Thursday, February 19, 2009

Using Teacher evaluations

As a university student, I had a part-time job as a lifeguard. At the same time, I was a competitive swimmer. If people wanted or needed to watch my lifeguarding, swimming or rescue techniques for whatever reason, I was fine with that. Evaluations? go ahead, they could only allow more people to know how good I was at my job.

At my current job, as an EFL teacher at a university, I am no longer as thrilled by the thought of being evaluated. I'm confident that I do good work; I'm just not so confident that I will be evaluated on the things I expect to be evaluated on.

Students do evaluate me and I do well enough. Still, one of the criteria is "book choice". I do not choose the book. Some of the comments students leave on their evaluations suggest they are lumping my performance with that of the Korean co-teacher for the class. Said co-teachers tend to be excellent but, well, they're not me.

The Dong-a Ilbo has an article about student results on a standardized test being used to evaluate teachers. Some of the language is, uh, interesting and I am not always sure what the point being made is. For example:
“The results of the test of scholastic ability nationwide showed that the higher the grade, the larger the number of students who show below-average academic standards. This is a reminder of the important role teachers should play.”
A higher grade means below-average standards?

another example, and more troubling:
“The test results will provide concrete data. This will allow us to create a system that punishes principals if the share of students who score below average is more than 10 percent for three consecutive years,” Lee said.
In the school of Lake Woebegone, "All our students are above average".* I guess, for this test, principals need ten percent to be really below average so the other ninety percent can be above average.

The thing that really bothered me, though:
“The standardized test of scholastic ability for students should be linked to the evaluation of teacher performance,” said Vice Education Minister Lee Ju-ho at Jeongok Elementary School, a pilot school for the teacher evaluation system.

These are elementary school students and they will have to be taught to the test. A teacher would be unwilling to go beyond the test standards as his/her job security is on the line.

On NPR's Science Friday, there was a segment comparing learning scientific facts to scientific reasoning. Facts are the (typically) dry lumps of information that have to be memorized (and are easily tested in standardized tests) while reasoning skills take more time to learn and are not so easily tested. The former is what high school is all about in Korea. If it takes up elementary school as well, there will be no time for the latter.

I think they are evaluating the wrong material, although I cannot say concretely what should be evaluated.
* I found a hundred sites with the quote, but none telling me who is being quoted.


Kevin said...

Lake Wobegon (actual spelling) is a fictional construct of Minnesotan author/folk philosopher/radio showman Garrison Keillor. I think his show was made into a movie not long ago.

I agree that evals are often bogus because (1) they're poorly constructed, often lumping the teacher in with factors not controlled by the teacher, and (2) the points being evaluated are often irrelevant to what teachers actually do.

As you know, I used to post my evals on my BigHominid blog, comments and all. You'll recall that I often growled at some of the student complaints, which struck me as signs of immaturity-- attempts at getting revenge against the teacher-- rather than signs of insightful student behavior.

I have, on occasion, taken some complaints to heart and have tried to improve my teaching, but I usually dismiss most complaints as bogus because they are more a reflection of the student's laziness (i.e., they should have made the effort to see me and work out their problems before things got to the complaining stage) than of any negligence on my part.

I'm thinking of writing a book for Korean students titled "Grading Your Teacher" and seeing about having it published in Korea. It would specifically target Korean students who have had classes with Western teachers.

Good post, man. Makes me want to rant, but I'll stop here.


kwandongbrian said...

Thanks, Kevin.

I actually need to work on my evaluating skills - I know that at least parts of my tests don't test what I taught. I also have trouble when I teach classes of children where written evaluations are required.

I know that teaching has two parts: presenting the information, then testing to see if students received the information. I've always thought I am a good teacher, but if I don't do the second part well, how can I tell?