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.