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Ravitch Says New Evaluation System Is 'Madness'

Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - 07:57 AM

The public schools may be closed all week for February Break, but critics and other writers are busy examining the new teacher evaluation agreement that was reached last week.

The education historian and writer, Diane Ravitch, paints a picture of the teacher evaluation system that offers a sobering contrast to the giddiness that greeted the announcement of the agreement with the city, state and teachers' unions.

On The New York Review of Books blog, NYR, in a post titled "No Child Left Untested," Ms. Ravitch calls it "madness" to rely on a system of teacher accountability based on student test scores.

The new evaluation system pretends to be balanced, but it is not. Teachers will be ranked on a scale of 1-100. Teachers will be rated as “ineffective, developing, effective or highly effective.” Forty percent of their grade will be based on the rise or fall of student test scores; the other 60 percent will be based on other measures, such as classroom observations by principals, independent evaluators, and peers, plus feedback from students and parents.

But one sentence in the agreement shows what matters most: “Teachers rated ineffective on student performance based on objective assessments must be rated ineffective over all.” What this means is that a teacher who does not raise test scores will be found ineffective over all, no matter how well he or she does with the remaining 60 percent. In other words, the 40 percent allocated to student performance actually counts for 100 percent. Two years of ineffective ratings and the teacher is fired.

She goes on to say:

No high-performing nation in the world evaluates teachers by the test scores of their students; and no state or district in this nation has a successful program of this kind.

Compounding the problem, she writes, is the inability of the United Federation of Teachers to block a legal push by the media to publish the data reports of teachers a few years ago that issued grades based on improvements in student test scores, known as "value-added."

The consequences of these policies will not be pretty. If the way these ratings are calculated is flawed, as most testing experts acknowledge they are, then many good educators will be subject to public humiliation and will leave the profession. Once those scores are released to the media, we can expect that parents will object if their children are assigned to “bad” teachers, and principals will have a logistical nightmare trying to squeeze most children into the classes of the highest-ranked teachers. Will parents sue if their children do not get the “best” teachers?

Ms. Ravitch does not defend unsuitable teachers. But she objects to doing it based so extensively on test scores.

Of course, teachers should be evaluated. They should be evaluated by experienced principals and peers. No incompetent teacher should be allowed to remain in the classroom. Those who can’t teach and can’t improve should be fired. But the current frenzy of blaming teachers for low scores smacks of a witch-hunt, the search for a scapegoat, someone to blame for a faltering economy, for the growing levels of poverty, for widening income inequality.

In The Daily News, the columnist Juan Gonzalez takes on the same subject, saying the combination of the new evaluation system and the public release of teacher ratings signals "a new low" for the public schools.

Pointing out flaws in the system, and the city's failure to react to critics' objections to the implementation of many of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's education initiatives, he writes:

This fixation on rating of teachers by test scores is a diversion concocted by the city’s political elite. That elite doesn’t want to admit that 10 years of mayoral control of our schools has been a failure. Still, a recent poll found 57 percent of voters believed it was; only 24 percent thought Bloomberg’s policies have been a success.

Mr. Gonzalez quotes Aaron Pallas, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

And in his own essay in Gotham Schools' Community section, Mr. Pallas repeats his concerns about using student testing results to evaluate teachers without taking into consideration their flaws.

So here’s a challenge, and a proposal. The challenge is to state education policymakers across the country who have hitched their teacher-evaluation systems to measures that seek to isolate teachers’ contributions to their students’ learning: Develop clear and consistent guidelines for assigning teachers to rating categories that take into account the inherent uncertainty and errors in the value-added measures and their variants.

You can read more on SchoolBook later today about how the new teacher evaluation system may work in New York City, based upon the framework reached last week.

Schools remain closed through Friday. Public school people, enjoy the week off.

Meanwhile, does anyone have an answer for Shilpa Spencer, who posted the following question on the SchoolBook page for Public School 29 John M. Harrigan page in Brooklyn:

Zone for Ps 29

How can I figure out the zone that PS 29 covers? I can see how you can plug in an address on the DOE website and figure out your zoned school, but to try to move into a good zone, how do you figure out the school's zone parameters?

You can answer right on the P.S. 29 page, so that everyone in the community can see the response.

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