Drowning in a Sea of Compliance

posted in: Principals, Schools, Teachers | 0

Are we all about compliance these days in education?

It certainly is feeling that way.

Ordinarily, compliance isn’t a bad word to me. I’m fairly organized and am happiest when things are in place and the trains are running on time. But lately, it seems as if doing what’s best for kids has taken a back seat to regulations, at least at the administrative level.

Let’s take a look at a few current mandates:

TGRG (Third Grade Reading Guarantee):  Ohioans have seen this one before during proficiency test years as a Fourth Grade Reading Guarantee (2001). TGRG “guarantees” that no third grader who fails to reach a passing score on his or her OAA (Ohio Achievement Assessment) in reading will move on to the next grade. Schools must identify which students are at risk by assessing kids the first weeks of school (in some cases, the first days of school) and then notifying their parents by September 30.

In the Schools:  Third grade teachers and school administrators have identified vulnerable students and are doing everything in their power to ensure these kids pass the reading test – whether they’re truly capable or not. Because failing kids is rarely a solution and we don’t currently have the resources to build and staff all-third grade buildings.

In addition to affecting schools, this mandate can negatively impact both kids and parents. In many cases, we’re testing our students before we even learn their names and then telling their parents – often before we’ve met them – that their child may be held back in third grade. Not necessarily the best way to start the year.

OIP (Ohio Improvement Process):  Requires TBTs (teacher-based teams) to meet at grade level around a very specific, five-step process of assessment and instruction. In theory, sounds like a great idea. When teachers collaborate and focus on student work, meaningful conversations and action are usually the next steps.

In the Schools:  The problem may be the complexity of the forms used to “document” teacher meetings. Teachers, many of whom were already meeting around student data and discussing student progress, now spend much of their limited team time tallying up student performance on an assessment and then entering the data on the forms. Although TBTs can certainly be productive, often the opportunity to discuss students, share ideas and collaborate around reaching at-risk students is scarce by the time the forms are completed. Is there a way to simplify the process so as to honor teachers’ collaboration time?

OTES (Ohio Teacher Evaluation System):  Ohio’s new system of evaluating teachers asks principals to make 6+ touches with each and every teacher in the building – conducting classroom observations and meeting with teachers before and after each observation. Principals must also perform unscheduled “walk-throughs” of classrooms with a substantial checklist of items to be observed, and then write lengthy reports of their observations.

In the Schools:  Any principal will tell you that classroom observation is an essential component of his or her job; but how user-friendly is the OTES system? Does it allow principals to focus on those teachers who are new and/or who need more support and give latitude to the experienced, master teacher? It appears that cumbersome reporting structure of OTES has taken over the principal’s day to the exclusion of other (also important) tasks.

A second concern is the fact that this new system bases HALF of a teacher’s job performance on his or her students’ ability to pass a single high-stakes test, regardless of the students’ abilities. It’s been my experience that principals often assign the strongest teachers to the students with the greatest need, thus increasing their chance to succeed. That will change when everything is tied to the test.

And the list goes on … 

The million dollar question is:  How do we know that strict adherence to these new initiatives will result in stronger schools and better outcomes for kids?

Will repeating third grade truly result in students who can read better, or are there other avenues we can take? Will we ever address poverty’s impact on education or will we continue to mask it with mandates that punish kids and schools but do little to sort out the real problem?

Will we keep the strongest teachers in our neediest schools when we judge them by how their students do on a test, or will the best tire of the judgment and move on to greener pastures? Will good teachers sacrifice their sense of ethics and “teach to the test” or will they simply leave the profession?

What do you think? Do we educators continue to accept the status quo, doing what we are told, or do we stand up for ourselves, for our students, for education? Are we merely compliant or do we take control of our profession and look for solutions? What is the next step?

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