Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellows Advise U.S. Department Of Education And White House On Education Policy

Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellows Advise U.S. Department Of Education And White House On Education Policy

Teachers meet with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and education advisors to President Obama discuss testing, teacher evaluation and more

Washington, DC – Teachers affiliated with the national non-profit Teach Plus came to Washington today to speak to leadership at the U.S. Department of Education and the President’s Domestic Policy Council about a range of current education policy issues, including testing, teacher evaluation, and standards.

Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellows and alumni Shelli Shadday (Chicago Public Schools), Alexandra Fuentes (Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy, DC), Crystal Harper (Memphis City Schools), John Ulbright (Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township, IN), Catherine Tighe (Somerville Public Schools), Andrew Vega (Boston Public Schools) and Pearl Arredondo (Los Angeles Unified School District) met first today with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his senior staff.

The teachers briefed the Secretary and his team on the findings of Assessment Advisor (www.assessment-advisor.org), a teacher-created online ratings tool designed to capture teachers’ feedback on which tests work well and which ones do not. Assessment Advisor was created in an effort to shift the polarized testing dialogue from the current “pro-testing versus anti-testing” debate to a Third Way that is more valuable for teachers and students: identifying which types of tests help teachers teach and why, and what they view as fair and reliable measures of their students’ learning. The site now features more than 1,200 teacher-written reviews of hundreds of publicly available assessments.

At the meeting with Secretary Duncan, the Teaching Policy Fellows offered recommendations on characteristics that will make next-generation assessments valuable for improving teaching and learning.

“Identifying the right assessments is critical, both for our students’ learning and for how our effectiveness as teachers is evaluated,” said Catherine Tighe, a kindergarten teacher at Arthur Healey Elementary School in Somerville. “We need assessment systems that honor authentic learning, developmentally appropriate practice, and high quality instruction.”

The Teaching Policy Fellows also connected the Assessment Advisor findings to policy recommendations for other issues, including evaluations, professional development, and the transition to the Common Core.

Andrew Vega, an English language arts teacher at Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Boston, spoke of his experience as a T3 Initiative Teacher Leader in a turnaround school that has already transitioned to the Common Core standards.

“I appreciated how Secretary Duncan was receptive to the idea that this transition will be a challenge. I shared about my own initial struggles with the Common Core as I witnessed my students performing poorly on remodeled assessments and saw them become frustrated,” explained Vega. “Through close examination and action planning with my colleagues, along with unwavering support from my principal, we eventually got to a place where students were experiencing tremendous achievement under the Common Core. I hope the Department of Education will be supportive of teachers in this process as I think an initial slip in testing data will be a national trend as we implement the Common Core.”

Following their meeting at the U.S. Department of Education, the teachers met at the White House with senior education advisors to the President on the Domestic Policy Council, to discuss evaluation reform, assessments, early education and more.

Teach Plus CEO Celine Coggins said that engaging teachers in shaping the policies that affect their classrooms is critical for elevating teaching as a true profession. “One of the defining characteristics of a profession is that practitioners are considered the experts of their field,” said Coggins. “Today, the U.S. Department of Education and the White House are signaling that teachers are professionals whose expertise should be consulted on the most complex and critical issues facing our education system.”

The teachers agreed, and considered the two meeting invitations a positive signal that leading education policymakers want teacher feedback. Alexandra Fuentes, a biology teacher at Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy in DC, said, “I was energized to learn about all the work the DOE is currently doing to bring teacher voice into the conversation about policies and practices that are good for students and teachers.”

But even while Fuentes and her colleagues met with high-profile leaders, it was clear who remained front and center in their minds. “Our students are the ones who benefit most when teachers have opportunities like this to work with policymakers,” she said.