A positive approach to teacher accountability without tests

First published by Intrepid Ed News

America and other countries are finally waking up to the unfairness and thus meaningless nature of standardised testing. The sad part is how predictable it was that it would take something like a worldwide pandemic and 2 million deaths to change thinking. Multiple states and countries are announcing that COVID-19 has shown them that high-stakes exams might be unfair and they currently can’t ‘guarantee a level playing field.’ This is very strange in that inequality in preparing for such tests has always existed in extreme terms – the ’playing field’ has always been on a hillside. When the wealth, education and stability of the parents have always defined results around the world (with or without a little bribery), why run tests when we already knew the results? The only standardized test all parents, teachers, administrators, and students should be forced to take is one that contains just one question: What’s the difference between equity and equality? 

If innate talent or the classroom had anything to do with academic ranking in standardized exams, rich wouldn’t always beat poor, girls wouldn’t always beat boys, and my own school with 300 students per grade level might not have awarded its top annual academic award for the last 3 years to: its only Muslim (2020), its only German (2019), and its only isrelii (2018). 

If COVID-19 has made a star of inequality and in doing so questioned the validity of standardized tests, then making judgements of teachers based on these scores sounds even more ridiculous. 

New Zealand, where I am fortunate to live, not only acts as a 2020 example for COVID-19 response but continues to be a beacon for how to run education. In a country where university is much more affordable, it might be shocking to discover that all kiwis can obtain entrance, including to a world top 100 university without sitting any standardised exam! It therefore goes without saying that we also have a more equitable approach to teacher accountability and development. 

In NZ, a strengths-based approach means teachers are held accountable only to their own development in 6 practicing teaching standards. Every three years, teachers renew their registration to teach by showcasing their development in all 6 areas to the school’s principal. Principals are then audited for their decision making. Each of the 6 standards has specifics listed but in short, they are:

  1. Te Tiriti o WaitangiTeach with recognition to NZ’s bicultural status (Māori + English)
  2. Professional learningTeaching informed by best practice research
  3. Professional relationshipsEducational relationships with teachers, students, and community.
  4. Learning-focused cultureIndividual development over comparative ranking
  5. Design for learningDesign activity and resources based on the individual learners and current research. 
  6. TeachingRespond and adapt during teaching to meet needs.

Accountability is to significant individual professional development and not irrational judgements based on students’ results that are clearly defined predominantly by student homelife. New Zealand, like Finland, knows quality education comes from having quality teachers who can develop strong learning environments. Teachers officially assisted and encouraged to grow their professional skills makes for a happier workforce which in-turn makes for happier and more successful classrooms.