Ryan Wertz, Kathy Shelton and Paula Sondej, World Language Consultants, Ohio Department of Education
Since the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System, better known as OTES, first came onto the Ohio educational scene, we here at the Ohio Department of Education have been the recipients of an endless stream of your comments, which have ranged the gamut from “Best thing to ever happen for learners in Ohio!” to “Worst unfunded mandate to be forced on educators EVER!” Regardless of your personal opinions or experiences with OTES, what has become increasingly clear is that the requirement for world language educators to understand and measure student growth in terms of actual language proficiency has been an incredible catalyst for a much-needed abandonment of ineffective audio-lingual and grammar translation methodologies and a move towards proficiency-based best practices. In all honesty, too many of us here in Ohio had become comfortable closing our doors and doing what was easiest and most familiar for us – rather than doing what was truly best for our learners. We desperately needed a kick in our collective rear end to break us out of the complacency that had rendered lackluster K-12 proficiency results in our state for decades, and OTES – whether you love it or hate it, did just that!
Now, positive OTES-related changes are being observed throughout the K-12 sector in Ohio. Today, teachers are attending target language/comprehensible input workshops in droves, and sessions on performance-based assessment and measuring proficiency fill up sometimes within hours of being posted. Participation in teacher support networks and professional learning communities is at an all-time high, attendance at ODE and OFLA-sponsored professional development offerings are way up, and the offerings at this year’s OFLA conference clearly signaled an insatiable thirst on the part of Ohio language teachers for anything and everything that would help them make a successful transition to a more communicative and proficiency-focused way of doing business with their students.
Although you may not realize it, nationally many other states are looking toward Ohio, which is perceived by many as one of the states leading the charge in terms of an overall shift towards enabling K-12 students to communicate with ever increasing levels of language proficiency and intercultural competency. Our state is admired for having a significant number of its language teachers moving away from our collective, longstanding comfort zone and embracing the challenges posed by a rigorous set of proficiency-based learning standards.
With our state’s recent successes in mind, the big question that no one has really been heard asking too loudly yet is: “What happens if OTES were to go away?” As many of you may have heard, there has been some debate recently in the Ohio House and Senate regarding the demands placed on schools, teachers and administrators by OTES in its current format. At the time of this writing, there was no clear picture of what changes, if any, will be made to the current law that might have some bearing on how teachers will be evaluated in the future in the state of Ohio. OTES is still in place with its current requirements, and only time will tell how it might evolve as the result of legislative debate and possible change. The only thing that seems fairly certain right now is that teachers’ accountability for their students’ growth will certainly remain as an integral element of teacher evaluation in some way, shape or form, regardless of how OTES might potentially evolve.
The purpose of this article is not to attempt to guess what direction teacher evaluation might take in the near future. Rather, it is to pose a simple yet extremely important question to the world language teaching profession on behalf of K-12 students statewide for whom higher levels of proficiency in the languages they are learning have suddenly come within grasp:
“IF OTES goes away, or morphs into some adaptation that does not prominently feature the measurement of student growth as a major component of teachers’ overall evaluation, what will WE, as a profession, do?”
It would seem that we have two obvious choices. We could take the easy road, and backpedal to easier times where we close our doors and go back to providing our students with a mind-numbing, textbook-based approach to language learning and meaningless (but easy to grade!) grammar and multiple choice quizzes and tests. Or, we stay on the path less taken where many of us currently find ourselves, and we continue to stimulate the development of our students’ proficiency by incorporating a variety of authentic resources, immersing them in the target language and challenging them with real-life learning contexts while holding them accountable through performance-based assessments. More importantly, we continue to utilize tools like LinguaFolio® and other performance- and proficiency-based rubrics to collect information about the growth of our students’ proficiency to ensure that individual learning needs are addressed and standards- and proficiency-based learning targets are met by a broad range of our students. And we do this not because it’s easy, but because it’s what is right for our learners and for our country.
Here at the ODE where we’ve worked tirelessly to support you in your OTES-related endeavors, and we know that the path less taken hasn’t been an easy one. We hear the collective weariness in your voices as the evaluative cycle comes to a close for another school year, and we understand all too well the hurdles that you’ve had to overcome and the hoops that you’ve had to jump through. Yet, because of your hard work – and your perseverance, we see cause for great celebration! Because our perspective here at the Department is statewide, we can report that we are observing healthy dialogues and a level of teacher engagement in our content area never before observed in recent decades. And although we don’t have the data to prove it yet, we sense a significant leap forward in terms of our learners’ overall capabilities as a result of your efforts. This is all because the vast majority of you decided to give the OTES process your best effort, and you’ve stuck it out because deep inside you understand that it was high time that our profession be held accountable for the proficiency – or lack thereof – of our students. You have accepted that the extended “party of complacence” is over at long last, and you have embraced change and all of the inherent challenges that come along with it. And you did it because you knew in both your mind and your heart that your efforts would ultimately benefit your kids.
On behalf of your learners, we would like to thank you for your outstanding efforts and dedication during the past two years of OTES implementation. And at the same time, we would also like to ask you to consider the detrimental effects that turning back to “the ways of old” at this very critical juncture would have in terms of your students’ quest to become proficient in another language as well as their overall preparation for life in a global society. Their future is in your hands, and the gifts of language and culture have never been more important. Whether OTES stays or it goes, we implore you to continue to seek out and perfect your application of those best practices that will ensure that all Ohio language learners shine brightly in their quest for proficiency.
We wish you all a happy and restful summer free from any OTES-related stresses!