Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

New York Measuring Teachers by Test Scores

George Schmidt Comment Jayson Blair was the guy who conned the Times a few years back with his fictional "reportings." This month's Jayson Blair Award has to go to yesterday's page one article on New York's teacher evalution schemes.

One of the reasons we have always been skeptical of what passes for "news" in the pages of The New York Times is that for the past decade they have been uncritical cheerleaders for Chicago's version of dictatorial corporate "school reform."

The article that appeared on page one of yesterday's editions (we get the National edition here) was almost pure agitprop and would have made a great subject for dissection as propaganda were I teaching journalism at this point. "Experts say..." over and over, then only one side of the "experts" was just the most obvious sleight of hand.

The more egregious nonsense takes place in the morphing of getting "good teachers" into this Cerf and Klein test craziness. Although there is no connection actually made, they just slip it into the narrative, and suddenly -- Presto! -- it's part of the fact chain.

If "reporter" Jennifer Medina were in one of my high school journalism classes years ago, she would have gotten an "F" for this piece of nonsense. It should serve as a major warning to people who act as if a clip file from The New York Times constitutes anything more than a window to look into the soul of Standardisto propaganda. The questions anyone should have about all of the unsubstantiated claims in this article would fill a few pages, yet somehow the piece slips not only through any "editing" but into print without scrutiny.

So... the Jayson Blair award for this month goes to the people who edited this piece, and to Jennifer.

George N. Schmidt Editor, Substance

Pete Farruggio Comment:

The latest reauthorization proposal for NCLB, by Miller/Kennedy, touted this growth model "reform" (ala NYC) as an example of fairness: to rate individual teachers on their students' annual test scores. Some of us pointed out that this would INCREASE the teaching to the test and the use of anti-intellectual, behaviorist pedagogy, and that this had been the real objective of high stakes accountability since its inception, to militarize the classrooms of working class children in order to increase the level of social control for the New World Order. A classic example of extending hegemony, via propaganda and ideology, as an alternative to using naked police state methods to control the population as its standard of living is lowered.

Thankfully, the NCLB reauthorization has been shelved for now. Some conservatives don't like any kind of government spending on the poor, even if it is for test and punish. Many more (now called neo-liberals) think that the Miller/Kennedy "reforms" are too mushy. These corporate mouthpieces demand tougher and more extensive testing, and even more control over teachers. The loss of all this conservative support seems to be the main reason Miller/Kennedy's bill lost its momentum. It appears that several of the more liberal Dems in Congress backed away from the reauthorization because they had heard our criticisms of NCLB, and because the NEA has finally come out in opposition. But how much do they really understand, or care?
br> The NYC case is an example of how the "growth model" will work. It can also be used to show how and why the corporate standardistas are committed to standardized tests as the sole yardstick. There must be plenty of stories in New York schools that show the human face of how NCLB really works. We must find them and tell them NOW to educate the public in preparation for the upcoming political battles.

Joseph Mugivan Comment: The problem of measuring teachers by test scores is that teachers are prevented from using the skills developed in the schools of education because of mandated unproven programs, constant test drilling and focus on testing in the current system.

Senior teachers understand that it takes nearly five years for a teacher to be excellent and that effective development of teaching skills is learned from other teachers rather than the "staff development" in schools that focus on these unproven commercial programs.

Literacy is developed across a wide curriculum, which has been eliminated due to the focus on testing. The offer of money for test scores and measuring teachers by test scores indicates that those in authority have a "bankrupt" view as to how to raise reading and math scores significantly; and that they have never done so in a classroom, as a teacher. Instead they turn to the livestock industry model of "prodding" the teachers to be more effective by threatening their position and survival.

The classroom is becoming a "survivor" setting, which only harms the psychic well being of all involved. This scarcity model of isolating individuals is rampant throughout the media and is now in our children's classrooms, all based on a flawed testing sytem with no "independent" accountability.

The right combination of effective and meaningful learning experiences, which include literacy throughout a broad curriculum, is the most effective method.This is no longer permitted or understood by administrators, who are being judged only by the scarcity model of testing results.

To strip teachers of the skills to be effective, and then judge them by unreliable and manipulated methods of score results, is unfair and creates new categories of victims and "survivors."

Ohanian Comment:
Is this teacher evaluation plan the BloomKlein payback for walking off with the Broad Prize in Urban Education?

Where's the union?

Teachers should immediately withhold their dues--put them into an escrow account, as do tenants with a landlord who fails to provide adequate, safe conditions such as hot and cold water and a roof that does not leak.

It is past time to hold unions accountable for failing to ensure that their members have working conditions appropriate to professionals.

Union chief Weingarten adds great insult to injury with her flip remark that any "real" educator can judge the effectiveness of a teacher by spending five minute in the classroom. Such a remark degrades the complexity of what we do--and the great variety of style and method in which we do it.

Sidenote: Chris Cerf is not the Sesame Street/Children's Television Workshop/Reading Between the Lions Christopher Cerf who wrote the song praising NCLB.

This New York City deputy chancellor Cerf was formerly president of Edison Inc, the unprofitable commercial outfit that has stirred up bitter controversy in 25 states. Before joining Edison, Cerf was a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Wiley, Rein & Fielding, where he specialized in litigation, with an emphasis on advocacy in the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. circuit courts of appeal, and state supreme courts. From 1994 to 1996, he worked at the White House, where he served as associate counsel to President Clinton. He is a member of the Broad Foundation Superintendents Academy, class of 2004.

Christopher Cerf, former head of the failed Edison Schools Inc., graduated from the Broad Urban Superintendents Academy in 2004.

Elect Hillary and he'll be the next Secretary of Education. After all, they'll be able to say he taught history for four years before becoming a lawyer.

By Jennifer Medina

New York City has embarked on an ambitious experiment, yet to be announced, in which some 2,500 teachers are being measured on how much their students improve on annual standardized tests.

The move is so contentious that principals in some of the 140 schools participating have not told their teachers that they are being scrutinized based on student performance and improvement.

While officials say it is too early to determine how they will use the data, which is already being collected, they say it could eventually be used to help make decisions on teacher tenure or as a significant element in performance evaluations and bonuses. And they hold out the possibility that the ratings for individual teachers could be made public.

"If the only thing we do is make this data available to every person in the city--every teacher, every parent, every principal, and say do with it what you will-- that will have been a powerful step forward," said Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is overseeing the project. "If you know as a parent what's the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior."

The effort comes as educators nationwide are struggling to figure out how to find, train and measure good teachers. Many education experts say that until teacher quality improves in urban schools, student performance is likely to stagnate and the achievement gap between white and minority students will never be closed. Other school systems, including those in Dallas and Houston as well as in the whole state of Tennessee, are also using student performance and improvement as factors in evaluating teachers.

The United Federation of Teachers, the city's teachers' union, has known about the experiment for months, but has not been told which schools are involved, because the Education Department has promised those principals confidentiality.

Randi Weingarten, the union president, said she had grave reservations about the project, and would fight if the city tried to use the information for tenure or formal evaluations or even publicized it. She and the city disagree over whether such moves would be allowed under the contract.

"There is no way that any of this current data could actually, fairly, honestly or with any integrity be used to isolate the contributions of an individual teacher," Ms. Weingarten said. "If one permitted this, it would be one of the worst decisions of my professional life."

New York invited principals from hundreds of elementary and middle schools with sufficient annual testing data to participate in the program, which will produce an elaborate stream of data on 2,500 teachers.

In 140 schools--a tenth of the roughly 1,400 in the system--teachers are being measured on how many students in their classes meet basic progress goals, how much student performance grows each year, and how that improvement compares with the performance of similar students with other teachers.

In another 140 schools, principals are being asked to make subjective evaluations of roughly the same number of teachers so officials can see if the two systems produce widely disparate results. New York City schools employ roughly 77,000 teachers. In all 280 schools, the principals agreed to participate in the program.

Deputy Chancellor Cerf said that how students performed on tests would not be the only factor considered in any system to rate teachers. All decisions will include personal circumstances and experiences, he said, but the point will be to put a focus on whether or not students are improving.

"This isn't about how hard we try," Mr. Cerf said. "This is about however you got here, are your students learning?"

Ms. Weingarten said the system was not needed. "Any real educator can know within five minutes of walking into a classroom if a teacher is effective," she said. "These tests were never intended and have never been validated for the use of evaluating teachers."

The experiment is in line with the city's increasing use of standardized test scores to measure whether students are improving, and to judge school quality. A new bonus program for teachers and principals, as well as the letter grading system for schools unveiled last fall, are all linked to improvement in scores. Nationally, too, school systems are increasingly relying on these measures to judge schools.

Virtually all education experts agree that finding high-quality teachers is critical to improving student learning, particularly in high-poverty urban areas, where good teachers are usually more difficult to find. Recent research has found that the best teachers can help struggling students catch up to more advanced students within three years.

But experts are grappling with how to determine what makes a good teacher. Neither graduate programs in education schools nor previous academic records are reliable predictors, they say. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires that districts place a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom, which typically means one who has completed a certification program, but this, too, is not necessarily a good indicator of quality.

"It seems hard to know who is going to be effective in the classroom until they are actually in the classroom," said Thomas J. Kane, a professor of education and economics at Harvard, who is conducting several research projects on teacher quality in New York City, and who is involved in the new effort.

Mr. Kane said there was little evidence that teachers with the "right paper qualifications" were any more effective than those without them. "But most school districts spend very little time trying to assess how good teachers are in their first couple of years, when it is most important," he said.

Nationwide, more than 95 percent of teachers receive tenure within their first three years of teaching, according to some studies. And once teachers receive tenure, it is extremely difficult to have them removed from classrooms.

In some sense, New York's effort to judge teachers partly on their students' improvement is a logical extension of the grading system for schools that was unveiled last fall, although officials adamantly say they have no plans to assign letter grades to individual teachers.

"I don't think anyone here would embrace the formulaic use of even the most sophisticated instrument 'you get tenure if this, you don't get tenure if that'" Mr. Cerf said.

He added that the new effort was just one of several ways in which the city was exploring how to evaluate and improve teacher quality. In recent months, city officials have begun training new lawyers to help principals navigate the considerable red tape required to remove inadequate teachers.

They have increased recruiting efforts to attract talented teachers to hard-to-staff schools. And they are allowing schools to earn merit bonus pools to distribute to teachers based on test scores.

"This should simply be one more way to think about things," said Frank A. Cimino, the principal of P.S. 193 in Brooklyn, who said he was participating in the experiment. "It is going to tell you some things you don't know, but it will miss the other things that go on in a classroom."

William Sanders, a researcher in North Carolina who was one of the first to begin evaluating teachers and schools based on student test score improvements, said that while such a system could be used to make broad judgments, it was difficult to use it with precision enough to find differences among teachers who are simply average.

"Can you distinguish the top teachers? Yes," Mr. Sanders said. "Can you distinguish the bottom teachers? The answer is yes, too. But it would be risky to make decisions using information at the classroom level for teachers who are just in the middle. You might miss a lot that way."

The city's pilot program uses a statistical analysis to measure students' previous-year test scores, their numbers of absences and whether they receive special education services or free lunch, as well as class size, among other factors.

Based on all those factors, that analysis then sets a "predicted gain" for a teacher's class, which is measured against students' actual gains to determine how much a teacher has contributed to students' growth.

The two-page report for each teacher examines information both from one year and over three years. The information also compares the teacher with all other teachers in the city, and with teachers who have similar classrooms and experience levels. The second part of the report measures how well a teacher does with students with different skill levels, showing, for example, whether the teacher seems to work well with struggling students.

Mr. Cerf said officials expected to decide by the "early summer" whether they would use the analysis to evaluate individual teachers for tenure or other decisions, and if so, how they would do so. Such a decision would undoubtedly open up a legal battle with the teacher's union.

— Jennifer Medina, with plenty of comments
New York Times




This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.