On March 7th of this year, I was hired by a local high school to teach physics and chemistry. The teacher before me had been fired for absenteeism two months earlier. They had been in the classroom with substitute teachers for over three months of class time when I was hired. It is difficult to find qualified teachers in STEM fields, and even harder to find qualified teachers for chemistry and physics. Maybe this is why:
The results of our teacher evaluations just came back for last year. The evaluation is based upon three factors:
1 Your plan for teaching and improving yourself and your students (Called a Professional Development Plan or Deliberate Practice Plan)
2 Your classroom skills, as evidenced by a classroom visit and observations made by a school administrator
(These first two factors are called your Instructional Practices Score)
3 Student performance on end of year standardized tests.
The scores are on a 4 point scale, with 3.50 and higher being superior, 2.5-3.49 being average, and anything less putting your job in jeopardy.
The standardized tests that my evaluation was based on, was administered during the week of March 28 – April 1. Spring break was the previous week. In other words, I was employed by the school for exactly 11 days before they were tested.
Even better, the students whose test scores were the basis for my evaluation were 10th graders. Physics and chemistry are 11th and 12th grade courses. There is no standardized test for either chemistry or physics, so the school uses the 10th grade reading test to rate all teachers whose class does not have a standardized exam.
So that third factor, which comprises 40% of my evaluation, is testing students that I don’t teach, in a subject that has nothing to do with the subjects I teach, and tested them on skills that they learned or didn’t learn before I even worked there.
When my classroom teaching was observed, it was during a physics class. In the the first instance, they were testing the math formula for determining pendulum period. They used different weights and different lengths of string to build pendulums to see which had the greater effect on pendulum period. Then they had to use the pendulum formula to construct a pendulum with a 2 second period.
During the second class, the students were measuring frequency and wavelength of ultrasonic waves, and using that to calculate the speed of sound in various mediums.
What did I get as a score for my IPS? A 3.2.
The test that the students took just two weeks after I was hired? I got a 2.49 for that. For performance that didn’t even happen when I was there.
How is that an accurate or fair assessment of a teacher’s skill? Do you know why I was evaluated like this? Florida law says that I get a large bonus if I am a new (to the district) teacher and my SAT scores were above the 80th percentile. By giving me an evaluation from last year, they get out of paying me that bonus.
The teacher across the hall from me is a law school graduate. Last year was her first as a teacher. She is always in an hour early, and leaves an hour late. She got her evaluation today and burst into tears.
The education system is systematically dysfunctional. Teachers who don’t care are simply there to put in time, get a paycheck, and have summers off. Talented teachers who care are often run out of the classroom and return to other careers.