New standards, tests may kill teacher ratings

New common standards, which will require new tests, may put the kibosh on value-added ratings of teachers, speculates WashPost columnist Jay Mathews.

California will switch to Common Core Standards in 2014, get new tests in 2015, but no new textbooks aligned with the new standards and tests until 2017, teacher Jerry Heverly learned at a conference organized by his union. The state can’t afford new books.

(Heverly) has no strong feelings about the current tests, but the big change in 2015 is akin to watching a rising tide approach sand castles carefully constructed on the beach.

Integrated Math I, II and III will replace the traditional algebra, geometry, advanced algebra sequence, Heverly was told.  (This is a blast from the past: California adopted integrated math — algebra, geometry and statistics are taught at each level — in 1992. After protests, districts won the right to choose a traditional or integrated approach. New math standards were adopted  five years later, which required a new exam. Integrated math went out of fashion.)

The new standards will require changes in other subjects, as well. And developers say the new tests will be quite different, stressing students’ ability to explain their thinking, not just right answers.  Mathews writes:

These new tests in nearly every state will delay, if not stop altogether, the national move toward rating teachers by student score improvements. School districts can’t do that when the tests change so radically. They might have to wait years to work out the kinks in the tests before using them to assess teachers.

Once the new tests are accepted as valid, it will take years of data on students’ progress to create valid value-added measures of teacher effectiveness.

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  1. Ponderosa says:

    Sand castles are a good metaphor for what we build at schools these days. Five years of massive labor to build Blueprint A, followed by the order to scrap it all and follow Blueprint B. Five years later: Blueprint C. Centralization of ed policy is turning out to look like one enormous wrecking ball. I can’t wait to be told that the history curriculum I’ve painstakingly built over the past eight years will need to be scrapped.

  2. That’s okay, according to my district in a large metro area of Texas, they only need 1 year of new test data to establish a baseline.

    Then, we’re ready for ratings and value-added assessments.

    • Former HISD Teacher says:

      Sounds like Houston to me. Even though they originally said it would be 3 years of data.

      Grier is a scoundrel.

  3. Here in Massachusetts teachers are stymied by having to prep students for the MCAS each year and barely have time for actual teaching. No child left behind indeed!

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Somewhat of an exaggeration. There are no MCAS tests in grades 1,2,11, or 12. English Language Arts and Mathematical are tested every year in grades 3-8 and again in grade 10. There is a general Science, Technology, and Engineering test in grades 5 and 8, and a specialized science test in grade 9. No MCAS exists for social studies or foreign languages.

      So 17 tests in those middle 8 years, with two years (grades 5 and 8) having three.

      You set up an opposition between “pre[ping] students for the MCAS” and “actual teaching.” Is this true of all tests or just the MCAS? My experience is that teachers spend a great deal of time prepping students for tests that the teachers make up.

  4. Walter E Wallis says:

    A tablet for every student will bypass the textbook delay. Textbooks are a dieing industry.

    • no2privateprofit taxpayer loss says:

      Funny how the idea for education reform came from the tech industry (Bill Gates and the founder of Netflix) and they might profit from it as well.

  5. Charles R. Williams says:

    This whole business is futile.

  6. Tom Linehan says:

    As someone who has studied much more math than the average person, it seems to me that teaching to the test and varying standards are really beside the point. If you eliminate Calculus most maths that anyone takes in K-12 consists of no more than two or three dozen basic rules. Everything else is an application or is derived from these rules. That is two or three rules a year is what kids have to learn through trigonometry. For instance whatever you do to one side of the equation you do to the other. The number varies because math builds on previous rules. The Pythagorean Theorem, for instance, is a special case of the Law of Cosines where one angle is 90 degrees because the cosine of 90 degrees is zero.

    I really do not see how changing standards or curricular has anything to do with success in Math if they cover the basic rules. It does not seem to me too much to ask to teach two or three rules a year..

    • Mark Roulo says:

      I think you underestimate how many different ways that these rules appear and are used.

      As an example, to multiply, a child can easily see the following different cases:

      (1) Single digit natural number by single digit natural number (ie, the times tables)
      (2) Multi-digit natural numbers (… bring down the zero …)
      (3) Multi-digit decimals (yes, this is very similar to case 2)
      (4) Multiplying a natural number by 10
      (5) Multiplying a decimal by 10 (you don’t just ‘add a zero’ …)
      (6) Multiplying two factions together
      (7) Multiplying two mixed numbers together
      (8) Multiplying negative numbers
      (9) Multiplying a mixed number by 10 (now you need to ‘add zeros to two places’)

      In some sense, these are all the same. But in another sense they are not. And they most certainly do not appear to be all the same to a 5th grader.

  7. Roger Sweeny says:


    You see it as “two or three rules a year” because you have “studied much more math than the average person.” You see the connections and how it all fits together. I am fairly sure that it is impossible for you to think yourself back to a time when you didn’t. But I guarantee that most every elementary school kid, and a substantial majority of high school kids can’t see it that way.

    You have also done so much practice that a lot of things that take difficult conscious thought for most 17-year-olds are second nature to you.

    To an algebra 1 student, dividing both sides of an equation by a constant or an unknown or a binomial are three different things, and they need to do all three a lot of times to get any good at it.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    Roger Sweeney. Ref yr last graf. Is that what homework is for?

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Some practice for homework, some in class so the teacher can see what a student is doing and provide personal help.

      My point was that even though math does come down to a limited number of basic rules, those rules are followed in lots and lots and lots of different contexts. The beginning student’s subjective experience will be lots and lots and lots of different things. The student has to be given a chance to spend a non-negligible amount of time in each situation.