New NYC tests–of teachers

I was just in the midst of ruing the new teacher evaluation regulations in New York, which allow state test results (or value-added scores derived from them) to account for up to 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

And now there’s more to rue.

According to the New York Times, New York City will be rolling out new standardized examinations, which will be used mainly to evaluate teachers, not students. This will mean one or two additional tests per year for elementary school students, and up to eight more tests a year for high school students.

It isn’t clear that these tests will affect the students in any way (except that they will take a great deal of time and test prep). But they will affect the teachers a great deal.

This part of the article has me scratching my head:

City officials want their tests to be different from the mostly multiple choice tests the state uses. A proposal given to testing companies for bids in April asks that the exams be based around tasks, like asking students to progress through a multistep math problem, modify a science experiment to get a different result, or write a persuasive essay. They should also reflect the more rigorous Common Core academic standards that New York and other states have adopted.

It’s possible that these will be an improvement over the bland and basic multiple-choice tests (which students will still have to take). But isn’t it a bit rash to use these brand-new tests to evaluate teachers, when many schools haven’t even figured out their curricula? And while these tasks look complex on the surface, is there any guarantee that they will be so in reality? Will the scoring follow a mechanical rubric, or will the scorers read students’ writing carefully for its substance?

Even more peculiar is the DOE’s assertion that the purpose of these tests should be “transparent”:

Mr. Polakow-Suransky encouraged transparency between teachers and students when they are administered for real. “I don’t think that it should be a secret that part of how teachers are evaluated is how kids’ learning goes in their class,” he said.

Transparency is laudable in principle. But what message are you sending the students when you tell them that their test scores on a particular test will affect how the teachers are evaluated? Especially if the stakes for the students are low, students may intentionally do badly on a test when they dislike the teacher. Two or three kids intentionally flubbing a test could cause a teacher’s value-added score to plummet. It’s one thing if teachers inform students that they (the teachers) are evaluated partly on the basis of the class’s performance. But the article suggests that students will be told that these very tests will be used for teacher evaluation. If that’s the idea, it should be reconsidered.

Moreover, many kids at this point are simply unused to concentrating on any task, alone, for an extended period of time. Such concentration is very important but does not come overnight. The DOE’s emphasis on group work has not helped in this regard.

What would be wrong with (a) working out curricula (not necessarily a single curriculum); (b) developing tests that correspond with these curricula; (c) trying out these tests; (d) carefully reviewing them for problems; and then (e) including them in teacher evaluations, along with other measures, if they indeed live up to their promises?

Granted, these new tests may take some of the weight off of the state tests, which have relied heavily on multiple-choice questions and low-level “constructed response” questions. This may be a good thing. But it makes little sense to give students these new untested tests, telling them that they’re meant to evaluate the teachers, and then to take the results as a reflection of the teaching.

Yes, I hear the reply: what, do you want to have this both ways? You don’t want the state tests to make up 40 percent of the evaluations, but you don’t want these new local tests, either. What do you propose?

Certain kinds of tests fit the curriculum so well that they require little if any test prep per se. I support that kind of test. But it’s hard to believe that the new tests are of this sort, when the curricula themselves are not clear yet. Nor is it clear that these new tests will have much gradation in the results. Many students may find themselves utterly unable to complete the tasks; others may complete them with ease. Will there be a relatively even distribution between the two poles? We do not know yet. Will the students have any reason to care how they do? We do not know yet.

A combination of state and local tests is preferable to state tests alone, when they complement each other. But since the local tests are new and supposedly different from what has existed before, they should be tried out and examined rigorously before they are used to evaluate teachers. They should be examined against the curricula in formation. They should have some meaning for the students. Too many steps are being skipped in the scramble for teacher evaluations.


  1. Homeschooling Granny says:

    If we have a problem with inadequate teachers, then we have a problem with the colleges that graduate and certify them as teachers. People invest four or five years of their lives and significant amounts of money training to teach. The colleges of education have a responsibility to evaluate these candidates and screen out those who cannot perform. And yet all I seem to read is about methods to evaluate teachers, and not a word about the irresponsibility of the colleges that certify them. Scandalous.

    Maybe some teacher who gets bumped needs to sue his or her ed school.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    Homeschooling Granny,

    You are absolutely right. Every teacher knows that ed schools do a lousy job preparing teachers for the classroom. But we don’t complain because we’re all in the same business: certification.

    A priest, a rabbi, and a lawyer are trapped on a raft in shark infested waters. The raft is sinking but there is land nearby so they decide to swim for it. The priest goes first and barely makes it before the sharks go after him. The rabbi isn’t so lucky, suffering several bites. But the lawyer has no problem. In fact, it looks like the sharks help him to shore.

    The priest and rabbi can’t believe what they see. “How come the sharks didn’t attack you?,” they ask. The lawyer shrugs, “Professional courtesy.”

  3. SuperSub says:

    Most of the reason that ed schools do such a poor job at educating teachers is that, well, its pretty much impossible for an ed school to educate effective teachers. Everything I use in my teaching I learned from my Biology undergrad education, my time spent as a substitute teacher, and the year I spent as a teaching intern.

    Wait, there was one thing that my ed school taught me – ed-specific vocabulary so I could understand what the heck administrators, DOE regulations, and textbook/testing companies were saying. On the of the deans of our program, as graduation approached, was very frank in telling us that we would use little, if anything, from our actual ed classes. We took them simply because the state DOE requires them for certification.

    Regarding the testing, I can’t wait to see this blow up… unfortunately, the mental midgets responsible for this will likely escape all responsibility and in fact move on to better things.

  4. Saying “Ed schools” is about as undifferentiated and useless as saying “parents.” be specific about specific programs, grade levels, and states.

  5. Homeschooling Granny says:

    I’m not in a position to differentiate among ed schools. There may be some fine programs. But ed schools have a responsibility to see that the people they certify as competent to teach are so. Otherwise they are certifying fraudulently.

    Since the competence of teachers is called into question then, in the name of both fairness and logic, the competency of ed schools should be examined as well.

  6. tim-10-ber says:

    sounds like ed schools should be no longer and education should just be a minor…just saying…

  7. Roger Sweeny says:

    If there were no ed schools, people would get to be teachers sooner and start with less debt. On the other hand, lots of ed professors, administrators, etc. would be out of a job.

    So it must be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.

  8. I can see how an excellent education school might exist. It would work closely with the college’s academic department and with local schools. There would be few education courses, but they would be of the highest possible quality and would draw on the subjects themselves. Students would be responsible for mastering their subject (up to a determined level) and at least one other subject as well (more for elementary school teachers, since the required level of mastery would be a little lower than for middle and high school teachers). For the rest, students would assist regular teachers for two years and develop or assemble a full set of unit and lesson plans.

    This way, when they entered teaching as regular teachers, they would be prepared in the subject; they would have two years of classroom experience; and they would not be lacking in lesson plans. Of course, curricula can change, but it’s much easier to adapt existing lesson plans than to create them all from scratch, on the fly.

  9. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more reliable to just assess the teachers directly? You know, make them take tests on content knowledge and research-based pedagogy? Let’s cut out the middle man, already. If testing is really such a great way to determine who’s a good teacher, let’s just test the teachers. I’m only half-joking.

    As for schools of education, there are many people who are starting to see that long-term teaching internships are more effective than a semester of student teaching combined with a bunch of coursework hoops to jump. The problems is that schools are squeezed for money, so paying intern teachers to work alongside master teachers is a difficult economic choice. Instead of what I got through teacher education, I would have preferred to master the content I would be teaching, have pedagogy classes that were filled with research studies rather than busy work, and then spent two years as an intern teacher with heavy support from people who knew what they were doing. Knowing and doing are two separate things, and schools of education are struggling with teaching the doing part effectively, in my opinion.

  10. Roger Sweeny says:

    I can see how an excellent education school might exist.

    I can see how a cold day in July might exist (and not in Australia).

    But I would never make plans expecting it.

  11. SuperSub says:

    Mike –
    “Saying “Ed schools” is about as undifferentiated and useless as saying “parents.” be specific about specific programs, grade levels, and states.”

    I place ed schools in the same boat as ***** Studies programs, which pretty much are universally weak.

  12. I agree with SuperSub –is there a single ed school out there that deviates from the progressive ed/ Teachers’ College-based orthodoxy?