Measure Me by the Unwritten Curriculum, Not My Test Scores

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As a lifelong educator, I’d like to believe that all teachers and administrators understand that we can’t use standardized test scores to measure teacher effectiveness. So, I was shocked the other day when an educator, one I think highly of, used test scores to compare two teachers’ effectiveness.

All of teacher A’s students passed the standardized test. Teacher B’s students didn’t fair as well, but teacher B’s classes were filled with special education students, rule breakers and fence-riders (those students who are easily swayed by their peers).

As a teacher, I loved teaching the most challenging students, so I was taken aback by this educator’s dubious claim. If he were to look at my standardized test scores, would he think any less of me as a teacher?

When you teach challenging students, the state-mandated curriculum must not be ignored, but often it should take a back seat to the unwritten curriculum. Comparatively, the standard curriculum is easy to teach. If test scores were my primary concern, when a student misbehaved, I could have simply stated, “John, do the work or get a referral.” I then could return to teaching the mandated curriculum. In that scenario, my students’ test scores may have been higher.

In addition to curriculum, though, we need to teach life skills, to build trusting relationships with all students and to help students learn from their errors (both academic and behavioral).

Teaching the unwritten curriculum includes no absolutes. Every decision is complex and impacts heavily on all learners. Instead of focusing solely on test scores, educators must also teach with empathy and work diligently to never leave a student behind.

Test scores cannot measure these attributes. Teacher effectiveness can only be marginally reflected in the scores of our students.

So, when evaluating my worthiness as a teacher, please, measure me by the unwritten curriculum, not my test scores.

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Reed Gillespie

Reed is a longtime educator and coach, who is passionate about progressive learning and 21st-century assessment practices. Read more of his work here. "I'm a co-moderator of #VAchat, a Twitter conversation for Virginia (and non-Virginian) educators that meets Monday's at 8 ET. Most importantly, I'm a father of four wonderful children and a couple grandchildren. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, reading, sports and, of course, spending time with family."

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