Big role of test scores in New York teacher evaluations

Last year, the New York State Legislature passed a measure that allowed 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on students’ scores on standardized state tests.

Now student test scores will account for as much as 40 percent of the evaluations, according to an article in today’s New York Times. This means they will count more than any other single measure. The new regulations are expected to be enacted on Monday by the state’s Board of Regents.

This change is likely due to pressure from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, who, according to the New York Times, said that a high-quality evaluation system had to be in place before he could support Mayor Bloomberg’s push to end seniority protection in layoffs.

But is this a high-quality evaluation system? It gives a great deal of power to tests that we don’t even have yet (as they are being revised) and to a value-added formula that has turned up many eccentricities, to put it mildly.

It is especially dangerous as a means of determining who should and shouldn’t be laid off. Teachers will be compared with each other by means of measures that haven’t stood the test of time yet (and that leave much to be desired). Principals will have little power to go against value-added ratings, even if they are clearly wrong.

New York State is still reeling from the disclosure that its state tests had gotten easier over the years. It is in the midst of revising its assessments and adopting the Common Core State Standards. The outcome of all of this is uncertain. In the meantime, the value-added formula used in New York City has numerous problems. Andrew Gelman, professor of statistics and political science at Columbia, demonstrates that when teachers are graded on a curve in this manner, a few students (in a large class) doing a little better on a test can bring a teacher from the 7th to the 50th percentile. (See all the comments on his post–they are interesting.)

Why, at this uncertain juncture, would the governor choose to make state test scores such a large part of teacher evaluations? Why the push for something clearly flawed?

Seems not only unwise and reckless, but weird.

Update: A few points of clarification:

The 40 percent would apply to those districts within the state that chose to use state assessments for the local-assessment portion of the evaluation. This would require the approval of the union in the district. So, on the one hand, it’s likely that many districts would choose to use local assessments for the local-assessment portion. On the other, the possibility of using state assessments would always be open, and districts might be under considerable pressure to take that route.

In New York Magazine, Chris Smith interprets this as a bargaining chip for Bloomberg: maybe the UFT will agree to a larger role for state tests if Bloomberg agrees to reduce the number of layoffs. It seems an ominous proposition, as the layoffs are (perhaps) a one-time deal, whereas the regulations will likely be in place for a long time.

Comments

  1. It’s not weird. It’s a set up. They want to set teachers up for failure so inept administrators can easily fire them. If not sooner, then later. No one will have a long term career in education. And that is what they want.

  2. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:
  3. Peace Corps says:

    I would like to see the value-added scores for my classrooms for three years. As a teacher I would then have a better understanding of the reliablity of the scores. Although I am not totally against using value-added for teacher evaluation, I don’t know if the students at my school care about the state tests (actually I do know that most don’t). If the students aren’t trying on the test that is being used for the assessment, how good is the assessment?

  4. Do you know what’s sad? The teachers can leave at any time if they don’t like their jobs. Those kids are stuck. And New York is one of those suckful states that require testing for homeschoolers… there is no escape for the *children.*

  5. A few points of clarification (from the NYT article):

    The 40 percent would apply to those districts within the state that chose to use state assessments for the local-assessment portion of the evaluation. This would require the approval of the union in the district. So, on the one hand, it’s likely that many districts would choose to use local assessments for the local-assessment portion. On the other, the possibility of using state assessments would always be open, and districts might be under considerable pressure to do so.

    In New York Magazine, Chris Smith interprets this as a bargaining chip for Bloomberg: maybe the UFT will agree to a larger role for state tests if Bloomberg agrees to reduce the number of layoffs. It seems an ominous proposition, as the layoffs are (perhaps) temporary, whereas the regulations will likely be in place for a long time.

  6. In order to become a teacher in New York State, you have to go through years of expensive schooling and training , racking up student loans and ending up with a degree which has absolutely no applicability to any career path besides teaching.

    So yes, teachers can leave any time we want. All we have to do is start completely over and double our student loan debt.

    What I most resent about using assessments is the idea that the scores of the students who don’t show up, those who spend most of their time out on suspension, and those who abjectly refuse to put in any effort whatsoever would be used to judge me. The only thing that will do is further depress those who work with the toughest cases, and ensure that those teachers who are good enough to be in high demand will stay far away from the classes where they are most needed.

    And, on top of everything else, it’s a waste of time. Those students who are failing the most are those who need their home lives fixed. Schools can’t do that. The only thing we can do is separate the tough cases from the regular students, and set up some sort of intensive program for them. That’s the only way for both groups to really have a chance. If you keep letting the predators into the petting zoo, the only thing you get is a buffet.

  7. BUT YOU CAN STILL LEAVE. I get what you’re saying about the education and the debt and all that, but teachers are not alone in facing some ugly realities in the changing workplace. No one compels you by law to have your butt in the seat 180 days a year. You are no one’s slave. My husband is a computer programmer and jobs like his are now pretty expendable. He’s been in the field 20 years. What else is he going to do?? I get where you are coming from, but if things are bad enough I suppose we’d find something else that yes, won’t pay well and won’t be as good. But he can still leave the building, you know? And despite not having many *good* choices, you can walk out any time and your parents won’t face truancy charges.

    Sorry, that whole idea of compelling someone to learn what the state wants them to know is awful any way you slice it. You’d think most liberals and conservatives would agree on that point. :)

  8. I wonder how this will play out in ESL, for instance, where students arrive and depart throughout the year. Sometimes a teacher has a fairly stable class; sometimes only a fraction of the class is there for the whole year. And by no means is it clear how one would measure “growth” of students who lack basic education in their native language, or of students who were born in the U.S. but placed in ESL.

    In many cases, ESL progress is obvious and consistent. But the special cases are numerous and can affect a class’s average. The outliers often have the hardest time. The bare beginners have a hard time progressing to the intermediate level, and the advanced students often score just shy of proficient.

  9. Learning a language is a little different than, say, learning mathematics. Kids who are comfortable here learn quickly, and I don’t think this is necessarily a function of what makes them learn other subjects. Kids who are dragged here against their will often resist learning English. Almost inevitably, they wake up and realize their future is tied to learning English, and make quicker strides. There are exceptions, though.

    I’m teaching two of them right now, one of whom has been here over three years.

    Also, it appears to me that the assessments designed by the state and city are wildly unreliable, sometimes placing kids who don’t speak at all into advanced classes. Personally, I’d hate to depend on them to evaluate me, and cannot conceive that any test designed by them could do so accurately. And that’s before we even begin to discuss the lack of validity and margins of error inherent in “value-added” systems.