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Florida’s Two-Faced Feedback to Teachers: Do as We Say, Not As We Fail to Do

| March 17, 2013

Waiting for FCAT results. (Kyle McCluer)

Waiting for FCAT results. (Kyle McCluer)

Florida and states nationwide have adopted enhanced evaluation procedures to weed out “ineffective” teachers.  Evaluations now weigh very heavily on students’ standardized test results. Additional  criteria for determining which teachers make the grade are derived mainly  from either Dr. Robert Marzano or Charlotte Danielson, both of whom have devised teacher evaluation models which many administrators  now use to gauge instructor efficacy.  According to Florida’s DOE,   over 90 percent of Florida’s classroom teacher evaluation instruments contain elements from the Marzano or Danielson systems.

Last year, the district where I teach, Flagler County, utilized the Marzano method to rate its teachers. However, teachers and administrators alike viewed it as an unwieldy tool, largely due to the enormous amount of time needed to complete its copious paperwork requirements. This year, Flagler shifted to the Danielson method, essentially a streamlined version of Marzano’s. This meant that teachers who were spoon fed the Marzano method last year had to be “re-trained” in the Danielson method this year.

Hence, last month, I spent  a “professional development day” with my colleagues, viewing several hours’ worth of Danielson’s costly, online videos. I’m not complaining; I found her commentary credible and worthwhile –but only because her methods were patterned so heavily after the tenets of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, standards I mastered and displayed years ago when I earned my National Board certification.

What irked me, though, is that Florida expects its teachers to demonstrate mastery of Danielson’s philosophies while the state itself doesn’t.

The Nahirny Files:

Danielson lectured: “Another aspect of using assessment in instruction has to do with the use of feedback. Feedback is a very important technique. .. our work with students has to be to organize what we ask kids to do, so that they will use the feedback we offer. Let’s remember what feedback is. It has to be specific. It has to be timely…. You can’t give kids this paper back a week or two or three after they did it. They have forgotten. They’re not going to use it. It has to be timely, specific, and it has to offer students a path forward…part of the… job is giving feedback to offer specific guidance about how to improve what the student did so it will meet expectations…

So to be a highly effective teacher, I have to give students timely, specific feedback. (And I consistently do!) But why doesn’t the state have to?  For example, on February 26, my students, and tens of thousands of other 4th, 8th and 10th graders took the FCAT Writing 2.0 test.  They won’t get the results of that test until May. Three months from now!  How’s that for timely?  And the “feedback” they’ll get on the essays they write come in the form of a number.  Where’s the specific guidance Danielson implores educators to provide?

There won’t be any. That’s because the people scoring your children’s essays aren’t even teachers. Those who will ultimately decide if your kids pass or fail this test will be a bunch of temporary workers earning $12 an hour. They have no special knowledge of the writing process. The only requirement needed is the availability to work for six to eight weeks—and a college degree in any field.  So the person who decides your child’s fate could very well be a guy who took six years to finish college, and who majored in Comic Book Art, Poultry Science, or Retail Floristry. And finally graduated with a 2.02 GPA.

Though these folks will receive a few weeks’ worth of “training,” all they’ll look for in these essays is whether they display focus, organization, support and conventions. That’s it.  Wonder what score these well-paid professionals would bestow on an essay patterned after Faulkner, written in stream-of-consciousness mode, which doubtless none of the scorers would even recognize, much less comprehend?  Would a student who emulated the simplicity of Hemingway earn a low score for the text’s lack of erudite vocabulary? Would including colloquialisms typical of Maya Angelou cost kids points for improper grammar?

I don’t know about you, but I want professionally trained educators, not the unemployed, or folks looking for a little extra pocket money, assessing my child’s writing.

If the DOE wants teachers to get on board with new evaluation systems, it’d be helpful if the state didn’t expect us to do as it says, and not as it does. And if, as Danielson suggests, Florida could get students’ essays back to them in a timely fashion. Not three months from now.

Jo Ann C. Nahirny, a 1985 graduate of Columbia University and a National Board Certified Teacher, teaches English at Matanzas High School in Palm Coast. Reach her by email here.

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12 Responses for “Florida’s Two-Faced Feedback to Teachers: Do as We Say, Not As We Fail to Do”

  1. Matanzas Student says:

    I agree! If it takes longer than a week or two to receive an assignment back with corrections it has little to no weight on my mind and usually makes it way to the bottom of my book bag.

  2. Myomy says:

    Just like any job, changes happen, and we adjust and meet demands.

  3. Reality Check says:

    Ah ye, the “A” rated district in the “F” state of Florida; they brag of being an “A” rated district all the time, well that’s like being the Valedictorian at the GED graduation

  4. Stevie says:

    I agree the state should set a double standard. If the schools were privatized, then the market would dictate which ones should be in business to teach and you wouldn’t have to deal with the inefficiency of the state. You would answer directly to the consumer.

    • Ol' sarge says:

      if you privatize, the bottom line becomes making numbers and profit. Sooooo…who do you think will suffer when corners start getting cut to make more profit?

  5. Stevie says:

    “if you privatize, the bottom line becomes making numbers and profit. ”

    Private schools make their reputation by the level of education they provide. Why do you think so many parents want vouchers? So they can help private schools make money?

  6. Stevie says:

    “who do you think will suffer when corners start getting cut to make more profit? ”

    That would be terrible. Students that could read and write and a school that makes money.

    I would think supporters of the failed public school system would suffer. Dead beat schools will be forced out by the market.

  7. BW says:

    Ms. Nahirny,

    I’m not sure if you read the comments on here, but this type of article from a local Educator is really disappointing. First of all, all you are doing is complaining about a “problem” rather than offering anything in terms of solution. In essence, you are demonstrating that you are simply choosing not to be a part of the solution and are more a part of the problem. I’ll give you a component of the real solution . . . 12 months of classes. 9 month school “years” make no sense today. Our students over the course of their k-12 school career would pick up and additional 3+ years of education. Issues of time and no lapse in routine would increase retention and create better students. But I’m sure you would just write an article about pay and how you deserve your summers off?

    Second of all, you tell me what employee will last in a job with their employer when they go publicly bashing them? The answer is none, and the example you are setting for your students is horrible by leading them to think this behavior is ok. It is not because one should dismiss issues, but because it’s this type of conduct that negatively impacts everyone within the organization and detracts from developing real solutions.

    Third, you are bothered by revisiting something you “mastered” almost 20 years ago? I guess your of the philosophy that people always perform at their optimum levels for a lifetime after “mastering” some skill? What color is the sky in your world? The reality is that people do not and accountability as well as revisiting such items is extremely important to maintaining the best performance. But I guess you giving feedback is important but you getting feedback is not.

    Lastly, if I was Dr. Pryor my performance evaluation would be focused on just these articles and politely letting you know you are free to leave if you are so miserable in your profession. And if you do not begin becoming a part of the solution, that decision can be made for you.

    P.S. My child graduated from Matanzas and you are certainly not a representation of the good teachers and staff that are working hard to improve things without running around just whining and complaining.

    • JoAnn Nahirny says:

      Actually, I do read the comments on here and find them sometimes entertaining, sometimes humorous, and sometimes rather sad… You can decide which category yours fall into.

      I can tell by your comments that you are not an educator, but if you are truly an interested member of the community, then put your comments out under your own name, as I am proud to do, and don’t hide behind the cloak of invisibility and anonymity. As I teach my students (and by the way, my door is ALWAYS open to any member of the community who wants to visit, so please make an appointment to come by and see what goes on in terms of learning….) if it is important enough to write or day, put the power and pride of your name on it… Otherwise it means nothing…..

      My own peers this year elected me their teacher of the year for MHS, an indicator that they value and respect what I do and say… as do the students who this week came to my room by the dozens to sign their subject selection sheets to register to take one of my classes next year… So clearly a minority of folks share your views.

      In closing, I reiterate my open and genuine invitation to you to come and visit. I have nothing to hide… Neither my name nor my views…..

      • BW says:

        Thank you for your response. I would say that my comments fall into none of those categories, but I am sure you have your opinions as to what they should.

        No, I am not an Educator nor need to be to have an opinion. It is all too common to hear Educators complain about a great deal of things about their profession and that is the typical response. The reality is every profession has it’s challenges, difficulties, and share of decision-makers making decisions that we may not agree with. Again, one can choose to complain about the problem and be a part of the problem or one can be a part of the solution. I personally don’t care for the FCAT and never have, but are you really surprised it takes months to get results especially when there are essays involved? And I don’t agree with Educators having issues with more structured evaluations that are tied to pay. It’s how every other profession works. Why is your’s different?

        Although you have some obsession with who I am, but there is a valid reason I do not use my real name on here. There is a certain element that hangs around this and one other site locally that are interesting to deal with whenever one expresses an opinion they don’t care for. Pierre is well aware of who I am if you wish to ask him. Is there really a reason for us to have a meeting?

        You are correct that for the most part your students should use their real names and be aware of the repercussions when expressing themselves publicly. They should also be smart about it too and know where online using one’s real name is the best thing to do and when it’s not. Here is not one of them.

        I’m happy for your peer award. All the best and good luck in your endeavors. And congratulations on your complaint column which is something to be very proud of. Glad our tax dollars are paying for someone so unhappy in job those dollars provide.

    • JoAnn Nahirny says:

      PS I believe in year round schools BW, but most parents and students don’t want them. And as soon as school ends, I go to work at a second job, and have yet to have a summer off…. But again, if you had been reading my columns on a regular basis you would know that…. And know how I worked with students while I was hospitalized and undergoing cancer therapy while I was on sick leave…. How is that for being part of the solution? Do you call that complaining or dedication? My students could tell you…..

  8. PCer says:

    Although I agree that the feedback from FCAT needs to be more timely and specific, this is a null issue. FCAT is being phased out and replaced with the PARCC and EOC exams over the next several years. I think what we really need to ask ourselves is “are we ready?” Many of our teachers are severely lacking in the skills and intelligence to teach the common core. I was recently at a workshop listening to an administrator from PA talk about implementing these new standards. Teachers and adminstrators in the room were struggling with the concepts. The standards say “students will struggle”. Sadly, our teachers will struggle too. So, instead of focusing on a test that is going to the wayside, how about we focus on preparing our teachers (and in turn our students) for these new standards. JoAnn, you are probably the best Language Arts teacher in the county. It would be amazing if the county would hire you this summer to train our teachers to understand these new standards and how to teach them to our students.

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