In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, David Tomar describes his checkered past as an accomplice to teachers who were cheating. For over a decade, college and graduate students paid Tomar to do their school work. His was a somewhat surprising cliental: young men and women working towards obtaining their teaching degrees. Tomar writes that these aspiring teachers would turn to him to complete their assignments, including papers, lesson plans, and even classroom observations.
Shocking? It gets worse. Recent allegations of teacher-cheating have surfaced in cities like Washington, LA, and Atlanta. This time, they are not cheating with their own work. They are cheating on behalf of their students, changing answers on exams in order to boost their students’ test results.
Why would a teacher want to artificially boost a student’s grades? Tomar proposes a simple but compelling argument. He explains that the same force which motivates students to cheat (as many as 74% according to one study) also compels teachers to cheat: pressure. Students face tremendous pressure to finish high in the class, get into a good college, and land a good job. Similarly, teachers face pressure – to produce high test scores from their students. And if they don’t’? They could risk being transferred, reassigned, or losing their job altogether.
Tomar advocates moving away from a system of teacher evaluation that is test results based and focusing more on creative learning and genuine intellectual exploration, so that these external pressures don’t force our teachers into morally dubious waters. This sounds great, and I even agree with it. But it is not the end of the story.
Limiting the role of quantitative test results in teacher evaluation leaves principals, superintendents and school administrators with a serious problem: How are they supposed to assess teachers? We can all agree that teachers need to be evaluated in order to determine their levels of success or failure. How do we do that effectively? What is a good measuring stick?
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts here. The only way to effectively evaluate teacher performance is to invest time and money in principal-teacher collaboration. Principals need to meet with teachers at the beginning of the school year and jointly plan goals for every class being taught. This should be done with a sensitive eye towards realistic expectations for that particular class and their academic level. Creating across-the-board standards for teachers is the same as applying across-the-board standards for students, and we know how well that works out.
The same way teachers generate IPA’s for their students, principals and teachers need to do that for each class as a whole. Then, and only then, can one evaluate if the teacher has met those particular goals. Subsequently, part of the teacher evaluation may even be test scores. But at least the expectations for the individual class were clearly defined at the outset. This approach also leaves much more room for assessing progress when it comes to other important intangibles, such as student study habits, levels of engagement, and general academic culture. Periodic principal-teacher meetings for reflection and self-evaluation will go a long way in ensuring that this process works.
Have you ever encountered teacher-cheating? How do your schools conduct teacher evaluations? We’d love to know. Leave a comment below and join the conversation.