#Receipts: What teacher accountability could look like

By Tyler Schelpat

For purchases large and small, you get a receipt. It shows the transaction, what was paid and what was acquired in exchange. It is our record of what we give and get.

Recently, I posted a (redacted) photo of student progress shown in a juxtaposition of the pre-test and post-test for their physics unit. Another twitter user retweeted it with #receipt, and it really got me thinking: if parents asked us (teachers) for “receipts”, some artifact that showed their student’s acquisition of learning, what would we give them?

Too often, it seems the answer is nothing.

Grades are not a good receipt for parents, contrary to how they are overused and overemphasized. Grades can provide some measure of effort and work completion, but their inflation, deflation, tampering, presence, and absence, do not really show what kids know.

Pre and post tests can be a good model for measuring learning and student growth. I am not referring to standardized tests, which are also overemphasized and set a (sometimes) low bar. The pre test/post test model is a strategy regularly employed by those who perform academic research in the field of teaching and learning, and serve as the methodology for valid conclusions in rigorous, peer reviewed journal papers. As long as the pre and post tests are well made and rigorous, they are a perfectly valid measurement tool.

Again, this is not to say that standardized tests, by implication, are always valid tools to measure student learning also. They are meant to show growth, but the scale is often too large and not immediate enough for parents to get a sense of how their child is learning (or not) day to day. Furthermore, we have not done enough to criticize the content of the tests themselves, and frequently rely on them too much to make adjustments that are much more granular in our practice.

If parents demanded receipts, and it were part of the school’s culture, then they could make better choices for their children. The school I work at now, which is a traditional public school, uses this model school-wide in every subject to help kids see growth. Why not extend this data to parents?

Furthermore, tests are not the only valid receipts. Many schools are moving to portfolio-based models, where students showcase their work over time, which shows growth in the quality of their execution and ideas.

When kids focus on growth, not on grades or bars or benchmarks, they are more encouraged to persevere and continue their growth. I’ve seen kids score a 50 on a test excited enough by the 40% increase from their pre-test to study harder, work harder, and develop better strategies. It also shows that they are growing and learning, even if they are not quite at the benchmark yet. It is incentive for continued growth.

If you are a parent, you can push for #receipts of your students growth, in the form of pre/post test data, work portfolios, and student self-assessments. As teachers, our word should be backed up with the data to show that what we do is effective, or identify how it can be more effective.

Parents need to know that our word is worth something.

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