Equal Time: Time for our schools to start keeping score

03/15/2012 8:00 PM |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | Students at last year's Southold High graduation.

Judging is an art and judging is part experience and part knowledge. Judging may express preference or prejudice, but judge we must. Is this fruit ripe? Did I get full value? Who should be president? Most of us would rather judge than be judged. Evaluation is judging and being evaluated can be painful.

The reactions to proposals to evaluate our public school teachers from leaders including Southold School Superintendent David Gamberg, teachers’ unions and educators at all levels are mostly emotional and display a deep-seated fear of being judged.

Remember, only 20 percent of the evaluation is to be based on objective student test scores. Another 60 percent is subjective peer evaluation. But that 20 percent is deemed unreliable and inappropriate by critics, who demand that we abandon the process.

Yet these are the same people we depend upon to inform us about our students’ progress and deficits, and to judge who shall get honors and scholarships and who will get what kind of recommendation for college admission. Isn’t that ironic?

In the many responses to Gov. Cuomo’s efforts to introduce formal and public teacher evaluation, teachers, union leaders and educational leaders have offered little but delaying tactics, such as more study is needed or how about conducting small trials. We should ask what the schools and colleges of education have been researching and studying, if not how to evaluate learning and teaching?

How do they evaluate their students, teaching interns, teachers and colleague professors? Is their only solution to say, “Trust us, we know learning and good teaching when we see it”? If so, they’ve failed miserably in their professional duties.

A major tenet of professionalism is established self-evaluation. How do I know I am doing the best that I can? Another distinguishing feature of professionals is the search for evidence that they may be wrong as opposed to searching for facts that reassure they are correct. This process of self-evaluation is how the practice of a profession, and each of us, improves.

Teachers and their leaders seem to be like the young kids who play soccer at a level where scores are not kept and exceptionally good players are removed from the field because they are making the opposing team feel bad.

We, the public, need to be the parents who say it’s time to begin keeping score. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but keeping the score is how you know you’re playing better.

Why should we? Because we’re paying a heavy price for a service that fails to produce what we need: well-educated citizens and young adults fully ready for college or whatever life path is appropriate.

Mr. Geiss is a retired professor who taught for 25 years at the doctoral and undergraduate level at Adelphi University. He lives in Southold.