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.”