The Black Hole of Teacher Evaluations: Kids, Teachers and Principals are Pawns in the Blood Sport of Politics

New York State Senate Majority Leader, Republican Dean Skelos was overheard chatting about the teacher evaluation plan, “The Governor dug himself a hole, and as soon as he realizes it we’ll be glad to help him out of the hole.”

Governor Cuomo “owns” the teacher evaluation plan. He has spent the last year twisting arms, from the unions to the Regents to the Commissioner;  it is the Governor’s plan.

School boards, superintendents, principals, teachers and parents are less enthusiastic. Diane Ravitch, Linda Darling-Hammond and a range of scholars are just plain opposed to the use of student standardized test scores to fire teachers.

State Ed appointed a “technical committee,” representatives of the unions and a range of other stakeholders, and hired American Institutes for Research (AIR) to develop the technical tools,  the effort is led by the Regents Research Fund, a 501 (c), 3 arm of the State Ed Department The committee met for most of the year, and, sort of peer reviewed their work by asking a number of outside experts to comment on the process.

Read  the powerpoint: http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2012Meetings/June2012/GrowthModel.pdf

Linda Darling-Hammond and other researchers cast doubt on the statistical underpinning of the assumptions.

“We find that judgments of teacher effectiveness for a given teacher can vary substantially across statistical models, classes taught, and years. Furthermore student characteristics can impact teacher rankings, sometimes dramatically …”

Read the report: http://gse.berkeley.edu/admin/events/docs/epaa.pdf

The process, avers Hammond, is “unstable.”

For the Governor, the Commissioner, and, reluctantly, many of the Regents the process is rolling down the hill and gathering speed.

The AIR report is only step one: the growth model. As the data for the 2011 state tests rolls in AIR will continue to build the plan.

At this point we are only talking about the 20% that is based on ELA and Math grades 3-8 test scores. Another 20% is locally negotiated and the 60% is principal assessments. The merging of the sections into a composite score must be negotiated with the local bargaining agent by January, 2013, or, risk the loss of state funding.

Remember: 70% of teachers do not teach subjects tested by ELA and Math tests. They will be measured against locally developed assessments: how do you measure student growth for art, music, physical education teachers? For teachers in kindergarten and grades one and two? How do you measure growth in a class tested by a regents exam? The kids change from year to year, and teacher growth for courses that are not tested?

One of the first, and much awaited decisions was the “cut score” for levels (highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective). In spite of the dense formulas a human being had to make a political judgment.

Skeptics predicted 17% (beyond one standard deviation) for the top score – highly effective and the bottom score – ineffective.

Kudos to State Ed and the Regents, the cuts scores were in a reasonable range:

Highly effective: 9%

Effective: 75%

Developing: 9%

Ineffective” 7%

Remember: 80% of the multiple measures are yet to be determined and must be negotiated

.Hanging over the entire process is the question of the public release of the scores and the impact. The Courts have ruled that under the New York State FOIL law the scores may not be protected. The Governor, after a few months of negotiations released a draft bill late Monday night and as of this writing everyone is on board, except the Republican State Senate.

Mark Twain is frequently quoted, “No one’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.”

Politics is a blood sport and the Republicans see an opportunity to injure the governor – place the yoke of a stumbling teacher evaluation plan around his neck.

School boards and principals see the specter of parents demanding that their kid be taught by the “highly effective,” not the “effective” teacher.

Teachers fear the NY Post reporters outside of their house to take the picture of the “ineffective” teacher.

The Republicans will smirk and point to the Governor: “it’s his law.”

The kids and the teachers? Just pawns on the board to be shoved around.

Welcome to the world of politics in the 21st century.

UPDATE: ALBANY — Siding with teachers’ unions over the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the state Legislature on Thursday approved a plan to limit the public disclosure of teacher evaluations …. “What happened in New York City had a profound effect on the elected officials,” said Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers. “They said, ‘We don’t want that to happen. That’s wrong.’ The only person I knew who didn’t want it was the mayor.”

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