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Commentary...A Quality, Exemplary Teacher...Aleta Margolis

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With many schools back in session, it's officially crunch time because test time is just a few weeks away.

As commentator Aleta Margolis notes, during the past decade, the importance of annual standardized tests has skyrocketed.

Margois is Executive Director of the D.C.-based Center for Inspired Teaching…

Tells us what you think at conversation dot wamu dot org, click on commentary forum.

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A student's performance on annual standardized tests measures not only that student's academic achievement, but also the quality of her teacher, school and school system.

As children throughout the country prepare for the big tests in the coming weeks, Congress will be rewriting the law that made testing a cornerstone of the national school reform movement.

"No Child Left Behind" has moved us forward by illuminating educational inequities, but it has also set us back by positioning standardized testing as the most valuable tool of education reform.

Tests are one of many tools that can contribute to making our schools equitable and ensuring all children learn. But the most valuable tool of education reform is teachers, and I'm hoping this is a focus of the new law.

A focus on teachers starts with vocabulary. Both the current law, and plans for its revision, emphasize the terms "high quality" or, "exemplary" teachers. No matter what else finds its way into this law, the definition of this term will in large part determine the educational experience of our children because this definition will be used both to hire and to evaluate their teachers.

The current law has taught us that labeling a teacher "high quality" based solely on credentials does not guarantee a rich, rigorous, and relevant learning experience for students. Similarly, defining a teacher as "exemplary" solely on the basis of her students' test scores will not recognize that teacher's ability, or lack thereof, to ensure students go beyond a surface familiarity with material and understand it in depth.

There will be heated debate about the particulars of the new "No Child Left Behind" but there will be little disagreement about the right of every child to have a high quality, exemplary teacher.

After working as a public school teacher, studying best practices in teaching for 20 years, and watching my own children go through elementary and now middle school; this is the definition I propose:

A high quality, exemplary teacher demonstrates high expectations for all students and a belief in their desire to learn; the ability to build a positive, safe, and respectful classroom; many ways to assess student learning and use assessment data to improve instruction; a commitment to ongoing professional growth and instruction that fully engages learners.

An exemplary teacher is not just a provider of information but is an instigator of thought.

We must push for this term to be defined in a way that is good for children. The definition must make it possible not only for our students to achieve high scores on tests, but also for them to thrive for the long term.

I'm Aleta Margolis

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