Diane Ravith’s column today includes a link to an article from the Gotham Schools blog that reports on another influential group who is protesting high stakes testing: students from elite public high schools. Student leaders at Stuyvesant HS, one of NYC’s hyper-competitive schools, are mobilizing a boycott of the tests that has NO consequences for them and high stakes for teachers. Why? Because they think its a waste of their time and a completely inappropriate way to measure their teacher’s performance. Knowing how most standardized tests are written the Stuyvesant kids are right on both counts. The test is probably easier than what they are working on now and because it doesn’t have much “head room” it will not be able to measure student growth in any meaningful way making any “value added” calculations impossible. The children shall lead us….
My daughter in NYC sends me lots of interesting blog posts that I use as “prompts”, and this one from the “Movement of Rank and File Educators” reinforces every negative notion I have about the direction NYS is taking and every positive notion I have about the role an administrator can play in the evaluation process.
The blog post, titled “The Noose or the Sword: Choosing Your Evaluation”, is written by PS15k’s Chapter Leader Julie Cavanagh and it provides a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the alternatives teachers have in terms of the kind of evaluation they want for the coming school year and the strengths and weaknesses of each. In short, teachers can choose short frequent “drop-in” style visits or longer formal observations that have the traditional pre-conference post conference format and they can choose to be evaluated based on test scores of their own class or of their entire school. Cavanaugh assesses each of these options, but makes two cogent observations. First, she notes that she and her colleagues benefit because
… we have a principal who is not a “gotcha type” and works hard to support and protect our teachers so our students have the best educational opportunity we can provide, because, she knows supporting and retaining teachers is an in-school factor PROVEN to positively impact student achievement, along with class size.
This is in contrast to other schools:
I understand that many educators and their school communities have leaders whose interest lies in not supporting educators; in some cases harassing, forcing compliance, or demonizing them. For these teachers and schools, this process will be particularly demoralizing and challenging and I am truly sorry. It is my hope that the energy and anger that is born out of this process will be harnessed to fight for the changes we need so desperately in education and union policy.
Second, Cavanaugh in her section describing the various assessment tools teachers can choose from, she describes how assessments ARE used by good teachers:
Teachers assess their students all the time, that is what good teachers do. We do not need external pressures, data collection systems, and evaluations tied to these assessments to do the good work we do. Assessments are not designed to evaluate teachers, they are designed to inform teachers of what students know or don’t know, to highlight areas of strength and weakness, and to guide our instruction. Data does have purpose, but that purpose is being perverted and we must be careful to avoid feeding into the narrative that distorts our profession and harms children.
Sadly, based on Cavanaugh’s post it appears that the focus on evaluation is on boosting test scores and hitting the 22 bullet-points on the Danielson evaluation rubric as opposed to connecting with students as individual learners. This is not the fault of the union: it is the fault of the testing regimen. When group proficiency is the goal, teachers will not focus on each-and-every student… they will focus on those students who are approaching proficiency and ignore the others.
In the end, Cavanaugh encourages her colleagues to do their best because she is confident that the system is so complicated and convoluted it will eventually mobilize teachers and fall like a house of cards. Here’s hoping the NYSED gets the message on this before parents begin abandoning the public schools out of frustration or despair.
Furman University blogger P.L. Thomas posted a comprehensive list of public education practices that have NO support in research but continue to be promoted as “proven reforms” and widely accepted by the public.
He opens his post, “What We Know Now and Why it Doesn’t Matter” with a description of Flock of Dodos, a 2006 movie that describes the public’s belief in Intelligent Design (ID) as an evolutionary theory. Thomas then posits that like the faith based belief in ID, education reformers believe in a host of ideas that have no basis in research, providing a list of the ideas with links to research that undercuts the assertion that they “work”. Here is the list from the article:
- Grade Retention
- Charter Schools
- School Choice ( i.e. competition among schools for enrollments)
- Value Added Methods of teacher evaluation
- Teacher Quality (as compared to external factors, teacher quality has a marginal impact on student learning)
- Merit Pay
- Teach for America
- The SAT as a predictor for college success
- Accountability, standards, and high stakes testing
- “Miracle Schools”
- Education as a Social Change agent
Over the course of the past 18 months I have blogged about virtually every topic on the list, as has Diane Ravitch and any educator who believes that poverty plays a primary role in education outcomes as measured by standardized tests… and like Thomas, progressive bloggers scratch their heads in bewilderment that no one in the mainstream media refutes these claims and, worse yet, parrots them as the solution. It is far easier to measure what is easy to measure, hope for miracles, and retain faith in the factory school system we have today than to deal with the complex, troubling, and potentially consequential alternatives. After all, it is easier to accept that the world was put together by an all-knowing God 6,000 years ago than it is to understand the complex factors that led to the planet we live on and despoil today.