About Face: New York State Reverses Test and Punish and Hopes Parents and Teachers Will Be Assuaged

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins,  all of them imaginary.

HL Mencken

Remember when you were driving down that road, lost, you kept on driving down the road hoping you would become “unlost”?

Five years ago the education community began driving down the teacher evaluation road, losing their way, and driving further and further down the road. Finally, deep in the woods, with the wolves howling, they decided to turn around.

How did the education seers get so lost?

The New Teacher Project in 2010 published a report, The Widget Effect, which resonated across the reform-y community.

Effective teachers are the key to student success, yet our school systems treat all teachers as interchangeable parts, not professionals. Excellence goes unrecognized and poor performance goes unaddressed. This indifference to performance disrespects teachers and gambles with students’ lives

* Less than 1 percent of teachers receive unsatisfactory ratings, making it impossible to identify truly exceptional teachers

* Half of the districts studied have not dismissed a single tenured teacher for poor performance in the past five years.

Value-add measures (VAM), growth models, psychometricians, statisticians and the data-wonks believed that teaching could be reduced to a numerical score. Teachers across an entire state regardless of the ability of the students were plugged into a dense algorithm, the teacher eval guys and gals sped along not realizing how lost they had become.

At the May, 2015 Learning Summit on Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) (Watch video of the presentation here) held  by the Board of Regents a panel consisting of scholars debated the use of value-added measurement (VAM). The scholars criticized VAM; among a number of criticisms, the most serious, the errors of measurement were too large, the results were neither valid nor reliable.

The Opt Out parents continued skewering the governor and the legislature, the teacher union pounded away, an angry cohort of parents, not tied to a party, the reformers were driving deeper and deeper into the woods.

The governor had a subitism  (Love the word: see definition here)

In the world of politics deniability, is important: claiming credit for successes and blaming others for your failures. The governor appointed a task force to craft a path to get back on the road, without admitting any culpability,  for the years of barreling down the wrong road.

The task force members had a deadline, to complete their work before the December meeting of the Board of Regents, the last date to adopt a new path before the legislature convenes in January.

The governor, the assembly, the senate, state education and the task force members engaged in increasingly intense negotiations. With a ticking clock the task force released its finding  last Thursday afternoon.

Read the Report here  and read my blog about the report here .

On Monday the members of the Board of Regents convened to discuss and vote on elements of the Report…

What did the Report do?

* created a moratorium, oh, sorry, I can’t use that word, a transition to the new, yet to be crafted teacher evaluation plan to impact in the 2019 – 2020 school year. You may have noticed that the transition, or, what the hell, the moratorium, runs through the next gubernatorial election cycle.

* a re-writing, a through editing, another draft, of the Common Core State Standards.

* an admission that the SED Curriculum Modules were being used as scripts; curriculum should be a local responsibility, not imposed from Albany.

* teachers really are smart and highly capable; state ed will create a teacher portal so that teachers can post curriculum and other education tools on the Engage NY site.

* teachers will be actively engaged in test creation, a review of the standards and new test creation.

and, of course, create an interim teacher evaluation schema for the transition years; let’s call it teacher evaluation 5.0

See the power point, entitled,  Alternate Scores for Teachers and Principals: Implementing a Transition to Higher Standards: http://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/P12APPRSlidedeck.pdf

and view the power point on the results of the teacher evaluation process over the last three years: http://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/2014-2015%20STATEWIDE%20EVALUATION%20RESULTS.pdf

Under the law school districts and teacher unions have until March 15 to negotiate new teacher evaluation plans based on the task force changes adopted by the regents.

The hope from the governor and the legislature is that the de-escalation, the moratorium, provides a cooling off period. Without the stress of high stakes testing and a rating sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of teachers and principals we can get back to the job at hand: teaching.

If we’re not using the state grades 3 – 8 test scores how will student growth be measured? Remember student learning objectives (SLOs) and Measures of Student Learning (MOSLs)?

The governor and the legislature believe the anger will abate, other issues will arise, and the pols have learned a lesson: don’t intervene in education, allow the regents to make policy – claim credit for victories and blame the regents for the failures.

A  video of an explanation that is as clear as the new teacher evaluation law.


Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

Groucho Marx


4 responses to “About Face: New York State Reverses Test and Punish and Hopes Parents and Teachers Will Be Assuaged

  1. It has always amazed me how folks who never taught in our schools, but through politics and connections rise to the point where they think they know whats best in terms of teacher evaluations, and how to test our kids. I mean why on Earth do we have school principals if not to build and evaluate and mold and shape our schools. One of the basic practises that I had for servicing my under performing students, was to rotate veteran teachers from the top classes into those under achieving classes. When the most recent evaluations came about, I would have had no chance to enact such a practise. Those teachers would have grieved that I was setting them up for a U rating. It is farcical that a DC sec of Education thinks that one policy for all is the way to go. Its not.The best that a Sec of Educ can aspire for is an understanding of what people in the field, in the community and in the schools and geographic areas are saying in terms of Tcr Eval, in terms of testing, in terms of building management, in terms of entitlements, and in terms of curricula guidelines. Common Core, should have its own plot in the cemetery along side “Gates”, and “son of Gates.”


  2. The legislature should act to completely end any requirement to use student test scores as part of an official evaluation that can lead to dismissal or any other formal action. NYSAPE has called for this at http://www.nysape.org/nysape-press-release-cc-taskforce.html. Hopefully the unions will back this move. One can see the ‘cooling off’ period as the Governor’s hope that a few compromise actions will defuse the movement. It is a hope that teachers will get used to seeing test scores in their evaluations (though not used for formal ratings, per the Regents directive) and so will accede to using them for firing and hiring. If so, then misuse of standardized tests to judge teachers can be reasserted.


  3. Sad about the millions of dollars wasted on curriculum design and test development that could have gone into real education.


  4. Peter:

    You failed to mention that the local measures (testing) will now be 50% of a teacher’s grade. This was to try to appease the “opt out” movement but since testing is still 50% of a teacher’s grade, teachers will still be teaching to the test. The result, the “opt out” movement will not be appeased since 75% of them opted out due to the testing requirements.


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