Governor Andrew Cuomo said in his State of the State message today that he wants teacher evaluations to be based 50% test scores, 50% observation. Any teacher “ineffective” in raising test scores will be found no better than “developing” regardless of observation scores. Any teacher rated ineffective two years in a row may be fired.

“According to a book outlining Cuomo’s policy and budget speech on Wednesday, the governor will propose a “simplified and standardized” evaluation system that rates teachers 50 percent on state test scores (or a comparable measure of student growth for teachers in subjects that are not tested) and 50 percent on observations.

“Rather than being locally negotiated, the “scoring bands” for both components would be set at the state level under the proposal, and if a teacher is rated “ineffective” on either portion, he or she may not get a score higher than “developing” overall. (The ratings are assigned on a scale of “ineffective,” “developing,” “effective” and “highly effective.” Two consecutive “ineffective” ratings could be grounds for termination.)

“Cuomo’s plan calls for at least two observations, one of which would be conducted by an “independent observer,” which could be a principal or administrator from within or outside the school district, a SUNY or CUNY professor or “trained independent evaluator” from a list to be provided by the State Education Department.”

Cuomo’s staff evidently did not read the American Statistical Association statement on value-added models. It says:

As I wrote in an earlier post,

“Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.” The ASA points out: “This is not saying that teachers have little effect on students, but that variation among teachers accounts for a small part of the variation in scores. The majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences.”

“As many education researchers have explained–including a joint statement by the American Educational Research Association and the National Academy of Education– the VAM ratings of those who teach children with disabilities and English language learners will be low, because these children have greater learning challenges than their peers, as will the ratings of those who teach gifted students, because the latter group has already reached a ceiling. Those two groups, like the ASA agreed that test scores are affected by many factors besides the teacher, not only the family, but the school’s leadership, its resources, class size, curriculum, as well as the student’s motivation, attendance, and health. Yet the Obama administration and most of our states are holding teachers alone accountable for student test scores.

“The ASA warns that the current heavy reliance on VAMs for high-stakes testing and their simplistic interpretation may have negative effects on the quality of education. There will surely be unintended consequences, such as a diminishment in the number of people willing to become teachers in an environment where “quality” is so crudely measured. There will assuredly be more teaching to the test.. With the Obama administration’s demand for VAM, “more classroom time might be spent on test preparation and on specific content from the test at the exclusion of content that may lead to better long-term learning gains or motivation for students. Certain schools may be hard to staff if there is a perception that it is harder for teachers to achieve good VAM scores when working in them. Over-reliance on VAM scores may foster a competitive environment, discouraging collaboration and efforts to improve the educational system as a whole.”