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EVALUATING THE EVALUATIONS: How Can Math or English Tests Be Used For All Teachers?

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We need accountability and high standards for teaching and learning, which is why we must revoke evaluations based on standardized test snapshots - they cannot show who taught a kid what. We are attributing all of the right and wrong answers on the tests to the last teacher in the room, for better or worse, which is logically bankrupt.

Little discussed, however, is the way the evaluations treat teachers who don't teach the subjects tested - we just apply Math or English scores to them anyway, invalidating any claim they reflect teaching ability.

SHAKY FOUNDATION: Right off the bat, multiple choice answers can be guessed, so mathematically, scientifically and statistically speaking, that portion of the test can only be considered a maximum of 75% accurate. This is a low bar for a professional assessment.

But the subjective written portion of tests can be even worse, with a human referee behind every mark. Even with the best of intentions, deciphering the scrawlings of 3-8th graders can be tougher than interpreting hanging chads or Aramaic runes. When scoring was done in-house, we find some of the teachers and administrators with the biggest gains on paper simply cheated, showing the underlying concept of high stakes tests to be a mistake.

But the reports of sloppiness and apathy at third party test-scoring mills are cringeworthy, as minimum wage temps grade tests faster than is humanly possible. Tests are then sealed, forbidden to ever be seen again, even if consequential disputes arise.

Pearson, the "Halliburton" of education, is awash in billion dollar contracts. Lobbyists are vying with Wall Street investors and private contractors to slice and dice a $500 billion annual pie, taking tax dollars out of the classroom only to return flawed results. Machine-counted grades sent in after the school year is over makes them far less actionable than timely feedback from a classroom teacher.
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WORSE THAN ARBITRARY IN NYC: As controversial as Common Core tests are in comparing Math and English teachers, the NYC Department of Education under Mayor Bloomberg adopted a policy to use Math or ELA (English Language Arts) test to evaluate ALL of the other teachers - Science, Social Studies, Gym, Art, Music, Foreign Language, you name it.

To avoid testing kids in all of these different subjects, all the other teachers (a majority of NYC's 70,000 teachers) have Math or English test results count as 20-40% of their evaluations. There is little explanation given for this policy or it's origins, hashed out in private negotiations between the UFT and NYC DOE.

According to the education journal Chalkbeat, unnamed officials described the system as "temporary", rushed and underfunded, promising they were already developing "useful" assessments.

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Now over a year later, it's only changed for the worse. NY State approved the NYC plan to make many teachers pick their poison, gambling on which subject will do better, Math or English. Can NY state be serious about measuring if they use use-of-subject scores?

PUNISHING TEACHERS: Ratings for thousands in NYC dropped from 'effective' to 'developing' or 'ineffective', solely because of state test results - in a subject they do not teach! This has led to a exodus of teachers from low performing schools into predictably better ones. Schools in impoverished communities are already experiencing hiring crises.

Experienced teachers avoid these schools because low scores are as certain as the high poverty in the area and they know they will inherit the blame. Math and English teachers complain they now shoulder the burden of success or failure for the whole school, but think also about the horrible arts teacher who gets a lift in her ratings if the school has great Math or ELA scores, taking power away from the principal to remove them.

ANGER & THREATS: Governor Cuomo now wants to ratchet up the Common Core test-based portion of evaluations from 20% to 50%, looking to fire teachers for two years of 'ineffective' ratings. But it is the rating itself that is ineffective. Some NYC Assembly members are publicly noting Mr. Cuomo is just enraged about the unions withholding support in the last election, much of it stolen by Zephyr Teachout.

The Governor actually vetoed his own two-year moratorium on 'ineffective' ratings consequences after it passed by the legislature, reneging on a key campaign promise.

BUYER'S REMORSE: Seeing the Common Core fully implemented, states are only now realizing that federally adopted student growth measures called Value Added Models are based on inexplicable algorithms. "VAM" has been debunked so soundly by statisticians, the biggest names in education, like Randi Weingarten of the AFT reversed her endorsement, an admission that the practice was a wasteful boondoggle.

Then, President Obama seemed to do the same - after sustained backlash by stakeholders demanding the USDOE defend the research on VAM, there was a pregnant pause in the debate, and then, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan penned an op-ed calling for...less reliance on testing.

Just within the last month we see all the superstars of the GOP (Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Grassley, Portman, Inhofe, et al) introduce Senate bills to kill Common Core and end federal mandates for standardized testing. Senate Education hearings ongoing now are assessing the damage of No Child Left Behind's unrealistic, unfunded mandates and reliance on measures of learning being used for purposes they were not designed for.

Upstate superintendents are protesting over the airwaves. Teachers are swarming to the NY BATs Facebook group, which just hit 2,500 members - and parents are already vowing to refuse the tests in the Spring with groups like NYSAPE or Opt Out NY in massive numbers.

Also this week, GOP Assemblyman Al Graf introduced bill A.3656 to halt Common Core statewide, but like the similar bills in the US Senate, they are not getting any media attention, even when co-sponsored by two high profile Presidential contenders and the most influential Republicans in America.

If anyone reading this can explain how a student's Common Core Math scores are supposed to show the proficiency of their music teacher, or a gym teacher, please proceed.


 

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(OpEdNews Contributing Editor since October 2006) Inner city schoolteacher from New York, mostly covering media manipulation. I put election/finance reform ahead of all issues but also advocate for fiscal conservatism, ethics in journalism and (more...)
 

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