The Fixation With Standardized Test Scores
Lynne Winderbaum takes down the new NYC Teacher Evaluation System and standardized test scores
I wish Governor Cuomo [link] and Mayor Bloomberg [link] were not on record as wanting to fire teachers. I wish that Race to the Top did not force unproven reforms on states in order to compete for a piece of the pie or be left empty-handed. Although some may disagree, there is a disquieting feeling among teachers that the goal of all of these changes to evaluation is to be able to fire them. Observations long ago ceased to be an exercise in training and improving classroom skills and became “gotcha” evidence to support getting rid of certain teachers (and not for their pedagogy in many cases but for their age, their union activities, their whistle blowing, their refusal to do things contrary to the contract, etc). This year, in the Bronx district that includes DeWitt Clinton High School, the superintendent has denied tenure to 100% of his probationary teachers! There is tremendous political pressure to hold teachers accountable and responsible for the poor outcomes that embarrass the mayor and the DOE. Plus the corporate environment that is in place at Tweed and in corporate run charters and affiliated small schools would be unrestrained if teachers become at-will employees.
That’s why forcing an “ineffective” rating on teachers based on unreliable and wildly varying test scores [link] is really an effort to make any and all teachers, including tenured teachers, vulnerable to firing. In the past, few teachers lost their licenses for u-ratings. They were made to change schools, they were fined, but they did not lose their livelihood. In this climate, that is no longer the intention. Just listen to what Cuomo, Bloomberg, the press, and the “reformers” are saying. “Bad” teachers are the problem and they must be fired, therefore they demanded a new evaluation plan. To add insult to injury, a new evaluation plan was foisted on teachers’ unions to avoid blame for a $700,000,000 loss of funding through Race to the Top grants.
So now we have one. We had thought that the state districts approved a new plan allowing for 40% of the rating to be based on test scores. The UFT was able to reduce that in a plan subjecting city teachers to a test score component of 20% while the union negotiated the rest based on what are called “multiple measures”. Now we see that Commissioner King has imposed a system where no other subcomponent can trump test scores [link]. It demands an “ineffective” rating based on test scores alone. It has not escaped notice that page 37 of the document states “In addition, the parties indicated in their testimony – consistent with legislative intent – that all teachers rated ineffective in both measures of student learning subcomponents must be determined to be ineffective regardless of their score on the Other Measures subcomponent”. The new law, 3012-c explains a mechanism by which teachers whose test scores fall in the lowest band cannot achieve enough points to be rated anything but “ineffective”. This codifies the fact that “multiple measures” will not come into play in a teacher’s evaluation if the discredited and inaccurate testing results fall below the designated level. In effect then, it is possible for a teacher’s evaluation to be based solely on test scores.
And even tenured teachers, who used to be innocent until proven guilty by DOE evidence, now must walk into a hearing in a system whose goal is to remove “bad” teachers and defend themselves or risk losing their certification to teach. The additional hurdle of a “validator” must be factored in and if that person turns thumbs down, the teacher is clearly at risk for firing.
No tenured teacher has ever had to face this threat. We served three years of probation to learn our craft and show that we have met the requirements for tenure and then, barring any clearly demonstrable evidence of incompetence in the classroom or misconduct, exclusive of unreliable test scores, we were safe from arbitrary and capricious risk to our jobs. And most of the good we do cannot be measured at all.
As veteran teachers know, and our students will attest, much of the growth and support we offer is intangible and cannot be quantified. This system only feeds the appetites of those non-educators who want to rid the system of staunch union teachers and eviscerate the fairness enshrined in collective bargaining agreements. It suits their vision of the future of public education where teachers are not skilled and caring professionals but employees who can be hired and fired as in the corporate world. We shall see if such a future attracts the best and the brightest to the profession. We shall see if it helps our students or improves outcomes.
by Lynne Winderbaum, retired ESL teacher, JFK HS, and former Bronx High School UFT District Rep