchestrated team effort with leadership and guidance from educators to ensure that the progress made by students is effectively expressed. Assuring all stakeholders can see successes and areas of continued need.

essa-signing-RethinkEqually important at the end of the year is the reflection of educators on their growth as professionals and identification of areas in-need of improvement. When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed in December 2015, the ownership of teacher evaluation protocols returned to individual states to define effective teacher and how is that measured.

In a recent article published by Education Week, author Ross Wiener, identifies three strategies that are critical for states to focus upon during this exciting change: ensure evaluators are adequately trained to focus on growth, allow flexibility in the measurement of student learning, and test to ensure the integrity of the evaluation system. Weiner’s recommendation that evaluators are trained and certified to focus on professional growth and not just ratings resonates in the spirit of reflective teaching and learning.

We must view kids as more than their test scores, and the call to evaluate teachers using more than a rating is vital in the continued development of highly-qualified, dedicated professionals who value professional learning and growth. The type of educator who can look at their own practices, receive feedback, and identify not what they are good or bad at but rather what they improved upon. This process calls to mind Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset and the idea that growth is so much more than effort but reflection on what about your effort was not successful, what you learned through the effort, and using that information to decide what to do differently next time.

teacher evaluationsRoss Wiener’s suggestion of professional growth having equal weight to quantitative ratings on teacher evaluation opens a door for administrators to learn to foster a growth mindset in teachers through the evaluation process. Just as summative reports for children are multi-faceted and holistic, so should be teacher evaluations. Valuing both the rating but also the ability to accept feedback allows teachers to grow, have courage to try new things, and ultimately widen the breadth of their professional experience which trickles down to benefit our primary focus, students.

As the year winds down, I encourage you, as a professional educator, a parent, or even administrator to truly reflect and accept the feedback of what went well this year and what did not and why. Take that knowledge and use it – make a small or large change; it could be all the difference!

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