Archives for category: Teacher Evaluation

Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation/Institute has been a strong supporter of school choice and the Common Core. On the whole, he and TBF have applauded Arne Duncan’s move to promote charter schools, to ignore the voucher proliferation, and to push Common Core on the states (as if they were “state-led,” which they were not).

However, Petrilli now has had a change of mind. (For the record, I support those who are willing to rethink their views and change their minds.) He now recognizes that Arne overreached and caused a counter-reaction. The most atrocious action by Duncan was to force test-based teacher evaluation on the states, with no evidence that it would improve education. It was a disaster. It hasn’t worked anywhere, and it has increased teaching to the test and teacher demoralization. If you are looking for the cause of the widespread teacher shortage, look to the policies of the U.S. Department of Education since 2009.

Petrilli writes, with humility, that he was wrong.

It’s not just that the Department of Education usurped power from Congress and the states; it’s that they used that power to push bad policy. Nobody today can creditably argue that mandating statewide teacher evaluations as a condition of ESEA flexibility was a good idea. Nobody can say that the teacher evaluation efforts are going well. This was an unforced error of enormous magnitude—one that has sparked a significant backlash to accountability policies writ large and also destroyed whatever credibility the feds may have had….

So yes, both the Senate and House versions of ESEA reauthorization are “looser” than No Child Left Behind, or than the Fordham proposal from 2011. If this renewal processes gets across the finish line (and I think it will), the federal government will have much less power than it does today. Folks like Chad who don’t like that will only have Arne Duncan to blame.

A number of teachers from the Bad Ass Teachers Association drove to Albany to witness the trial of Néw York’s teacher evaluation system. Here are excerpts from some of their reports.

BAT 1:

“In responding to the Lederman’s suit, the state representatives Ira Schwartz, Assistant Commissioner of Accountability and (?) Sherman, a “Quality Control” official did not provide affidavits from independent experts, rather they asserted that the Lederman’s misunderstood the meaning of “growth”, providing language from promotional brochures.

“But the response also conceded that the policy was derived in pursuit of federal Race to the Top funding (another case of “Thanks Obama?”)
The judge teased this out of the state’s lawyer by asking so the students can perform well and the teacher be deemed ineffective? The Lawyer eventually answered “yes!” but tried to remind the court that the formula is only used as part of the overall evaluation. This caused the judge to ask aloud why “discordant” and “inappropriate” results would be used in any percentage.”

BAT 2:

“In comparison to Lederman’s pointed and constructed argument, the assistant attorney general did a minimal response to argument, defending the definition and use of the growth model. The judge asked over and over how a teacher could go from a 14 one year to a 1 the following year. No answer was really given except for a poor attempt to explain the model’s comparison to other students.

“Quote of the day – from Lederman – went something like this: Are we living in a science fiction world where Hal the Computer gets to make decisions and there is no opportunity for human input or appeal?…

“I am in awe of the Lederman’s, true heroes for all of the downtrodden teachers being judged by a flawed and unfair system of measurement. If they win, all teachers and all students win.”

BAT 3:

“Another thing that stood out was just how deeply flawed the system is. When a teacher like Sheri goes from 14 points to 1, yet her students are doing very well and meeting proficiency, it’s easy to see that something is deeply wrong. I believe everyone in the courtroom saw that today. The argument that it’s just a portion of an overall score doesn’t matter to me. If any part of it is flawed, the whole thing should not be used. Let’s hope the judge agrees.

“Lastly what stood out was how much Bruce shined, and the state faltered. Prepared and eloquent, Bruce laid out the arguments point by point and handled challenging questions with thorough and thoughtful explanations. The same could not be said about the state’s representation and it was wonderfully obvious.”

BAT 4:

“It was exciting for me to witness this hearing, and I feel that the outcome of this case could be very historic in our fight to save public education.”

BAT 5:

“The state continued to argue the rating computer system was valid. NYSED admitted that you can have a teacher whose kids are successful yet the teacher will still get a low rating. Overall, they seemed okay with that reality. The state explained the evaluation system will let them get rid of ‘outliers’.

“After the proceedings I was moved to tears when The Lederman’s shared their motivation. Mrs. Lederman’s evaluation had her distraught, she was ready to quit and leave the profession that she loves. After many late night discussions, she and her husband decided, to challenge this unjust system. They certainly know they have a world of educators and parents on their side.”

BAT 6:

“* It was encouraging to have the public see for themselves that even the state could not explain the impact of test scores on teachers.

* The common sense scenarios as presented by the judge made it clear to everyone in the courtroom just how ridiculous VAM is.”

BAT 7:

“I am biased, for sure, but I have to say Bruce and Sheri Lederman have done an amazing job laying out the faults of this system. They have lined up the best in the field to validate their claims. My overall feeling was, that as gruff as this judge seemed to be, he got it. He understood that this system is not transparent, is not valid, and should not be used to judge teachers. We hope that his findings, which will be rendered in about 6 weeks, will state just that.”

Bruce Lederman is suing the state of New York on behalf of his wife Sheri Lederman, a fourth grade teacher in the public schools of Great Neck, Néw York. The Ledermans contend that the state teacher evaluation system is irrational, and Bruce collected affidavits from leading scholars to support his claim, as well as laudatory statements from students, parents, and Sheri’s principal and superintendent.

Alexandra Milletta, a teacher educator and high school classmate of Sheri’s, attended the trial and reported her impressions on her blog.

She wrote:

“What I witnessed was a masterful take down of the we-need-objectivity rhetoric that is plaguing education. So I should begin by saying that I am hopeful, because it seems someone with the power to make a difference gets it. Judge McDonough gets that it’s all about the bell curve, and the bell curve is biased and subjective….

“As you may notice, we’ve come a long way from getting a 91 out of 100 on a test and knowing that was an A-. Testing today is obtuse and confusing by design. In New York State, we boil it down to a ranking from one to four. That’s right, there’s even jargon for “ones and twos” that is particularly heinous when you learn that politicians have interests in making more than 50% of students fall in those “failing” categories. Today the state released the test score results for students in grades 3-8 and their so-called “proficiency” is reported as below 40% achieving the passing levels. By design the public is meant to read this as miserable failure.

“The political narrative of public education failure extends next to the teachers, who must demonstrate student learning based on these faulty tests, even if they don’t teach the subjects tested, and even if they teach students who face hurdles and hardships that have a tremendous impact on their ability to do well on the tests. In Sheri’s case, her rating plunged from 13 out of 20 points to 1 out of 20 points on student growth measures. Yet her students perform exceedingly well on the exams; once you are a “four” you can’t go up to a “four plus” because you’ve hit the ceiling. In fact, one wrong answer could unreasonably mark you as a “three” and you would never know. Similarly, the teacher receives a student growth score that is also based on a comparison to other teachers. When it emerged in the hearing today that the model, also known as VAM, or value-added, pre-determined that 7% of the teachers would be rated “ineffective” Judge McDonough caught on to the injustice that lies at the heart of the bell curve logic: where you rank in the ratings is SUBJECTIVE…..

The State’s representative, Colleen Galligan, tried to defend the indefensible:

“The lame explanation from Colleen Galligan was that the model may not be perfect but the state tries to compare each student to similar students. The goal, she offered, is to find outliers in the teaching pool who consistently have a pattern of ineffectiveness, to either give them additional training or fire them. At this point Judge McDonough offered her a chance to explain the dramatic drop in Sheri’s score. “On its face it must mean students bombed the test (speaking as one who has bombed tests)” and this produced laughter in the courtroom. For who hasn’t bombed at least one test in their life? Who has not experienced that dread and fear of being labeled a failure? Then Judge McDonough asked rhetorically, “Did they learn nothing?” The only answer she could come up with, was that in this case Dr. Lederman’s students, although admittedly performing well compared to other students, did worse than 98% of students across the state in growth. At this point it was pretty clear to everyone present that this made absolutely no sense whatsoever.”

Alexandra believes and hopes that this trial may be the beginning of the end for VAM and other misuses of test scores to rank and rate teachers.

Peter Greene did not attend the trial, but he cut to the chase: “God Bless Sheri Lederman!” I would add to that “God Bless Bruce Lederman” for fighting for his wife and her professional reputation. Together, the Ledermans are fighting for all teachers.

Peter read Alexandra Miletta’s post, cited above. He writes:

“The New York teacher is in court this week, standing up for herself and for every teacher who suffers under New York’s cockamamie evaluation system. If she wins, there will be shockwaves felt all across America where teachers are evaluated based on VAM-soaked idiocy….

“Talking about the curve is the best way to help civilians understand why these teacher eval systems are giant heaps of baloney. If you’re old enough, you remember curves because they suck– get yourself in a class with the smart kids who all score 100% on a test and suddenly missed-one-question 95% is a C. Of course, younger civilians may not have such memories of the curve because over the past few decades most teachers have come to understand that curving is not a Best Practice.

“Evaluating teachers on the curve means that even if the VAM-sauce score actually meant something, the teacher evaluation itself will not mean jack. In a system in which every single teacher is above the bar in excellence, those teachers who are the least above the bar will be labeled failures.”

Maybe one thoughtful judge will put the VAMMERS in their place: out of the classroom.

Carol Burris went to Albany to attend the trial of Sheri Lederman’s case against the state of New York, which rated her “ineffective” based on her students’ growth scores. Many other educators attended the trial, which has national implications.

Sheri is an outstanding fourth grade teacher in a high-performing district. When she learned of her poor, computer-generated rating, she was devastated. But her husband Bruce, an attorney, determined to sue the state. He gathered affidavits from some of the mation’s leading experts on teacher evaluations, as well as students, teachers, and her principal.

At the trial, the judge recognized that grading teachers on a curve made no sense.

Burris reports:

“The exasperated New York Supreme Court judge, Roger McDonough, tried to get Assistant Attorney General Galligan to answer his questions. He was looking for clarity and instead got circuitous responses about bell curves, “outliers” and adjustments. Fourth-grade teacher Sheri Lederman’s VAM score of “ineffective” was on trial.

“The more Ms. Galligan tried to defend the bell curve of growth scores as science, the more the judge pushed back with common sense. It was clear that he did his homework. He understood that the New York State Education Department’s VAM system artificially set the percentage of “ineffective” teachers at 7 percent. That arbitrary decision clearly troubled him. “Doesn’t the bell curve make it subjective? There has to be failures,” he asked.

“The defender of the curve said that she did not like the “failure” word.

“The judge quipped, “Ineffectives, how about that?” Those in attendance laughed.

“Ms. Galligan preferred the term “outlier.” Those who got ineffective growth scores were “the outliers who are not doing a good job,” the attorney said. She seemed oblivious to the fourth-grade teacher who was sitting not 10 feet away from where she stood.

“Did her students learn nothing?” Justice McDonough asked. “How could it be that she went from 14 out of 20 points to 1 out of 20 points in one year?” He noted that the students’ scores were quite good and not that different from the year before.

“Back behind the bell curve Ms. Galligan ran. As she tried to explain once again, the judge said, “Therein lies the imprecise nature of this measure.”

Burris demonstrates the irrationality of the state’s measures. Teachers in some of the lowest-performing schools were rated “effective” or “highly effective,” while more teachers is some of the state’s best schools were rated “ineffective.” Crazy!

Burris writes:

“At its core, this story is a love story. It is the story of a teacher who loves her students, her profession and justice so much that she is willing to stand up and let the world know that she was “an outlier” with an “ineffective” score.

“It was love that compelled teachers, retired and active, driving from all corners of the state to be in that courtroom to listen on a hot summer’s day. It was love that compelled her principal to drive to Albany to be there. It was the deep and abiding love of a husband for his wife that compelled Bruce Lederman to spend countless hours preparing an extraordinary defense. And it is love that nourishes and sustains the good school, not avatar score predictions for performance on Common Core tests.”

Lisa Eggert Litvin, a lawyer in the northern suburbs outside New York City, asserts persuasively that the New York State Education Department issued regulations for teacher and principal evaluations in an illegal manner, by declaring an “emergency” and failing to meet the requirements of state law.

I call this post “Note to Bruce Lederman,” because he is the lawyer who is challenging the legitimacy and validity of the state teacher evaluation program on behalf of his wife, teacher Sheri Lederman; if he doesn’t know already, he should be aware that the program was imposed without meeting the requirements of state law.

Litvin is co-president of the Hastings on Hudson PTSA and co-chair of the New York Suburban Consortium for Public Education. She follows the actions of the State Education Department and is an expert on school finance.

She writes:

The state Education Department, with the approval of the Board of Regents, creates rules that school districts legally have to follow. But in doing so, the department has failed to follow the laws that tell it how to make these rules.

Over the past two years, the majority of the Education Department’s rules have been temporary “emergency” rules, which then become permanent — but the vast bulk of these rules haven’t been real emergencies at all. Typically, SED’s reason for the “emergency” is simply that it has run out of time to get something done, and following the legal requirements would take too long. So, SED fast tracks the rules’ adoption process by improperly labeling them as “emergency.” But the law is specific that an “emergency” is rare, and exists only when “necessary for the preservation of the public health, safety or general welfare,” not simply because something is time-sensitive.

Why is this important? Because the legal process for SED to make rules, set forth in the State Administrative Procedure Act, ensures that the public has a right to offer input before rules are finalized, typically in a 45-day window. Also, SED must respond to each of the public’s comments. This is central to our democracy, as this is the only voice the public has in situations where non-elected officials, like the Board of Regents and the Education Department, which the board oversees, make binding rules.

This past June, in response to an impending deadline set by the state Legislature, SED proposed and the Board of Regents adopted new teacher evaluation rules, on an “emergency” basis. There was tremendous outcry over these rules, as they arbitrarily place even more weight on standardized test scores than the prior plan, apparently with no supporting research. Over 25,000 New Yorkers — including many of the state’s most well respected educators — signed a petition urging that the new evaluation plan not be rushed. They called instead for the state to work hand-in-hand with experts on testing and psychometrics to create a thoughtful, well reasoned and research-based plan that would accurately assess teachers, and not harm children’s educations. (Prior plans have not been supported by experts, and have shown erratic and unreliable results.)

The Board of Regents, which is supposed to set state education policy, and SED could have sought an extension to the Legislature’s deadline or presented an alternative vision for creating a better evaluation system. Instead, SED claimed “emergency” — a designation reserved for the “preservation of the general welfare,” even though it was clear that there was no such threat — and pushed the rules through, without any opportunity for public give and take. For this reason, those emergency evaluation rules should be declared invalid.

In its follow-up efforts to make the emergency teacher evaluation rules permanent, SED still continues to disregard the law. The law requires that SED provide the public with critical information about how the rules were created, specifically identifying for the public “each scientific or statistical study, report or analysis that served as the basis for the rule … and the name of the person that produced each study, report or analysis.”

In short, the “emergency” rules were adopted when there was no emergency; public hearings were avoided; and the state continues to break the law by making its “emergency” mandates permanent without public input.

Litvin calls on the Board of Regents and the State Education Department to stop declaring phony “emergencies” and to provide the factual information required by law. It is time, she says, for the new commissioner of education to demonstrate her willingness to consult with experts and practitioners in a collaborative and transparent manner. She should immediately suspend the new evaluation rules and turn to recognized experts to produce a research-based plan. The “emergency” rule-making evades the law and offends democracy by cutting the public out of its role in reviewing policy. Litvin calls for the restoration of a transparent, democratic, open process.

Regular readers may have noticed a flurry–one might say–a deluge of comments by a reader who signs as “Virginiasgp.” SGP stands for “student growth percentiles.” He believes with a religious fervor in student growth measures for evaluating teachers. He also says that he has worked in the U.S. Navy on a submarine. Another reader who signs as “NY Teacher” offered Virginiasgp some ideas about the deficiencies of test scores for teacher evaluation:

 

VAsgp
Apparently you think it’s a great idea to run public schools like the Navy runs its nuclear submarine fleet. Well thanks for the inspiration man. You really are a hoot-n-a-half on this. Shear genius. Now let’s take your fantabulous idea and put it to work for the Navy.
Don’t worry, I am highly qualified to help the US Navy mainly because I have zero experience with nuclear submarines. At least we’re square on the experience piece. Well, here goes – my suggestion . . . no, make that my insistence!

 

We must run the Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet just like a high needs, impoverished urban, Title 1 public school. As chief submarine Officer, please understand that there will be a few simple changes to protocol.

 

1) Your evaluation will be based on the ability of you and your crew to navigate a detailed, three dimensional attack course. You evaluation will be based on precision of tracking , speed and acceleration control, and stealth. Numerical data will be assigned to each of these three variables. I’ll even give you one of the newly commissioned, Virginia class ( SSN-774) nuclear-powered fast attack submarines. Seems appropriate Virginia.

 

2) Your crew will consist, instead of the usual adult Navy volunteers, 7th and 8th grade students from the worst performing middle school in the Bronx. Don’t worry, we will give them the same 5 week crash course that a TFAer would get and – you get to teach them! The U.S. Naval Submarine School New London in Groton CT works for me.
As the chief submarine Officer you must ensure that all systems run smoothly. That means you are responsible for your crew of youngsters and their jobs:

 

1) Operating a nuclear reactor and nuclear propulsion system
2) Maintaining on board weapons systems
3) Managing atmosphere control and fire control
4) Driving the vessel and charting its position
5) Operating communications and intelligence equipment

 

FYI/Heads Up:
On any given day or at any given moment, any one or more of your teenage crew may . . .
Be highly distracted and completely inattentive
Refuse to follow orders
Give you the one finger salute
Text and snap chat incessantly while on duty
Be very loud and boisterous
Ask permission to go to the bathroom – every 40 min.
Fight and argue with each other
Argue with you
Sleep on the job
Be absent from duty – some chronically
Disrupt crew meetings
Report for duty under the influence of illegal substances
Express their inner drama queen
Hang out in small groups and completely ignore you
Frequently exhibit silly, irrational, or bizarre behaviors
Forget most of what you taught them in the 5 week’r
Laugh when you yell at them
Stick chewing gum into electronic ports
Complain incessantly

 

Kind of tickles your innards knowing that your Naval career rests on the whims of a crew of mostly dysfunctional adolescents, doesn’t it?

From a reader:

“Florida VAM formula … from the DOE website. This is a terrible joke.

y_i=μ+∑_(g=1)^M▒〖δ_g x_g 〗+∑_(j=1)^K▒〖β_j x_j+θ_(k)i+ω_(mk)i+ε_i; 〗

“VAM is a SCAM and my children will be no part of it.”

Steve Nelson, head of a progressive private school in Néw York City, writes vividly and cogently about the inevitable failure of so-called reform.

The corporate reforms fail because they are built on extrinsic motivation, that is, a regime of carrots and sticks to drive teachers and students to comply with reformers’ demands.

Extrinsic methods tend to depress motivation. People resent being compelled, and they lose the desire to do what they would have willingly done without the whip hand over them.

Intrinsic motivation, by contrast, brings out the best in people.

Nelson writes:

“Intrinsic motivation is driven by factors that emanate from within: Self-satisfaction, desire for mastery, curiosity, fulfillment, pleasure, self-realization, desire for independence, ethical needs, etc. Intrinsic motivation is a powerful innate characteristic of all humans, across cultures and societies. Anyone with children or working with children observes the natural intrinsic motivation of young children – a nearly insatiable curiosity, drive to explore, and desire for mastery.

“A considerable body of research confirms that intrinsic motivation is more powerful, long lasting and important. But intrinsic motivation steadily declines from 3rd grade until 8th or 9th grade as extrinsic structures dramatically increase. The stakes get higher. Tests increase in frequency and duration. Expectations around college and achievement ratchet up. Grade point averages, honor roles, valedictorians, salutatorians, class ranks, honor societies . . . all of these forms of extrinsic motivation are ubiquitous.”

As Jerome Bruner points out, “learning becomes steadily de-contextualized as children move from grade to grade. As school becomes more controlled, more about instruction than exploration, more about abstraction than experience, children’s natural intrinsic motivation declines. The learning is unrelated to their lives. Why would they care?”

Nelson concludes:

“Students and teachers are being subjected to increasingly punitive extrinsic structures: Scores, grades, evaluations, assessments, punishments, discipline, rigidity, standardization, absence of context, divorced from individual experience.
All the factors that stimulate and perpetuate intrinsic motivation are disappearing.

“To say education reform has it wrong is a monumental understatement. Policy makers and educational reformers seem hell bent on beating students and their teachers until their morale improves.

“That’s just stupid.”

Hawaii applied for and won a Race to the Top grant. So, of course, Hawaii was required to create a new teacher evaluation system that incorporated student test scores. Many teachers objected. Mireille Ellsworth was one of them. She especially opposed the use of “Student Learning Objectives.” She said the measures were invalid and unreliable. Because she refused to complete the “SLOs,” she got a subpar rating. She challenged the rating, and she won.

 

 

When the Hawaii Department of Education released the details of its new teacher evaluation system three years ago, veteran teacher Mireille Ellsworth made a radical decision: She would simply refuse to do part of it.

 

Like many teachers in the state, Ellsworth felt that linking teacher pay — even partially — to student test scores was unfair. But there were other portions of the complex and multi-tiered system that she objected to as well, including the use of Student Learning Objectives as a measure of teacher success.

 

“I could tell it was something that could be easily manipulated by any teacher,” Ellsworth said. “Essentially it would be a dog and pony show.”

 

The new evaluation system was put into place over the past five years, at a cost of millions of dollars, teacher demoralization, and untold hours of work. When the results were tallied, 97% of the state’s teachers were found to be highly effective or effective. The search for “bad” teachers was very expensive and ultimately a failure.

 

Ellsworth said no to the whole process.

 

Ellsworth, who teaches English and drama at Waiakea High School in Hilo, has a slew of objections regarding the EES. The 18-year teacher’s biggest beef though is with the Student Learning Objectives or SLOs, which she refused to complete two years in a row.

 

For the SLOs, teachers are asked to predict the growth or achievement of each student — something they can then come back and revise mid-semester. Ellsworth felt it was a student privacy violation for this student data to go into her personnel file, and said the data could easily be manipulated by teachers.

“It’s just an exercise in trying to justify your existence and pass it no matter what,” Ellsworth said.

 

She had philosophical objections to the SLOs as well.

 

“If a teacher has low expectations for a student, research has shown that student will perform at a lower rate,” Ellsworth said. “For me to put on paper and then in my professional portfolio online that I expect anything short of success is completely wrong and is against everything I’ve been taught.”
It is, she said, like committing “educator malpractice.”

 

The strongest support for test-based teacher evaluation comes from the conservative National Council of Teacher Quality, which defends the process that Ellsworth and other teachers find objectionable. NCTQ seems certain that the schools are overloaded with ineffective teachers, but does not attempt to explain why the new RTTT-mandated systems in almost every state find that 95-99% of teachers are rated effective or highly effective. All those billions spent, for what?

 

For her courage in resisting the government’s attempt to force her to violate her professional ethics, Mireille Ellsworth joins the blog’s honor roll of champions of public education.

 

I have gotten to a point where I hate posting statements by teachers who are giving up because of stupid mandates and idiotic “reforms.” I don’t want anyone to quit. I want teachers to stay and fight for themselves, their students, their profession. At the same time, I understand that sometimes people reach a breaking point, and they can’t take it anymore.

 

The only good thing about these statements is that they tell the world about the damage done by ill-informed, misguided, punitive “reforms.” We can’t afford to drive good teachers away, yet that’s what current metrics are doing.

 

Here is a statement by Jennifer Higgins. She knows she’s a terrific teacher, but the data say she’s not. I hope she fights back. Don’t let the reformers win. If you quit, they win.

 

 

Today, for the first and only time in as long as I can remember, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher.

 

Today, for the first and only time in as long as I can remember, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher. The reason? One that I am embarrassed to admit.

 

As an elementary educator, there are any number of challenges I face on a daily basis. We’ve ALL been there.

 

Schedules that seem impossible, students who struggle, curriculum demands, parental communication, interruptions for students leaving early or coming late, social drama “spillover”, not enough time in the day, the list goes on and on…and on. We teachers wear many hats – at times, we are parents, coaches, friends, mentors, social workers, psychologists, and cheerleaders, just to name a few. Yes, our job is to teach our students reading comprehension, problem solving strategies, and research skills, but our job is also to remind them of their manners, to encourage them to talk and to listen to each other, to practice kindness so they may model it, to comfort them when they come into school upset because a parent or grandparent is in the hospital, to reassure them when they are nervous about taking a test, to give them a hug and a Band-Aid when they give themselves a paper cut…because if we don’t do it, who will? So, we do. And most of us – myself included – love every minute of it. And because we love it, we don’t just do it – we do it with enthusiasm, with compassion, and with pride.

 

I don’t know how you would measure the value of a teacher in a student’s life, but if you could, I would rest assured knowing that anyone whose job it was to evaluate me would notice how I greet each child with a smile every day, how I incorporate Community Building activities into my classroom, and how I work for hours at night and on the weekends planning, giving feedback on assignments, and coming up with creative ways to teach 21 st Century skills to my eager learners. In addition to teaching 4 th grade in a collaborative, special education integrated classroom, I also actively participate in my school and district community as a Student Council co-advisor, volunteer on our Teacher Center policy board, summer school remediation teacher, and member of various committees including curriculum writing and the OLWEUS Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee. I would be comfortable with having someone observe my classroom management, read through my plan book, take notes on my rapport with children, view my parent communication log, or otherwise evaluate any number of measures, which contribute to being a dedicated and effective professional.

 

Too bad that New York State has other plans in mind. Instead of fairly measuring the effectiveness of my planning and teaching by utilizing methods deemed appropriate by actual educators, my evaluation is based on a convoluted matrix, developed by some non-transparent “powers that be”. I have read about it, researched it, had many discussions centered around it, taken countless notes at meetings – and still, I can’t tell you how it is calculated. What I can tell you is this (and this is extremely difficult for me as someone who does not enjoy “tooting my own horn”):

 

I have been told by my colleagues that they love working with me. I have been told by my principal that I am an exemplary educator. I have been told by parents that I have made their children love school and that I was the best teacher they have ever had. I have been told by students that they wish I could follow them to the next grade. I have been thanked by administrators for my involvement and dedication. I have even recently been made aware that there is a Facebook group for moms in my school, in which I have repeatedly received accolades and compliments.

 

But… I have also now been told by New York State that I am 2 points short of being an “effective” teacher; that, in fact, after 12 years in the classroom, I am only “developing” at my profession.
So what now? Well, when I heard this news, I did what any person wanting to be rational but acting with their heart instead would do – I cried…and cried…and cried. I didn’t sleep. I had trouble focusing on anything else. And then, the more I thought about it, the more I got angry.

 

I am angry that I spent hours and hours of time last school year using test prep books that made students miserable. I am angry that some of the brightest students I know received grades on the state test that will no doubt make them question their own intelligence. I am angry that if someone doesn’t know me better, they could look at my score of 72/100 and think that I am not a very good educator. I am angry that there are other good teachers in the same position as me. I am angry because, if I am truly failing at what I am supposed to be accomplishing, there is absolutely no way to improve because I have no idea what I did “wrong”. And I am angry because I would never give a score lacking feedback to a student, and yet that is exactly what is being done to me.

 

Let me be clear: I believe in evaluating teachers, and I am the first one to admit that there is always room for improvement. I self-reflect, I study best practices, and I try – each day, each month, and each year – to be better at my job than I was before. What would a fair system for evaluating teachers look like? I’m not sure, but I know with absolute certainty that it would not look like this !

 

I received a BA from Dartmouth College in Psychology, and I received my MA in Elementary Education from Columbia Teachers College. Sadly, I have been asked MANY times why I went to “such good schools to become a teacher”. The answer that I want to share, but often don’t, is: Shouldn’t a world-class education, from institutions that encourage you to persevere, to challenge yourself, and to think critically, be exactly what we want teachers to have in order to ensure that the next generation will be prepared to inherit the world and hopefully do a better job with it than we have? The answer that I usually give is to laugh and shrug nervously, because NO answer I can give can overcome the fact that the question is reflective of a much bigger problem. The truth is that most of our society still thinks of teaching as a “fallback” job, one that is not to be respected, and one that is undertaken by people who can’t do anything else. Clearly, this is the way we are thought of by the leaders of our state; otherwise, we would not be subjected to such an antiquated and unjust manner of “evaluation.”

 

Something needs to change, because if it does not, people like me – who have wanted to be teachers since they were little kids and who pour their heart and soul into their profession – will continue to feel at best dejected and at worst outraged. And eventually, those people will leave the field – either of their own volition or because they have been asked to do so because of their low performances on these evaluations.

 

Today, the reason that for the first and only time in as long as I can remember I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher, was that New York State told me that I am not good enough to be one.

 

The best – and the only – recourse I have is to take my frustration and sadness and turn it into a call to action. This cannot go on any longer. I can’t sit back and watch it happen. Change is necessary – and it’s necessary NOW.

 

Jennifer Higgins

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