Archives for category: Teacher Evaluations

Liz Featherstone explains why her child will not take the state tests. She does not want her child subjected to endless test prep. She does not want teachers evaluated by her son’s test scores. She wants what the school offers:

“Studying ancient China, the third-graders at my son’s school made lanterns, clay plates and terra cotta masks. They learned how to write Chinese calligraphy. They wove silks.

“My son, Ivan, and his team made a papier-mâché model of the Great Wall as viewed from space. The kids displayed their works in a breathtaking “China Museum” for parents and younger children.”

I received a letter from the teachers at PS 321. I have a direct connection to the school, as a member of my family is a student there. He loves school. He is in third grade. He is working on an essay whose topc he chose. He is researching “the Silk Road.” Last year, in second grade, he wrote about bioluminescence (I had to look it up.) this obviously a wonderful public school.

References in the letter are to Liz Phillips, the principal.

Here is the link:

Letter from PS 321 Teachers

February 23, 2015

Dear PS 321 Families,

It is with heavy hearts that we, the teachers at 321, reach out to you to ask for your help.

Governor Cuomo has proposed major changes to teacher evaluations in New York State. We want to let you know, from a teacher’s perspective, the changes this law could bring to PS 321 – and to our profession – if it passes.

50% of a teacher’s rating would be based on state test scores. (Currently it is 20%).
35% of a teacher’s rating would be based on the findings of an outside “independent observer” who will conduct a one time visit to the classroom. (This has never been done before. Currently our principal and assistant principals’ observations count for 60%).
15% of a teacher’s rating would be based on observations by the principal or assistant principals. The very people who know our work best would have the least input into our evaluation.
50% + 35% = 85% of our evaluations would be removed from the hands of our community and placed in the hands of the state.
And then, using these numbers, any teacher who is rated ineffective two years in a row can be fired. Liz might have no say in this.

So what might that do to PS 321? Realistically, many of us could be fired. Every year. And many more of us would be pushed away from the profession we love.

Here’s something parents need to understand. Even though, when our students take the standardized tests, most of them do just fine… many PS 321 teachers do not. Teachers’ ratings are not based on their students’ raw scores for the year, but whether their students improved from one year to the next. If a student with a ‘3’ gets one fewer question correct in 4th grade than she did in 3rd, that student might not have demonstrated the “added value” their teacher is expected to have instilled. Even though the student has mastered that grade’s content. Even though it’s just one question. And that teacher might, therefore, be rated in the bottom percentile of teachers.

That may sound patently absurd. However, that has already happened here.

If Governor Cuomo’s evaluation proposals come to pass, it might start to happen more and more. And if we are rated ineffective as a result two years in a row, we might be fired.

That is why so many schools in NYC spend so much time prepping for the tests. One or two wrong answers can make or break a teacher’s rating.

Faced with these changes, we’ve already been hearing from so many of our colleagues from across the city and state who will be forced to do more test prep. Even when they know that the tests do not give an accurate picture of student learning, or of the effectiveness of teachers. Even though they know teaching to the test is bad teaching. Faced with the reality of the loss of a paycheck – the loss of the career they are building, have built, or want to build – these proposals will push them to teach in ways they know to be counterproductive.

That breaks our hearts. But the truth is, faced with the same reality, there are those of us here who would be feeling the very same pressure. Not because we’d want to. We would try to resist. But it is inevitable that if the governor’s proposals go through, all schools will narrow their curriculum to some extent.

And that’s scary. And it breaks our hearts even more. Because we know what we have here. We love what we have— in you, in our students, in all that the PS 321 community represents. The joy that is present— every day, in our school. The value that is placed on intellectual curiosity, on creativity, on the arts. The love of learning that is visible when you enter our building, when you go into classrooms, and when you talk to students and teachers.

The values present in Governor Cuomo’s proposals are antithetical to our own. And they place them at risk. The numbers are clear: 50% of our value will be six days of tests. 35% of our value will be one day with an independent observer. And 15% of our value will be in evaluation by Liz and the assistant principals, those who know us best as educators.

Those are their values.

Our joy, our love of learning, our desire to help students become deep thinkers and problem solvers, our community, our commitment to constantly improving our practice… those are ours.

PS 321 Families: don’t let them take our values away.

We need your help. And we need it now. The education law is folded into the state budget. It goes up for a vote before April 1st.

We need you to let your legislators know that you disagree with this plan:

Email Governor Cuomo right now at

Visit and sign the letter to let your legislator know you disapprove of the law.

Contact your assemblymember. Go to to find their contact information. Don’t stop there. Go to their offices and demand attention.

Post this issue on Facebook and tell your friends. Use social media to spread the word. Go to Albany. Make whatever noise you can.

And sign up today at to receive information and updates from the Testing Task Force about what you can do to help support us.

What we have together is rare, especially today, when so many schools have succumbed to the pressures of testing. We must not take our school’s joyful community for granted. All that we have– all that we do together–is far too important and far too valuable to be taken away. Thank you, as always, for your energy, your support, and your inspiring, creative children.

Your Devoted Teachers

Kevin G. Basmadjian, Dean of the School of Education at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, wrote a powerful article in the Hartford Courant in collaboration with other deans from across the state.

Connecticut’s students are among the highest on the NAEP, yet its policymakers insist that its schools and teachers are unsuccessful. The politicians want more charter schools and Teach for America.

He writes:

“As a nation and a state, we have clearly failed to address the inequalities that disproportionally impact many urban school districts where kids are poor and segregated. Sadly, for the first time in 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students now come from low-income families. But instead of addressing this crisis, we have demonized teachers for failing to solve problems our government cannot, or will not, solve. Poverty, homelessness and the dangerously high levels of emotional and psychological stress experienced by low-income students — these are the problems many of our nation’s public school teachers face every day.

“Our nation’s obsession with standardized test scores will not solve these problems, and they put our country at great risk intellectually as well as economically. As educational researcher Yong Zhao writes, countries with which we are often compared — such as Singapore, Japan and South Korea — are moving away from a focus on testing in their public schools. Why? Because they have learned from the history of the United States that a great education and nation is one that rewards creativity, originality, imagination and innovation….

“The most recent scapegoat for our nation’s shameful achievement gap is teacher preparation programs, for failing to produce a steady stream of what the U.S. Department of Education abstractly calls “great teachers” to work in our neediest public schools. By blaming teacher preparation programs, the department can yet again divert public attention from the most crucial barrier to achieving educational equality: poverty.

There is a need for more “great teachers” who will commit themselves to our state’s neediest public schools. But achieving this goal will take more than naive slogans or punitive measures levied against teacher preparation programs that do not successfully persuade graduates to teach in these schools. The U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations for teacher preparation — with its emphasis on standardized test scores — work against this goal because of the overly technical, anti-intellectual portrait of teaching they endorse. We in Connecticut need to make these jobs more attractive to prospective teachers through increased respect, support and autonomy rather than criticism, disdain and surveillance.”

A reader sent this excellent commentary on teacher evaluation, written by science teacher David Knuffke. It reviews the way that top-performing nations evaluate their teachers, as well as examples of how teacher evaluation is done in several states. He also briefly summarizes the views of scholarly and professional organizations. He does this to show how Governor Cuomo’s insistence that 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on test scores (and, though he doesn’t mention it, an additional 35% would be based on the judgment of an outside evaluator, someone who does not work in the school). He concludes:


Looking at the breadth of objection to the type of rating system that the Governor is proposing, and its absence from model educational systems at the national and international levels, one can only wonder why Governor Cuomo is pursuing such a policy. Attempts to make sense of these initiatives don’t lead to flattering conclusions: Either he is ignorant of the consensus that advocates against test-score centric teacher evaluation models, or he has decided that he knows better than a broad consensus of educators, researchers, and the entire educational systems of “high achieving” countries and states. We are not sure which of these possibilities is more troubling with regard to how the Governor thinks about the public education system of the state.


Given this analysis, it is clear that anyone who is actually concerned with the long-term health of the New York State public education system should be vocally, and stridently opposed to the education goals of its current Governor. This is not a partisan issue, or one that seeks to unfairly protect the jobs of the NYS teacher corps. There are ways to propose teacher evaluation systems that are in agreement with research and based on evidence from what is working in other places. This is not what the Governor has chosen to do. Rather than seeking to have a conversation with educators, students, parents, and all of the other stake-holders who value education in New York State, the Governor has chosen to propose an unsupported evaluation system with no track record of success in doing what he claims to want to do. And rather than attempt to build consensus on his proposals, Governor Cuomo has taken the position that he is not interested in perspectives other than his own on this issue. He is so strongly in favor of his education proposals that he is withholding state aid figures from districts until he understands just how eager the legislature is to support him in driving his education plan through without debate. It is difficult to believe that someone so vocally concerned with the future of NYS education would be willing to threaten the aid that districts need to provide for their most underserved student populations. It is similarly difficult to understand why he stands in opposition to reality itself on the matter of creating an effective teacher evaluation system. New York State residents should be very concerned about what their Governor seeks to do. We deserve better, and so do our children.



Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for an investigation of teacher ratings on Long Island.

This follows a “Newsday” report that the portion of ratings under local control were “skewed” towards effective ratings.

Cuomo wants evaluations to count student scores as 50%, instead of the present 40% (only 20% is based on state tests, the other 20% on local measures

For some reason, Cuomo is determined to find some teachers he can fire. He is certain–despite evidence to the contrary–that low scores are caused by teachers.

He must have had terrible law school professors. There have been numerous reports that he failed the bar exam four times. If this is true, I hope he sued his law school for hiring ineffective professors.

Superintendent Michael Hynes bravely spoke out against Governor Cuomo’s proposal to make test scores more important in evaluating teachers. The following story appeared in the Long Island Advance.

Pat-Med super pokes holes in governor’s reform


“My concern is that what he is doing as a governor is overstepping his rights and responsibilities,” Hynes said of Cuomo’s reforms. “It is impacting and impeding on public schools [ability] to function the way that they should.”

“One of Hynes’ biggest criticisms is the way Cuomo announced that public schools will receive $1.2 billion in state funding. While the money seems favorable, Hynes explained Cuomo did not break down exactly what each school should expect to receive during the critical time of planning for next year’s budget.

“He is not telling schools in advance. We have no idea what his thoughts are about state aid,” said Hynes. “It makes it very difficult to plan still not knowing and to me that is a major bullying tactic that he really shouldn’t be doing.”

“Additionally Hynes disagrees with Cuomo’s plans for teacher evaluation reform. He believes Cuomo is overstepping his role as the governor by designing a new teacher plan, which “is not his job.” Rather, Hynes states, the job belongs to the Commissioner of Education and the Board of Regents.

“Further, according to Cuomo’s state address, he is looking to offer $20,000 bonus incentives to those evaluated as “high performing” teachers. Cuomo stated there also would be improvement plans to those who score poorly.

“Hynes stated that incentives are inefficient and categorize teachers by putting them in boxes.

“He is looking to create a caste system of teachers and it just doesn’t work because it pits people against each other. Competition in schools doesn’t work,” explained Hynes.

“Also, in Cuomo’s reform proposal he suggests evaluating teacher’s effectiveness on both test scores and observations equally. The outcome, according to the governor, will stop the inflation of almost all teachers being rated as effective. It would also limit tenured teachers by only granting tenure to those who have achieved five consecutive years of “effective ratings,” as opposed to the original three-year requirement.

“Hynes suggests that if teachers’ evaluations are highly dependent upon test scores, they will become more anxious about testing and teach to the tests. In effect, students will be highly impacted by not only feeling the pressure to score high for their own good but also for their teacher’s well being. “That is a lot of pressure that I don’t feel our students need. In fact, I actually think that it is child abuse,” he said.

“Some changes that can be made in his opinion, include removing some old antiquated state mandates forced upon the public schools. He also believes teacher evaluation tools can benefit from following a “growth model” rather than a “deficit model” where observers are always looking for the negatives.

“The governor proposes to look for things that are wrong,” he said. “What I would like to do, and I know our principals certainly do here, is if I am observing in the classroom I am going to notice the things done well and some of things that need to be augmented and tweaked.”

“Hynes explained because the issue of “ineffective” teachers equates to such a minimal amount, a deficit model is unnecessary. “A significant amount of teachers leave the profession after the first five years because of all the stresses that go on but the number one thing that makes them leave is that they don’t feel they are doing a good enough job,” he said. The growth model in effect will create a more positive approach to teacher evaluation. He added that by also providing mentors to first- and second- year teachers, it effectively produces better quality, long term teachers.

“The real reason for underachievement, which is rarely addressed, is poverty. “Schools that have a significant amount of poverty in their school district will have low achievement,” he emphasized. Bad test scores, according to Hynes, “really comes down to schools that don’t have enough to serve the needs of the kids.”

“If and when Cuomo’s educational plans become reality, Hynes believes there will be a “seismic shift” in the way educational services are delivered to the students. With the agenda on the table, one question remains for Hynes: What will be the next step before Cuomo pushes his reform in early April? While he’s unsure whether or not local legislatures can help at this point, “I am counting on my fellow superintendents who are in support of what I am talking about, the PTAs, and the moms and dads to say `this is inappropriate,’” he said. ”Enough is enough. What you’re doing is going to destroy public schools.”

“Those who oppose the governor’s plans should attend board of education meetings and voice their concerns and write letters to the governor, the Commissioner of Education, and the Board of Regents. Additionally, if any parents from the Patchogue-Medford school district have any questions or concerns, Hynes encourages them to call or make an appointment to meet with him to discuss the issue at hand. He can be reached at (631) 687-6380 or

Melissa McMullan, a teacher in Long Island, explains in this comment how deeply insulting Governor Cuomo’s plan for teacher evaluation is. Will he listen to reason? Will he insist on crushing the morale of every teacher in the state? Why?

McMullan writes:

“I have been a teacher for thirteen years. I graduated with highest honors from Rutgers University, earned my masters degree from Queens College, graduating with honors and begun work on my PhD to help me become a better teacher. The teacher I am today is not the teacher I was yesterday, nor is she the teacher I will be tomorrow. I learn every day from students, families, colleagues, professional development, research and my own mistakes. In thirteen years, former students of mine have become writers, teachers, philanthropists, doctors, nurses, mechanics, beauticians, small business owners, etc…

“My employment as their teacher has been carved from a relationship I have built with the district that employs me. The district I graciously serve. I am a public servant. I do not take this assignment lightly.

“Governor Cuomo is holding state aid to public schools hostage. His ransom? Using eleven hours of tests, that the state scores, and converts to teacher ratings, assigning a great many teachers, including myself, ineffective. One score. Six days of testing to remove a teacher who works 12 hours a day, gives her students her cell phone number so she can help them with homework at home and invites Spanish-speaking parents in to the classroom to explain, in Spanish, the value of reading and writing. A teacher who will stop at NOTHING to push her students forward. Passing rates on the state test vary year to year from 72% to 83 % depending upon how the state wants teachers to be perceived from year to year.

“Governor Cuomo and the New York State Board of Regents want to use test scores it assigns to my students, against me, their teacher. This is not the role of assessment. Assessment has a single purpose – to inform instruction. Its responsibility is to let students, teachers and families what students know, and what they do not know. Under the Governor’s proposed plan, these scores would warrant my removal from the classroom, violating the agreement that my school district and its community have established with me, by using children as its weapon of choice.

“We get no feedback from these scores. No view into what our students know or don’t know or what we as teachers have taught well nor what we have not. But it costs millions of dollars to implement each year.

“As a mother, I will not permit my own four children to be used as pawns against their teachers. The only way we can stop this abuse of power is to refuse to permit our children to be used as pawns.

“The cornerstone of public education in the United States is the local community school district. Allowing scores the state assigns our children after six days of testing to be used to remove teachers we have placed in their classroom is an unacceptable, egregious overstepping of power. We have power as parents to protect our children from harm, and we have an overwhelming responsibility to keep the over-reaching powers of the state from reaching into our children’s classrooms.”

Rex Smith, the editor of the Albany Times-Union, wrote an excellent column, chastising Governor Andrew Cuomo for picking on teachers. Let’s hope that the mounting criticism of Cuomo’s cynical effort to place the blame on teachers for low test scores persuades him to reverse course. The surest predictor of low test scores is poverty, not “bad” teachers. Rex Smith knows this. Why doesn’t Governor Cuomo?


Here is an excerpt from Smith’s column:



Students come to school with all sorts of problems, starting with poverty. Most low-performing schools are in high-needs communities. Plenty of research underscores the link between learning capacity and poverty, with its attendant problems – including poor housing, inadequate health care and neighborhood violence.



The governor knows this to be true. He has on occasion been eloquent on this very point. It makes his current campaign of demonizing teachers all the more mystifying.



Yet we hear him repeatedly attacking “the public school monopoly,” ignoring all the non-public (and taxpayer-aided) schools that make the educational system a lot more competitive already than other government services. You know, police and fire departments are monopolies, too. Should we subsidize competing privately-owned agencies, and blame cops for crime and firefighters for fires?



And there was the governor during his State of the State presentation last month, juxtaposing two statistics as though one directly related to the other: 96 percent of teachers were rated “effective” or better by the state’s teacher evaluation system last year, but less than 40 percent of students in grades three through eight were at least “proficient” in standardized language arts and math tests.



The inference he wants us to draw, it seems, is that more teachers should be rated lower so they can be fired, making way for teachers who can raise test scores.



The problem with this analysis begins with a logical fallacy of seeing a causal relationship where there’s really a coincidental one. Call it the Pirate Paradigm, explained thus: The number of pirates plying the high seas has shrunk over three centuries, even as roughly 40 percent of marine species have vanished. Thus, you may conclude that pirates are good for fish.


Good work, Mr. Smith!

The blogger Plunderbund (aka Greg Mild) here describes the chaotic, pointless, and ceaseless bureaucratic and political meddling in Ohio’s public schools.


Just as the schools began to implement the previous teacher evaluation plan, the legislature decided to “reform” the process yet again:


The full text of Ohio’s latest proposed budget bill (House Bill 64) was posted last week and, as in years past, it includes much more than just financial recommendations. There are numerous education-related “reforms”, some of which have promise, others that will place additional expenses on the backs of local school districts, and some that will continue to just continue the chaotic environment of change that teachers and administrators have been dealing with under the Kasich regime.


statehouseA key piece of reform that falls into the latter category involves the ever-changing Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES). In only its third year of implementation in most schools across the state, it appears as though we can look forward to major modifications to the system even as educators are still adjusting to the massive changes that occurred last summer.


The process of implementing the OTES has already been a burden on schools and districts as they have been forced to create entirely new systems of tracking and reporting, all while continually trying to keep both teachers and principals abreast of the latest options and requirements. Last years changes were particularly troublesome as the law did not become official until mid-September, after the school year had already started, requiring most local school boards to delay the official adoption of all of the modifications while trying to get the process started in a timely fashion and educating all personnel about the overhaul that had occurred while they were out on summer break.


The new system will be horrendous, as those who teach non-tested subjects will be evaluated by “attributed” scores. That means that teachers of the arts, physical education, K-2, high school, foreign languages, etc., will be evaluated by the scores of their entire school, the scores of students they didn’t teach, the scores of students they never met.



In practice, shared attribution is essentially taking the value-added ratings of an entire school or district and assigning those ratings to teachers in the non-value-added grades and subjects. The result in Ohio over the past two years is that we have had teachers receive individual evaluation ratings based on students that they have absolutely no direct connection with. For example:


High school teachers of all subjects receiving a student growth measure rating based on the math and reading test results of children in grades 4-8.
Physical education, music, and visual art teachers at all grades receiving ratings based on the test results in subjects they don’t instruct.
Newly-hired teachers in grades PK-3 with an evaluation rating based in the test scores of students in grades 4-5 that they have never even taught.
There are numerous other combinations like these few examples in which teachers have had their evaluations based on students that are not even in the same building (any teacher receiving a district’s value-added rating as shared attribution).


In the comments on the Plunderbund blog, someone asks: “What difference will it make?” Well, let me count the ways: teacher demoralization (a commenter on this blog wrote to ask why he was getting a degree in music education with a specialty in string, when he would be judged by the math and reading scores of 4th and 8th grade students); confusion in the schools about yet another implementation of a policy that has no basis in research or experience; a waste of millions of dollars for compliance that might have otherwise been spent on reducing class sizes, buying musical instruments or upgrading buildings.


As Plunderbund says: Now let the chaos begin….

In this post, Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute in D.C., debates Peter Cunningham, who served as Arne Duncan’s Assistant Secretary for Communications in President Obama’s first term. The subject: Should the federal government mandate teacher evaluation.

Cunningham, not surprisingly, says yes, suggesting that teachers would not be evaluated correctly (I.e. using test scores) without a federal mandate.

Hess opposes a federal mandate.

Here is the beginning of his very fine response:

“School systems should do much better when it comes to teacher evaluation, but Congress should stay far, far away from that process. When it comes to teacher evaluation, where the question is not whether it’s done but how well it’s done, federal requirements are good at spurring commotion and compliance, but lousy at ensuring that complex tasks are done well.

“It’s not like teacher evaluation is a new thing. Schools and systems have done it forever, and they’ve generally been awful at it. Guess what? For all the frustration and furor prompted by the Obama administration’s waivers, little has changed. In states like Florida, Tennessee, and Michigan, 99% of teachers were rated effective before they unveiled new evaluation systems in accord with federal demands—and 98% or 99% were deemed effective under their new systems.”

My thought: Teaching is a very essential profession, even though most teachers are not paid like professionals. If Congress insists on mandates for teachers, why not high-stakes doctor evaluations? Lawyer evaluations? State legislator evaluations? Members of Congress evaluations? Governor evaluations?

For legislators, for example, how often were you absent? How many votes did you miss? Who funded your campaign? Did your votes reflect the wishes of your contributors, or the needs of your constituents? How many bills did you introduce? How many passed? What changes did they produce? Did you help to reduce poverty? Unemployment?

Wonder how doctors and lawyers would respond to evaluations mandated by Congrress?


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