By Ann Neary
This fall, in my large, comprehensive NYC public high school, teacher evaluations were recalculated (from official Spring evaluations) to include a standardized test component. The result? Only one teacher out of 140 has a Highly Effective rating. Teachers were shocked and puzzled. They were not part of the policy making or decision making conversations that decided what percentage standardized tests would play in their evaluations, what tests would be utilized, or how those tests would be calculated.
Here is what the breakdown looks like on a NYC teacher evaluation:
60% of the teacher evaluation is based on observation by an administrator. Last year that meant using a rubric taken from the Charlotte Danielson framework and judging 22 components (Update: this was considered too burdensome and so has been reduced to 8 components for this year’s evaluations). 20% of the evaluation comes from comparing the teacher’s student testing data with students from across the state and another 20% comes from comparing testing data in the local region. The 40% chunk raises questions.
In an effort to explain the new results to teachers, the DOE issued the following cover letter with the new teacher rating. The document raises more questions than answers. “ A teacher’s State measures were pre-determined by the State or selected by the principal from a list of State approved assessments. A teacher’s Local Measures were chosen from a State-approved list by the School Local Measures Committee and approved by the principal.” Who knew there was a Local School Measures Committee? Not a single teacher I know. And where are the State approved lists? What tests were approved?
Using my own data, I found that only 34 students out of the 70 I taught were included in this measure. And in some cases the “comparison” test was different- for the same student (a PSAT score compared to a city test score). This calculation appeared on the data sheet with Local Measures, by the way. And in several cases, a student took a city test in September but not in June (my seniors “opted out” that day) so I was unable to determine what the zero for the end of the year test did to my overall score.
NYC is not unique in this quagmire. Rochester School District (New York state) filed suit against the governing state board claiming that the state tests used in teacher evaluation made no concessions for the extreme poverty in which their students lived. States other than NY have raised questions as well about who is creating the standardized tests and how do they accommodate specific student populations.
And the other question left unanswered is the disconnect between what teachers are being asked to teach and what students are being tested on.
To engage my students in critical thinking, I often ask them to consider “what’s missing or whose voice is missing” from the text we are reading. This past September my Journalism students wondered why they had not heard from Officer Darren Wilson, accused of shooting Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo. They searched diverse news outlets, watched multiple newscasts and found nothing. * The students were engaged in rigorous research, they participated and collaborated with diverse partners, learned to build on other’s ideas, evaluated information and integrated it into their own work. They expressed their own ideas clearly and persuasively in a manner appropriate for their audience.
None of that work would be tested on a standard exam. Yet all represent Common Core Standards for Speaking and Listening and College and Career Readiness standards.
Whose voice is missing from the discussion of teacher evaluations? The teachers whose job it is to teach.
Ellen Behrstock-Sherratt and Allison Rizzolo make compelling arguments in their book Everyone at the Table, for teacher engagement in evaluation processes as a means to both assess teacher effectiveness as well as improve teacher effectiveness. They lay the foundation and steps needed for teachers to take charge of their profession. Florida has led the way in this process. Teacher voice was welcomed and vital to the process.
Let’s make sure that all teachers have a voice at the table. I offer a few suggestions for ways in which you can get started:
- Share this blog on your social media networks. Get your teacher friends talking about this issue.
- Sign up on the Commit to Lead site to share your ideas on how to get teacher voice represented in the revision of teacher accountability systems.
- Take a look at past VIVA Idea Exchange reports on this topic to see what your peers are recommending. Share and discuss the reports in your school building and in social media. (VIVA CEA, VIVA MET, VIVA Minnesota, VIVA NY)
- If you haven’t done so already, become a member of VIVA Teachers. There’s no cost to join and you will find yourself among a national group of teacher leaders who are actively engaged in this work. Join now!
It’s time teachers had their say.
* just this past week interviews with the officer appeared in the news