As a former middle and high school teacher and someone who has spent my life working to improve educational outcomes for America’s students, I have always been dismayed by research that suggests that what goes on in the classroom has remarkably little impact on a student’s reading skills.
It’s an accepted body of evidence that has shaped conventional wisdom within education and policy circles. But, it’s wrong.
When it comes to preparing students with the interdependent reading, writing and analytical skills and knowledge needed for today’s jobs, teaching practices matter. Quality instruction matters.
The most recent findings from the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project report provide ardent support for this conclusion.
The most extensive study of its kind, MET is a research collaboration that analyzes data from nearly 3,000 U.S. public school teachers’ classrooms. Findings indicate that effective teaching has a significant impact on English and Language Arts (ELA) skills, but that state multiple-choice ELA tests—our measuring sticks—aren’t constructed to gauge a student’s actual proficiencies.
Put plainly, it isn’t that teachers don’t have an impact on their students reading skills; it’s that the tools we’ve been using to evaluate the connection have cardinal deficiencies.
Contrasted with the open-ended SAT 9 Reading test, which asks test-takers to provide short-answer responses to test materials, most state tests are too narrow and too basic to capture anything beyond a student’s ability to bubble in the right answer on a one-way questionnaire. They don’t provide any data on a student’s ability to translate reading comprehension into a logical written response, to cite supporting evidence or to formulate a compelling argument. These are the types of complex literacy skills that our students vitally need for success, and they result from effective teaching.
Overly-narrow tests are not only inadequate as evaluation tools, but they have dangerous “teaching to the test” consequences that cheat students. Any evaluation measure that does not paint a full picture of student achievement cheats teachers out of the data and constructive feedback they need to continue to grow and develop as educators.
States’ commitments to improve the demands of tests and other evaluation measures with the adoption of Common Core State Standards, coupled with increased recognition of the relationship between instruction and literacy, are encouraging. By improving evaluation measures based on MET findings, we can begin to identify best practices for developing high-level reading and writing skills and to provide teachers the supports they need to master them.
Effective teaching cannot be determined by student performance alone, and multiple measures of evaluation, including classroom observations and student feedback are necessary to assess a teacher’s strengths and growth areas. But assessing student performance is paramount, and it’s critical that we get it right.
As states and school districts look to make teacher evaluation and feedback meaningful, these MET findings should not be overlooked. Reliable student assessments will produce more meaningful data, giving teachers the feedback they need to grow and their students a chance to reap the real and significant benefits of highly effective teaching.