Gates: Measure to improve

Measurement matters, writes Bill Gates in the Wall Street Journal. His foundation fights child mortality and polio in desperately poor countries. It also funds education reforms, such as improved teacher evaluations, in the U.S.

You can achieve incredible progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal in a feedback loop,” writes Gates.

At Eagle Valley High School in Colorado, he observed the 12th-grade English class of Mary Ann Stavney, a master teacher. The Gates Foundation is funding a three-year evaluation and feedback project in Eagle County.

Drawing input from 3,000 classroom teachers, the project highlighted several measures that schools should use to assess teacher performance, including test data, student surveys and assessments by trained evaluators. Over the course of a school year, each of Eagle County’s 470 teachers is evaluated three times and is observed in class at least nine times by master teachers, their principal and peers called mentor teachers.

The Eagle County evaluations are used to give a teacher not only a score but also specific feedback on areas to improve and ways to build on their strengths. In addition to one-on-one coaching, mentors and masters lead weekly group meetings in which teachers collaborate to spread their skills. Teachers are eligible for annual salary increases and bonuses based on the classroom observations and student achievement.

“The most critical change we can make in U.S. K–12 education . . .  is to create teacher-feedback systems that are properly funded, high quality and trusted by teachers,” Gates concludes.

Trust will be a challenge.

This infographic looks at how data mining and can improve education.

Automated essay grading leads to more writing

My standard advice for learning how to write can be boiled down to six words: Read a lot. Write a lot. If brevity is essential, three words are enough: Write a lot. I can even make do with one word: Write.

So I’m sympathetic to the argument that students will write better if they write more, with feedback on their efforts. But teachers don’t have the time to read and respond to every draft of every paper.

Automated essay scoring lets teachers assign more writing and focus their own time on “higher order feedback,” argues Tom Vander Ark on Getting Smart. In response to an attack on scoring engines in the New York Times, Vander Ark summarizes and links to the case for automation.

Measurement is a friend to creativity, he writes in another post.

The online scoring engines use the same rubrics to score essays as human graders.  Any ‘standardization’ of writing is not a function of the method of scoring but the nature of the prompt, i.e., if a state requires every 8th grader to write a five paragraph essay every year it may lead to formulaic teaching—that’s a teaching issue driven by a testing issue, not a scoring issue.

People are sick of standardized tests “because most states are using old psychometric technology to administer inexpensive tests with little real performance assessment.”

. . . we’ve been using these tests for more than they were designed for—to hold schools accountable, to manage student matriculation, to evaluate teachers, and to improve instruction.But remember the state of the sector in the early 90s before state tests were widely used. There was no data, chronic failure was accepted, and the achievement gap was largely unrecognized. Measurement is key to improvement.

Soon, “essay graders will soon be incorporated into word processors and will be used as commonly as spell-check,” Vander Ark predicts. Students will get more assessment to help them improve.

Update: Machines Shouldn’t Grade Student Writing — Yet, writes Dana Goldstein on Slate.

Homework for parents

Parents are tasked with teaching measurement to their third graders by TERC’s Investigations, complains Katherine Beals of Out in Left Field. In high-scoring Singapore, she points out, third graders’ parents don’t get homework to do.

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In the comments, FedUpMom writes:

Oh man, if there’s one phrase I never want to hear again, it’s “parent involvement.” Involve me out!

Notice the confident assertion that “kids find these activities fun.”  Not my kids.

Cranberry objects to Everyday Math’s family activities, which tell parents to “spend chunks of valuable time on poorly planned make work.”