These graphs show a teacher's "value-added" rating based on his or her students' progress on the California Standards Tests in math and English. The Times’ analysis used all valid student scores available for this teacher from the 2003-04 through 2009-10 academic years. The value-added scores reflect a teacher's effectiveness at raising standardized test scores and, as such, capture only one aspect of a teacher's work.
Dennis Hagen Smith's Response:
• Your article substitutes simple answers (one type of assessment) to complex questions for the more detailed investigation necessary to produce positive results. By focusing upon a single criteria (test scores) to classify teachers’ “effectiveness,” your article will result in continued pressure upon teachers to “teach the test.” It does not address the more important issues of student motivation, parent involvement, or the students’ retention of knowledge. Some teachers “teach the test,” and see a rise in their students’ test scores. Yet, those same students demonstrate little retention of those skills beyond the test. In fact, many students enter the next grade level unable to complete the most basic assignments. Their performance is clearly incongruent with the test scores from the previous year. We are asked to believe that the students simply forgot that information. Yet, the retention of knowledge, or the ability to apply that knowledge (two essential components of effective teaching), are completely ignored by your article.
• Your article fails to track the students further than fifth grade. The goal of educating our students is to prepare them for their best possible future. You need to research the continuing education of the students. You state that research shows that “teacher effectiveness is the single most important factor in a child’s ability to learn.” Please cite that research, and as effective journalists, also discuss the plethora of research that cites other issues such as home environment, nutrition, parents’ education levels, & socio-economic status, have a great impact upon a child’s ability to learn.
• After 22 years of teaching, your article represents the first time that the L.A. Times has mentioned my name. It has used this skewed data to judge my effectiveness as a teacher. Yet, the L.A. Times has ignored the many students who return to my school each year and tell me that I’ve been one of their most influential teachers, the many students who’ve left our Title I community to attend colleges (including M.I.T., NYU, UCLA, etc.), and the numerous projects I’ve undertaken with students to provide motivation and an ongoing desire to learn.
• In assessing my “effectiveness,” the L.A. Times has ignored a number of professional accomplishments which demonstrate the effectiveness of my teaching:
o As a result of my work with students, I was awarded the Historical Society of Southern California’s highest honor, the Joseph O’ Flaherty Distinguished Teaching Award.
o I have appeared in Who’s Who of American Teachers (nominated by former students for the positive effect I’ve had upon their education) three different occasions. Additionally, I earned very high scores while becoming our school’s only National Board Certified classroom teacher.
o I’ve collaborated with numerous public institutions to bring greater educational opportunities to our Title I students. The Skirball Cultural Center, the Geffen Playhouse, the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society, the Center for Civic Education, the UCLA ArtsBridge program, the Art Center College of Design, curators at the Autry National Center & the Huntington Gallery, the Zimmer Children’s Museum, the NoHo Arts Festival, Azusa Pacific University, the UCLA History-Geography Project, the UCLA Writing Project, former school board member Jon Lauritzen, the L.A. County Natural History Museum, Tree People, Burbank DWP, the Digital Divide Conference at UCLA, Windows-on-our-Waters Environmental Education, the Children’s Nature Institute, and the Autry National Center have acknowledged my accomplishments developing effective classroom practices.
o While working with the Center for Civic Education, I was asked to collaborate with a number of other educators to write the Scope and Sequence linking their National Civics Standards to the California State Social Studies Standards. In addition, I brought Project Citizen to our school. This project encourages students to make a positive difference in society by using a multi-step process to identify a problem, find and review potential solutions, and then create an action plan to implement the policy. Through this program, my students, who called themselves the Positively Green PowerShifters, made short- and long-term proposals to implement policies converting Toluca Lake Elementary School into an energy efficient prototype. Working with a graduate student from the UCLA ArtsBridge program, the Positively Green PowerShifters made their project into a film to better inform the community about ways to take action locally to reduce global climate change.
o I have often been asked to share teaching insights with other educators including the presentation of curriculum the Center for Civic Education, the Skirball Cultural Center, LAUSD, the UCLA History-Geography project, the UCLA Writing Project, Center X at UCLA, & Constitution Day conferences. In addition, I have worked as a mentor teacher for LAUSD, and a master teacher for the ACT program of the California University of Northridge. I was appointed as the Articulation Coordinator in LAUSD’s District B (North Hollywood) creating links between middle and elementary school teachers in the area (funded by an Annenberg Grant), and helping to organize a Summer Bridging program to help elementary students make the transition to middle school. Also, I worked on the development of student curriculum detailing the history of jazz for the Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute’s website, as well as the creation and testing of LAUSD’s new model curriculum, “United States History & Geography: Making a New Nation.”
o I’ve initiated and edited a monthly school newspaper (The Toluca Lake Times), a school web page, a school recycling program (Cycle-of-Life Club), an alumni volunteer program, an ArtsBridge program utilizing graduate students from UCLA, a school-wide basketball tournament, and numerous outreach programs with local museums and environmental organizations.
o I am a firm believer in integrating curriculum to provide students with important real-world connections. I have led students in the creation of a number of performances utilizing the arts to immerse his pupils in the curriculum. Students learned about literature and social studies while performing “Tom Joad.” This play incorporated the music of Woody Guthrie with aspects of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Students wrote and performed monologues voicing the concerns of individuals from the classic novel. After viewing this performance at the NoHo Arts Festival, Lee Baker of the Community Redevelopment Agency brought the students into a studio to film their play for public access. Other performances created by my students include “The Wizard of Paz” (integrating aspects of Don Quixote with The Wizard of Oz), “Another Christmas Carol” (a modern interpretation of the Charles Dickens’ classic in which Scrooge is now an energy baroness), Harlem Jazz (a historical recounting of the development and influence of jazz and blues throughout American history), “Now Let Me Fly” (50th Anniversary of Brown vs. the Board of Education), and the creation of animated films with the Zimmer Children’s Museum’s youTHink program. My students also wrote and performed a Toluca Lake Holiday. This musical production presented a history of the local community as an extension of the Community Treasures Project sponsored by Thomas Brothers Maps. During the Community Treasures project, students read local history, researched the archives of a local newspaper (The Tolucan), and took numerous trips around the neighborhood to conduct interviews and photograph important sites for this project. Their finished work was displayed at the school and at a local art gallery in the NoHo Arts District.
o In 2002, my class won a nationwide contest with the Peace Corps enabling his students to speak directly with their pen pals in Romania. Esteemed actor and director, Ed Begley, jr. has twice welcomed my students to view his play, Cesar and Ruben (about Cesar Chavez & Ruben Salazar) and conduct exclusive interviews with the cast (published in the school newspaper). My students’ poetry is annually displayed at the Japanese Community and Cultural Center in Little Tokyo. In 2008 and 2009, I was awarded a Keeping History Alive grant from Azusa Pacific University. This grant funded his students’ participation in the National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. This fine project integrated history, geography, science, writing, and the arts. The project included a guided tour of the Jack London papers at the Huntington Library by curator Sara Hobson. The project culminated with the creation of a student-made film, The Call of the Past. This film portrayed Buck, the protagonist from The Call of the Wild, overcoming a variety of fictional challenges as he travels to several salient moments in American History: aboard Christopher Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria, in Tenochitlan at the time of Hernando Cortes’ invasion, in Colonial Jamestown, with French fur traders along the St. Lawrence River, at Plymouth Rock, in New Amsterdam, with George Washington crossing the Delaware River, escaping along the Underground Railroad, and visiting President Barack Obama in the White House. Writing these stories and creating this film helped students gain a better understanding of these important events in American history.
• Your article gives those unfamiliar with public schools, the idea that the “value added” methodology is something new that has been ignored by schools in the past. Yet, for many years my school has made that data available to teachers and provided many hours of professional development to help teachers enhance their instruction. Had you taken the time to effectively research your topic, you would have found this information. Journalism, the fourth estate, is a great responsibility. Effective journalists thoroughly research their topic, evaluate alternative perspectives, and present potential solutions. Unfortunately, your article fails accomplish these tasks.
- Dennis Hagen-Smith
Toluca Lake Elementary