The value of teacher evaluations

As it comes to the end of the semester, and the (foreseeable) end of my educational career, I thought I would take a look at one of the tools that it often used in the academic world.

Teacher performance evaluations/assessments are used across the schooling spectrum as a tool to determine whether or not their instruction is successful in communicating their subject matter. There has been many controversies over how an assessment should be completed, and how well it can actually calculate the value of a teacher.

A little history

The teacher assessment has been a part of the educational system since the mid-1800s, according to the book “Effective Supervision,” by Robert J. Marzano, Tony Frontier and David Livingston.

Soon, appraisals were being created using two different streams of measurement: Frederick Taylor’s scientific management and John Dewey’s educational theory of pragmatism. Taylor’s scientific theory tended to give way to more numerical and measurable data, and therefore was used to shape the earliest versions of teacher assessments in the early 1900s.

The tool continued to develop throughout time, moving more into individual measurements of a specific teacher to clinical supervision, the Hunter Model, reflective models, and the list goes on in terms of what models administrations have used to create a teacher performance evaluation system.

The controversy of teacher evaluations

In 2013, PBS published a comprehensive overview of recent controversies that have surrounded the use of performance evaluations in the school systems. Journalists Simone Pathe and Jaywon Choe wrote, “Why is it so hard to determine what makes a good teacher? The answer is both complicated and polarizing. In recent education reform history, judging teacher evaluations has become as much an issue as how to evaluate student achievement.”

Teacher and blogger for The Huffington Post’s Education section Shanna Peeples wrote that evaluations are as much testing the teacher on their performance as it is evaluating, and “Where, what, and who you teach will show similar patterns of “successful” and “failing” schools and teachers across your district.”

What the country is doing about the debate

And the concerns have increasingly been heard by school districts and different levels of government.

A school district in Oregon recently changed their pay scale so that it wasn’t solely performance based. The change was made after funding from The Chalkboard Project had depleted in the school district.

Senate Bill 364 was introduced to Congress in the 2015-2016 session. A major part of the bill would be to decrease the scale a teacher’s performance would be based on their students’ success.

 

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Technology in the classroom

Children and teenagers in school right now, and young adults that are attending college, are often referred to as the “digital generation”; a generation that has grown up with the development of technology and has continually had access to the technology throughout their lives.

There is no doubt that technology has become a part of everyday life for many people, but how has it been integrated into education? And what are the impacts of technology inside of the classrooms?

Synthesis of Technology Into The Classroom

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Accessed via Creative Commons.

I can remember in middle school when technology was first becoming a big tool inside of the classroom. Besides the teachers having their computers to enter grades and to print, they were using their computers to project onto the board instead of the old school laminate projectors.

In the fifth grade, there was a mobile laptop cart that all of the classrooms had access to, although it only had 25 computers for the 60 students in the grade. In 2009, the National Center for Education Statistics released a study that found that 97 percent of classrooms had access to one or more computers in the classroom everyday. StatisticBrain released findings in 2015 that revealed approximately 77 percent of teachers use their computers for instruction in the classroom.

Educators have also been finding ways to successfully integrate the use of technology into their students education. Edutopia suggested a list of different ways that students can learn through and with technology in their educations like,

  • Project-based Activities Incorporating Technology
  • Game-based learning and assessment
  • Learning with Mobile and Handheld Devices (Shoutout to #ICParkSM for being ahead of this trend)
  • Web-Based Projects, Explorations, and Research, and the list goes on.

There have also been frameworks (SAMR and TPACK) published by education experts to explain the successful integration of technology into classrooms so that the technology is seen as much as a learning tool as a dictionary or graphing calculator.

Positive Impacts Made By Technology in Classrooms

“A Look at Recent Findings on Technology in the Classroom,” published in The Huffington Post in 2013, reported that 78 percent of teachers found technology had been a beneficial tool in their classrooms.

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Accessed via Creative Commons.

The United States Department of Education also found several positive effects of the use of technology in their classrooms, including:

  • Increased motivation and self-esteem,
  • An impressive apprehension level of technical skills,
  • Accomplishment of more complex tasks,
  • More collaboration with peers,
  • Increased use of outside resources, and
  • Improved design skills

But, with the good comes the bad…

Technology undoubtedly provides students with more access to materials and learning tools than they’ve ever had before, but there has also been several negative thoughts of use of technology in the classroom.

In 2015, Edudemic published a post, “The Four Negative Sides of Technology,” citing technology

  • Changes the way children think,
  • Changes the way children feel,
  • Puts our safety and privacy at risk, and
  • Can lead to less physical activity.

Psychology Today has published studies saying that the technology does change the way that children are wired to think, and that there are being multiple studies completed to look at the short and long-term effects of the usage.

With great “power” comes great responsibility, and seeing as technology is becoming a necessary tool in life, it’s important for teachers and individuals to learn of the effects that come with the integration of the tech.

Our #ICParkSM class and myself will be live blogging #EdTech16 on Thursday, 3/24. Check out our site to see some of the technologies that are being introduced into classrooms!

Warmer winter weather impacts local ski mountain

It’s a beautiful Tuesday afternoon in the beginning of March. The sun is bright, the air is warm and there’s a gentle wind blowing across the ski mountain in Truxton, New York. And a girl of about seven years of age is skiing in gym shorts.

Surprisingly, Labrador Mountain is still open for skiers and snowboarders despite the lack of measurable snowfall in the past month. But the one running chair lift at the resort, that has had less than twenty unique users per day this past week, reflects the overall season the mountain has had.

“It’s just been a light season this year. Many less skiers than our usual,” Kevin Smith said. Smith has been a ski lift attendant at Labrador for the past 46 winters.

“Mother Nature doesn’t tell us what she’s bringing every winter, you just have to see how the winter goes. Unfortunately this winter brought us more rain than snow, and that really affects the conditions on the mountain,” he said.

The light snow and warm temperatures of the 2015-2016 winter season has taken a toll on ski resorts across the country. Thomas Franklin, an avid skier since 1970, said this ski season has been particularly slower on the mountains.

“I’ve been all over the East Coast this winter skiing and empty, every place is empty,” Franklin said.

The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester  published an article on March 8 reporting that ski resorts in New York State lost a third of their average annual revenue this season, or about $330 million.

Ski resorts in states like Michigan and Vermont have also felt the challenge of the unusual winter, having their mountains open less days than usual and having to use snow-blowing machines to make snow.

But just how unusual was this winter weather?

This winter was almost 5 degrees warmer than average, according to data published by the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University.

“This winter, the months of December, January and February, had an average temperature of 30.7 degrees fahrenheit [in the area],” Jessica Spaccio, one of the center’s climatologists, said. “Normal is a 30-year average based on 1981-2010; the normal winter temperature [in Ithaca] is 25.8.”

Spaccio said this year’s winter could also have been affected by a natural phenomenon known as the El Nino, which she believes was particularly strong this winter.

The El Nino is a phase of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation cycle, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. During this phase, the ocean and the atmosphere interact in a climate interaction that produce a periodic warming of the ocean. The warm water then continues to impact other variables of the weather, like the temperatures and precipitation, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere.

Typically, El Nino “episodes”, and their effects, can last anywhere from nine months to about a year, but Spaccio believes warmer winters could become a trend in New York and surrounding areas.

“We have seen winters warming in the Northeast, due to climate change, and expect this trend to continue,” she said.

And these changes in the climate could lead to more changes in the environment, Spaccio said.

“With the warm temperatures and less snow, the mild winter made survival easier for some animals. This is also true for pests, like ticks.  The lack of snow also means the lack of spring snowmelt, this can change the timing of peak streamflow and soil moisture conditions. There was less lake ice and lake temperature will also be affected. Some winter crops were able to be harvested later than usual,” Spaccio said.  “[Even] allergies [will be] more of an issue.”

Indebted to education

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For the past few years, the public has made it clear that the cost of education is a problem in the country that needs to be addressed, with multiple news outlets and politicians like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) calling it a crisis. 

The cries aren’t far-fetched. To break it down, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, in the United States,

  • 69 percent of college students graduated with student debt in 2014
  • The average amount of debt, per student, was $28, 950.
  • According to Statistic Brain, there are currently 17,487,475 students enrolled in a higher education institution.
  • Equating these statistics together, that would mean the total amount of student debt in the U.S. would be three hundred forty-nine billion, three hundred twenty-one million, fifty-six thousand, eight hundred and sixty-two dollars and fifty cents. $349,321,056,862.50.

The numbers are there, and there is no denying the amounts. But why is it so newsworthy?

The Huffington Post published three analytical charts about a month ago to show “just how dire the student debt crisis has become”.

According to the charts, the real problem stems from the fact that while the amount of debt has stayed relatively the same, keeping in mind the effects of inflation, the average income has not moved with the times. In the first chart of the article on HuffPost, it is stated that “median wages have increased 1.6 percent over the last 25 years while median debt has risen 163.8 percent.

The student debt could also have lifelong effects also, or that’s what Mark Kantrowitz said in Time.

In his article “Why the Student Loan Crisis is Even Worse Than People Think,” Kantrowtiz said,

“students who graduate with excessive debt are about 10% more likely to say that it caused delays in major life events, such a buying a home, getting married, or having children. They are also about 20% more likely to say that their debt influenced their employment plans, causing them to take a job outside their field, to work more than they desired, or to work more than one job.”

Photo courtesy of Donkey Hotey on Flickr, part of Creative Commons.

 

 

 

The value of a later start time

In a blog post on EdWeek from last Friday, contributing writer Marva Hinton wrote about several school districts around the country switching to a later start time for students in their schools.

On my Twitter, I said I related to this blog post, and thought it would be important to bring to light. In 2009 (when I was a sophomore in high school) our district decided to change our high school’s start time from 7:20 in the morning to 8:30. (Elementary schools had always started at this time, the times had been staggered for transportation purposes.)

The reason my school made the time change was due to safety concerns: many of the students walked to the bus stop, and in the winter months it was often below zero out and very dark. Administrators, after a fatal accident from a car striking students in a local district in the dark, decided a later start would be better for everyone.

The reasoning for the changes in these schools according to Hinton are based off the research the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released claiming a later start time would “align with the natural sleep rhythms of adolescents” (i.e., letting them sleep later).

The National Sleep Foundation had also published results from a poll they took in 2014 called “Sleep In America”. In the survey they noted several findings including:

  • 69 percent of parents believe sleep has an effect on their child’s performance in school
  • 25 percent of parents think their children get at least an hour less of sleep then they need on school nights

The NSF also paired their findings with a study published by doctors at the University of Minnesota which found later starting times at schools also had a correlation with

  • an improvement in attendance
  • increased daytime alertness
  • decreased student-reported depression

This movement has been noticed by the state government in Washington;  a Senate committee in the state has recently proposed a form of legislation called the Sandman Act which proposes a study on the academic achievement of the students in the later-starting schools.

The movement has also been noted nationally.

In 2015, the Atlantic covered a Center for Disease Control and Prevention movement to encourage schools to switch to a later start time. In “Why School Should Start Later in the Morning” by Emily Richmond, she talks about the AAP study as well as the UMinn study, where both have parallel findings that a later start time provided students with the opportunity to actually sleep the recommended amount of hours.

The CDC that year had issued a press release statement that called for action: 1 in 5 middle and high schools in the country started at their recommended 8:30 morning start. The federal government organization since their findings in the recent years have continued a push for a later start time in all schools.