Plattsburgh State professor takes on teacher evaluations

Dr. Douglas Selwyn was a teacher.

Now he instructs students on how to become teachers as a professor in teacher education at Plattsburgh State.

And he has become disillusioned with the push to focus on standardized tests. There is no research or evidence they have any bearing on student performance, and now states across the country, facing pressure from the federal government, are pushing evaluation systems that link a teacher’s success to student test scores.

“To pretend these tests have some validity and to base how you evaluate teachers on it seems to be misguided for sure,” Selwyn said. “You then force people to arrange the educational experience around these test scores.”

Selwyn started as a high school teacher and worked his way down to the elementary grades, eventually becoming a mentor teacher in Seattle.

“We were elder brothers and sisters to first-year teachers,” he said. “It was a good program, and I wish we did more of that.”

Unfortunately it is also expensive as it means hiring another body to fill the mentor teacher’s classroom.

Still, to Selwyn, it was cost effective as it kept more good teachers in the profession and provided support to educators who were struggling.

He has been training teachers, first in Seattle and starting five years ago at Plattsburgh State, for more than 11 years.

Lately, the focus on standardized testing and scores has alarmed him.

Recently Selwyn and nearly 5,000 principals and educators statewide signed an open letter of concern regarding New York’s Annual Professional Review Legislation.

Approved in May 2010 in order to secure a federal Race to the Top grant worth nearly $700 million, the legislation took effect this past September. It requires that all teachers and principals be rated annually on their job performance, with 60 percent based on direct observation and between 20 and 40 percent on students’ standardized test scores.

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