I dare you to measure the “value” I add

(When i wrote this, I had no idea just how deeply this would speak to people and how widely it would spread. It even ended up being republished by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet. So, I think a better title is I Dare You to Measure the Value WE Add.)

Tell me how you determine the value I add to my class.

Tell me about the algorithms you applied when you took data from 16 students over a course of nearly five years of teaching and somehow used it to judge me as “below average” and “average”.

Tell me how you can examine my skills and talents and attribute worth to them without knowing me, my class, or my curriculum requirements.

Tell me how and I will tell you:

How all of my students come from different countries, different levels of prior education and literacy, and how there is no “research-based” elementary curriculum created to support schools or teachers to specifically meet their needs.

How the year for which you have data was the year my fifth graders first learned about gangs, the internet, and their sexual identities.

How the year for which you have data was the year that two of my students were so wracked by fear of deportation, depression and sleep deprivation from nightmares, that they could barely sit still and often fought with other students. How they became best of friends by year end. How one of them still visits me every September.

How that year most of my students worked harder than ever, (despite often being referred to as “the low class” or “lower level” within earshot of them), inspiring me and the teachers around us, despite the fact that many of these same students believed they could never go to college because of their immigration status.

How that year many of my students vaulted from a first to third and fourth grade reading levels but still only received a meaningless “1” on their report cards because such growth is not valued by our current grading system.

How that was the year I quickly gained 6 new students from other countries and had my top 3 transferred out in January to general education classrooms because my school thankfully realized I shouldn’t have 32 students in a multilevel self-contained ESL class.

How the year for which you have data was the year that two of my students, twins who had come from China just the year before to live with parents they hadn’t seen since they were toddlers, finally started to speak in May. And smile. And make friends. How they kept in touch with me via edmodo for two years after leaving my school.

How that year I taught my class rudimentary American Sign Language for our research project; inspired and excited, they mostly taught themselves the Pledge of Allegiance, songs for our school play, John Lennon’s Imagine, and songs for graduation, all in ASL. Then we created an online video-translation dictionary using their first language, English, and ASL. They wrote scripts for skits we videotaped to teach many of these words in context.


This year, my class represents seven countries, two continents, and three languages in one room. Together, they create a tapestry you can neither see, nor feel, nor imagine. I have students who grew up practicing Kung Fu and Tai Chi before school and now always get in trouble in gym for running. I have students in my fifth grade who never went to school before they crossed the US border last year or the year before. I have students who, although in fifth and fourth grade, are capable of doing 7th grade math while others are still learning to add and subtract well. I have a student who just came this year and is already reading on grade level.

I choose to revel in the richness this kind of diversity can bring to my classroom. The challenges, obstacles and pitfalls that teaching a group like this to work together, to learn, to create and grow both tire and thrill me. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel both excited and exhausted at the idea of tomorrow because of all that teaching a class like this entails.

But never will you be able to judge me or my students by one day or one test. Never will I give one iota of care about your tests, no matter how hard I work to help my students to do their best on it, knowing they aren’t meant to pass it because it is written far above their reading levels, and were written with native English speakers in mind. You can’t measure me as a teacher, because you haven’t imagined teachers like me or classes like mine. Their experiences are outside yours.

Tell me how important your data and tests are, and I will tell you how I don’t value your data because it tells me so little about my students yet so much about your educational system.

Your data says one thing: your system is what fails my students.


54 thoughts on “I dare you to measure the “value” I add

  1. How dare someone tell me….”well, I guess they won’t pass ‘the task’. Ignorance! It breaks my heart! 95% of my class is now reading at least at a level D, when most, at the time of arrival didn’t even know the letters of the alphabet in their native tongue. Now, they read, they speak, they understand. They proudly say the Pledge, and mean it! But, who cares? They are not a level 3. Who cares? I’m still the most terrible teacher who doesn’t even deserve a ‘thank you’ for helping put on such a magificent presentation, a horrible teacher who should never receive tenure.

    • I am SO glad you wrote this comment because it shows me you understand your worth and that it isn’t defined by tests that, when over-emphasized for students like yours, can only work to humiliate them and their teachers.

      Some people say that the goal of being on grade level is a constantly moving target for students like ours in particular and if we don’t push them to get there we are doing them a disservice. I think a system that doesn’t value the goals these students are already achieving and doesn’t truly appreciate the LEAPS being demanded of them is the real problem. What logic dictates that a child trying to make these massive leaps should have the same high stakes placed on them that native speakers have?

      • This is so well and poignantly put. I recently retired from the RI School for the Deaf, a school that was placed on the state’s Persistently Lowest Achieving list, subject to the draconian transformation choices (remember Central Falls High School) handed down by the federal Dept. of Ed. This designation was largely based on the students’ standardized test scores. Not only do all students have an IEP due to being deaf or hard of hearing, but many of the students came recently or not so recently from other countries where English was not and in some cases is not the language of the home. Some of these students had inconsistent schooling prior to coming to America. Not only do they have to acculturate to a new society, they are exposed to spoken/signed English, written English, and American Sign Language at school. But–no excuses! Apparently the teachers have low expectations and that’s why the students score so poorly. Under the transformation plan being drafted, they will have to shape up within three years, or …? This is a very disheartening state of affairs.

    • What you are accomplishing every day goes beyond what a number or a score or some bureaucratic data will ever begin to express. And though you surely must be exhausted after every day- to come home to another full time job (yes, I had kids too)- don’t you ever feel that what you do each day is anything less than AMAZING. You ARE the value in education, and your students will carry that with them always.

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  3. What a beautiful account! Thank you for telling your story. It is through accounts like these that the public will come to understand how much value teachers add.

  4. You really nailed it in this one. Whereas we tend to focus on the uncontrollable factors that lead to us being called ineffective, you’ve focused on how you use those factors to make yourself effective. How terribly disheartening, though, that a stellar teacher like you comes out looking so bad in the data when you are one of the best teachers I know. How can anyone argue your points?

  5. This should go out to every single newspaper in this country. I am tear-filled both from your passion and the eloquent way you’ve expressed all your concerns and achievements ~~ as well as those of your students, too, of course ~~ thanks to you and your extremely generous heart.

  6. My sentiments exactly!!! I’ve poured my heart and soul into the career I’ve wanted since I was 8 years old. No data can ever measure the amount of work that goes into this profession day in and day out! I invite these evaluators to come in and see what I do, how I do it and the heart I put into it! I teach 8th grade English (ELA/ESL) to 3 classes consisting of 28-30 ELLs. They come from 8-10 different countries and 3 continents. They have shown growth beyond belief which makes me extremely proud of them! Will all of them score a 3 or 4 on the new ELA this year? I can only hope. Does it matter to me? Not at all! I don’t see them as a number. I see them for their growth as students and the heart they pour into their work possibly because they see their teacher do the same! In spite of it all, I am grateful to have a job I truly love! Kudos to all of us teachers!

  7. Lastly, the “teacher bashing” (and I’ve heard it all in 16 years) has gone on too far, but it’s nice to see people like you speaking the truth about what we do and giving it the beauty it deserves! Thanks for that post.

  8. I cried when I read this moving post. Knowing you, your passion, your commitment to your students and your profession, your drive, your desire to make a change, etc.;trying to measure your accomplishments and those of your students via ineffective, culturally biased standardized tests makes no sense. What you do for and with your students makes sense. As I told you many times, if I were still working I would hire you in a second!!

  9. I am very impressed with what you have accomplished. You, and many other teachers work night and day to accomplish these great things. I don’t know how you and they do it.

    That all said, everyone who has been to school or worked in a school knows very well that there are teachers who do little more than draw a check or worse. When my wife taught there was a teacher who yelled at her students so loud that my wife had to close her room’s windows and the neighbors complained of the noise. Then the was the teacher who got his kicks by tripping 2nd graders. I’m sure that you can add your examples.

    What of the students they teach? What of the teachers, like you, who put their all into their job and whose efforts and profession are demeaned by these teachers? Can we say that it is too hard to figure it out who is doing a good job and who isn’t so we shouldn’t try thus leaving them in the classroom?

    Yes it is hard to measure teachers rationally. This is true of many professions. Engineer, doctors, sales people and many others are difficult evaluate. Some have relatively easy assignments; others hard. Some doctors treat the flu; some cancer. Some doctors never bury a patient; some nearly everyday. That alone, doesn’t say anything. Just because making these judgements are hard, we cannot say that we are too stupid or it is too hard. We instead work to find better ways. Do we always do any of this smartly, hell no.

    I don’t mean to defend the methodologies that are being used to evaluate teachers. I don’t know anything about them. My guess is that they leave a lot to be desired. We have had teachers since there were people but for the last 50 to 100 years institutionalized not making any effort to make any rational evaluations. So now, out of the clear blue, we are starting to do so. It will take years to think it through. Lets hope that it doesn’t drive out the teachers we need.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kent. I think you raise things that most people think. The question, however, is not whether teachers should be evaluated or whether all teachers are perfect. In fact, I am inspired to be a certain kin of teacher in response to some very negative experiences in my own life. The problem all concerned people need to focus on and not get distracted from is that NO test can measure teacher performance and relying on that to determine the “value” a teacher adds to a child actually serves to subtract all the very meaningful, difficult-to-quantify the value teachers really do add. Especially when it comes to populations traditionally and currently underserved. We can’t look at data or teacher evaluations while ignoring the still very unequal and segregated system of education in this country. To do so would be misguided at best.

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  13. I reposted the Facebook post with your article. It moved me to tears. I recently retired after having taught for 39 years. What’s happening in education today is breaking my heart. That teachers and students are so undervalued by the current approach to testing and teaching is downright sinful. Thank you so much for the way you so eloquently stated the issue.

  14. Eloquent and so true it is painful. Bless you for all you do. I feel as you do about my second graders (half are ESL) and how much growth they have made academically, socially and emotionally. However, working in a Program Improvement School, the focus will be on that one score. That single measure does not begin to paint the picture of all of their growth and excitement over learning and accomplishing new things.
    Have loved my job for 17 years but fear the future of public education in this country.

  15. All I can do is thank you. 25 of 28 years of teaching minority children living in abject poverty gives me the same story. I will never leave my school or my children, even if it means I never get a salary increase for the rest of my career. I will continue to add immeasurable value while watching the value of my outside life diminish as I can no longer afford basic necessities. Thank you for writing this.

  16. This article is so true and really touched me. Everyone learns differently and can flourish if they are given the chance.

  17. I loved what you wrote. You are speaking for thousands of us who teach in situations very similar to yours. This will be my 10th year in a school where 81% of the children are socio-economically disadvantaged and 90% are ESL. I finally realized that what is behind a lot of this teacher bashing, standardized testing, value-added push. It’s not that they don’t understand everything you do, they certainly do. It’s that they do not think we should be educating these children at all. No one wants to say it in public, or run their campaign on it as a slogan, but that’s what they believe. I can see it the minute a discussion with someone about education and I use words to describe my class like immigrant, or Second Language Learner. Some American do not value me because they do not value the children I teach.

  18. I have been an ESL teacher for years and this is right on. The idea of testing these kids the way they do is inhumane and insane. Congratulations to you for all the progress they do make.

  19. Thank you for speaking out so eloquently. Voices like yours are essential if we are ever going to see teaching and learning understood and evaluated in a meaningful way.

    Amanda Gulla

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  22. As an educator, I applaud you! As a mother, I marvel at you. As your cousin, I couldn’t be more proud! You have only just begun to leave your mark on education. I am your cheerleader!

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  25. Excellent and very true. My school is built on diversity and students from all backgrounds as well. Students who leave for months during the school year to visit family in India to gain a better understanding of their culture and backgrounds. We teach our students in different ways and are each dealt different hands. Is it truly fair for 1 test to test them in 1 specific way? I think not. very powerful message!

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  29. This article brought tears to my eyes because working in a low socio-economic school with a high immigrant population and being a teacher of children with disabilities takes every ounce of by brain matter to think, diversify, differentiate, create materials/lessons, individualize, accommodate, modify to gain the end result; educating the students who come to my class. It takes heart and when children come back and say thank you, there can be no greater reward; it is one of the greatest accomplishments in my life but one that is deeply personal, unheralded (not that I require it) and not something I talk about. I finish one year with one group and it’s on to the next and I get to do it all over again. Finally after all the letters, numbers, words, stories, writing, social skills and self regulatory skills are taught the greatest things I teach my students is that their voice is important, empathy,listening and being in the moment.

  30. Donna,
    This was great! I agree with you completely. Most people don’t understand nor would they believe all the variables that go into teaching our students. I can especially relate to your article since, ths year I teach your students twice a week. I have always been very impressed with how hard you work to meet each individual’s needs, while always remaining very clam and caring. Keep up the great work and don’t ever allow test scores to be the judge of our teaching abilities! Shame on them!

  31. We are going to fight this corporate takeover of our public schools. I want to retire early and dedicate my life to fighting this! Who is Bill Gates? What does he know about education? Diane Ravitch is a hero. We will win. These people are trying to destroy education. These “value added” evaluations are coming to Chicago, and CPS teachers have already agreed to strike. Look at what is happening in NYC and LA. The whole country needs to strike until this garbage is erased. I am very angry. These tests won’t stand.

  32. This is brilliant – if teachers were rated on how much care and intelligence goes into our work, the world would be a better place. As a D75 teacher of severely disabled kids, I am both relieved and appalled that we never even come up in this dialogue.

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