by Fred Welfare

A response to Dr. Michael Cubbin's post 


The teacher observation is an inspection of a lesson. Sometimes the observation is a snap-shot or walkthrough, just to see if certain components of the classroom and lesson are in place. The administrator must ensure that the teacher is able to produce an acceptable lesson. But, as Mr. Cubbin asserts, the observation as it has been practiced is not an effective practice that improves the achievement results of students. The focus should be on results and the components of lessons: Aim, DoNow, Vocabulary, Materials, Activities, Assessment, etc., are relevant to producing results. The most important elements of the lesson are the teacher's presentation of new information, the related learning activity, communication between students and with the teacher, the degree of engagement by the students and the overall participation by the students during the lesson. The purpose of the Aim and other components should align with the given curriculum and with the other schedules in the department. The Pre-Observation Conference is usually nonexistent, often it must be requested, and is only required if an unsatisfactory lesson was observed. The Post-Observation always begins with the positives and any negative or necessary improvements are mentioned last, but at least one 'improvement needed' is required. When observations are linked, the teacher has a task to improve on which can be discussed at the next observation which can and sometimes does lead to teacher development. The point about teacher attitudes to the Common Core and to the Testing regime as "junk-yard dogs" is all too true. This boils down to a negative attitude to assessment and program evaluation. This attitude is also obvious in the cleanliness and aesthetics of the classroom and in the use of technology: computers, Smart Boards, Scantron machines, Data Analysis on Excel, use of email, etc. Countless studies put these practices at over 80% from teacher self-reports but in practice there is considerable fudging. Teachers need to address factors like low test scores on yearly exams, attendance and dropout rates, and the extremely low graduation rates from college. The topmost concern is the change from K-12 education as job prep to college graduation. In this context of results, or student achievement, assessment is the key factor. Teachers must connect their lesson quality, their instruction, with student test scores and other assessments. But, if students cannot pass the tests then the instruction is inadequate. This is the resistant issue in education today: should teacher evaluations be based on student achievement. Of course it should but the hurdles that teachers must navigate require specific strategies to ensure that students have achieved a satisfactory understanding of the material. Most teachers do not like assessment and do not attempt to teach to mastery. Part of the problem is the message given during teacher education in college that classroom management is paramount and educational testing is unimportant. Also, teachers should learn their subject matter before entering the classroom, but most teachers learn the subject on the job and it takes several years to attain mastery by the teacher! The curriculum of each course is not given to student-teachers as a course and teachers are presumed to know their subject matter. Knowing the subject as a student and knowing it well enough to teach it are two different matters, even doctors and lawyers are not expected to be able to teach their subjects after passing the bar or an internship! One strategy that would dramatically improve student achievement is to improve assessment by creating the assessment tests (multiple choice, open ended questions, essays, projects, and presentations, etc.) before creating the lessons. Constructing lessons should be highly flexible in order to ensure daily mastery of the key concepts, so reiteration and permutations should be built into lesson planning. The assessments for each Unit should be created in varied sets (Test1 = Test2 = Test3, etc.) and stored with the administrator who gives them to the teacher when the teacher requests them, the assumption being that the students are ready to be tested on a set of material. The results of the test are then given to the administrator who reviews the student data and may request a consultation with the teacher. The key decision is whether to reteach the Unit, or which parts of the Unit need to be addressed. To avoid the wholesale reteaching of a Unit, each teacher would need to be sensitive to daily learning trends, to the results of formative assessments, and to informal quizzes and tests. Teachers would make the important decision whether to test formally; the results of which would be examined by the administrator. So, it would behoove the teacher to avoid submitting results of student unsatisfactory achievement by ensuring their readiness through informal assessments. In the college classroom, student grades are based strictly on test scores. College freshmen completion rates are sometimes lower than 15%!? That is, the rate of freshmen quitting college are extremely high. The average 4 year college completion rate is barely 50%, and the 6 year completion rate is less than 70%. Both general knowledge and comprehension skills are at issue. Students and administrators need to understand that testing and grading are on a par and that their attention to this matter is required. Teacher attitudes to testing pertains to their professional knowledge that many students do not study or pay attention well-enough to pass the standardized tests because these students, and perhaps their families, do not value education or grades. Administrators “observe” assessment in the classroom but they do not address student achievement in teacher evaluation, until recently. Administrators have not collaborated with teachers or given imperatives to teachers to address assessment systematically and formally. Each administrator should require each subject area of each department to submit 3 distinct sets of tests for each unit, along with the yearly, semester, and Unit schedules of lesson topics. Administrators should control the security of the tests. And, administrators should review and evaluate each of the results of each class.

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