My disdain for The Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI) is obvious. As a former science and math teacher I find the TEI process both unconscionable and to be honest, insulting. I rarely talk about myself and prefer to use data to support my assertions but it is my understanding of data as an educational researcher that is confirming this contempt.
I taught AP and IB level physics and chemistry in four countries and at a school for truly
gifted children with IQ values over 150. My challenges were different, not higher, than
when I taught struggling students. As an AP/IB teacher I considered myself adequate. I
knew my subject matter and how to deliver it but my students absorbed it like sponges.
I had to be ready to move ahead quickly. My challenge in these advanced classes was
to treat learning as a way of thinking, not a body of knowledge to be memorized. I had
to make sure their foundation was often based on abstract thought and figure out how to
introduce and transition to those abstractions. I also wanted to assess the extent to
which opportunities existed for my students to explain and justify to other students their
newly developing ideas. I wanted to foster an environment in which students felt that it
was legitimate and beneficial to question my teaching methods, and to express to me
concerns about any impediments to their learning. Show me where TEI measures
these important teaching traits for high achieving students. Show me how a ceiling
effect, where most items are correctly answered, on a universal assessment for
students of all abilities makes sense. Imagine being observed and rated by an
adult who does not even understand the abstract concepts I am trying to convey to the
students. I was fortunate to have veteran mentors who knew the subject matter and
how to teach it guide me as a young teacher.
When I had struggling students I changed teaching strategies. I quickly knew I had to
understand the student’s naïve theories and concepts and reasons for avoiding
advanced thinking skills. I would make them write their reasoning to answers and
spend nights interpreting. I would study patterns in wrong answers. I would design
experiments and activities in an attempt for them to elicit their own errors of reasoning
or to just guide them to better understanding. Tell me how TEI measures this when the
first step of TEI is to recode STAAR and ACP responses to right or wrong and ignore
information in the total response set. I often gave multiple choice assessments on
simple electric circuits and most students answered correctly but when I handed the
same students wires, three light bulbs and a battery and told them to build a parallel
circuit most students were stumped. I tried to teach authentic learning with deep
understanding but in the current test driven culture I would lose to another teacher who
teaches tricks for test taking. Nobody ever checks for sustained learning so I must have
been the less effective teacher. Paying me more based on who I was assigned to teach
is blatantly unfair.
My analysis of the 80 or so top tiered teachers in TEI showed only 4 had secondary STEM certifications. Congratulations to those 4 teachers. I suspect few adjustments are made in this evaluation system for course difficulty.