Film Clip Education

“‘We don’t want to know if you can pass multiple-choice tests,’ said Stephanie Wood-Garnett, an assistant commissioner in the New York State Education Department’s office of higher Education. ‘We want to know if you can drive.’” This sensible-sounding bit of seeming practicality was reported last month in connection with New York’s pending adoption of the “Teacher Performance Assessment,” the result of a collaboration between Stanford and Pearson, an “education company.”

Actually, the statement is baloney. To see why, consider what the “Assessment” requires a student teacher to do. The candidate prepares lesson plans and then teaches for a week or so, recording the lessons as he goes along. She then offers a written discussion of what worked well and what didn’t. Finally, he makes an edited ten-minute film clip of the week and submits it. The plans, self-criticism, and film clip are then graded by “evaluators” “trained” by Pearson. After reading this I thought of my first driving examination, which I failed because I could not properly park parallel, which the examiner, present during my test drive, was able to note. The analogous situation to this test would be for me to take my own test drive alone with a recording device, make an edited ten-minute film, and send it to a “trained” “evaluator.” Would my edited film include the parallel parking? All of it? Would my self-criticism include criticism of my reversing while turning? In short, a video clip edited by the person being examined will not tell Ms. Wood-Garnett what she ought to want to know.

(Still, at least Ms. Wood-Garnett knows, or claims to know, that multiple-choice tests demonstrate nothing worth knowing. To prove it, she should persuade her colleagues in the Department to reject “Value-Added Metrics,” which are also based on multiple-choice tests of questionable proxy values. She may also persuade them to mandate conditions of teaching that do not force teachers to rely so heavily on such tests in their classes.)

Ms. Wood-Garnett’s faith in the “Assessment” is seconded by Raymond Pecheone, a “professor of practice” at Stanford, the leader of the office that developed it. He says that the “Assessment” is “very analogous to authentic assessments in other professions, in nursing, in medical residencies, in architecture.” But no, it is not “very” analogous. In a medical residency, a candidate doctor works long hours under the direct supervision of experienced physicians, who advise, correct, encourage, teach, and admonish him all the time. An analogous “residency” would entail the distance marking of a ten-minute tape of a week’s hospital rounds by a “trained evaluator.” Professor Pecheone says the “Assessment” “collect[s] authentic artifacts of teaching that all teachers use on the job.”  Some assessment! Is it teacher education or archaeology? The presence of “artifacts” proves nothing, or next to nothing.

When I cast back to my own teacher training and first year on the job to see what taught me my job, I don’t find lists of lesson plans or packs of papers on which I had written down self-criticism. I had four master teachers during my practicum. One was excellent, one reasonably good, and two useless. The excellent one monitored my work frequently and allowed me to watch him teach. We had frequent discussions of what I had done. During my free periods of the first year of teaching, I visited the classes of the colleagues who had the best reputations for teaching, and I asked colleagues to visit my classes and comment on them. I think a compendium of evaluations by these colleagues (not the useless ones) would be more to the point than a sheaf of papers and a glamour clip, which proves only that teachers can do branding too.

The ostensible reason for implementing the “Teacher Performance Assessment” is that teacher educators can’t be depended on to give rigorous evaluations the way a film-clip “evaluator” working for a profit-making company can. The problem is that similar “Assessments” have already been used on student teachers, and they only “weed out” 1 – 2% of the candidates assessed. Some rigor!

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Next week marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the start of my teaching career. I had thought of making a posting of it—but no, the best thing to say has already been said by Professor Barzun: “Teaching is a blessing thoroughly disguised.”


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