Windows Open, Windows Close: Will New York State Move Away from Punitive Testing to a Performance Task Model? From Rating Teachers to Facilitating Teacher Growth?

New York State has a rare window, for the next four years student scores on standardized tests  cannot be used to assess teacher performance.

Hopefully the window will be used to address the two crucial issues:

* Formative and Summative Teacher Assessment: How do improve and assess teacher performance?

* Student Assessment: How do we use performance tasks to assess student performance instead of the current standardized tests?

The core of teacher preparation programs is the student teaching experience – how effective is the student teaching experience?  How effective are the cooperating teachers in “teaching” classroom skills? We don’t know. We do know that Urban Residency  programs – teachers spend a year in a salaried internship – with a carefully selected mentor teacher while earning a Master’s Degree from a local university are highly effective.  The programs are expensive, usually federally or state-funded with high teacher retention rates.

In-service teachers are observed three, four or five times a year by their supervisor using a rubric – in New York City, the Danielson Frameworks.  One of the questions: Inter-rater reliability – the degree of agreement among raters:  how much homogeneity, or consensus, is there in the ratings given by evaluator?  The answer is, not much. Teachers in high poverty, at-risk schools receive lower rating than teachers in high achieving, high wealth schools.  In New York City superintendents run principal meetings in which the principals, in teams, observe the same classes and discuss how they would rate the lesson; however, these meeting do not cross district lines. Sadly, there is no discussion of the post observation conference – the essence of the process. Ironically Danielson’s other book,  Talk About Teaching: Leading Professional Conversations (2015), is rarely discussed. The teacher observation process, in too many schools, is a compliance problem for principal. The dialogue concerning the day-to-day practice of a teacher is not at the core of the observation process.

Instead of discussing  whether the lesson of an “H” or an “E” (New York State requires a rating of Highly Effective, Effective, Developing or Ineffective, referred to as HEDI) the discussion should center on the “professional conversations.”

At a recent union meeting a delegate asked whether a principal could order a teacher to give up a preparation, pay the teacher for the lost prep, to observe another teacher.   Mindless.

Facilitated common planning time can lead to intervisitations to a school culture of “talk about teaching.”  “Ordering” teachers to collaborate is insanity.

A note about research: Too much research falls into the advocacy research category – the organization conducting the research does not enter the field with clean hands. Last week, in an essay  in the Brookings Brief, Stuart Butler, an economist with long experience working at the conservative Heritage Foundation lauds two studies, one supporting the “small high schools of choice” (SSC) initiative in New York City and the other a study of 6,000 charter schools. Both studies ignore facts that cast doubt on the validity of the research. While SSC do have higher graduation rates how many kids earned credits by way of highly questionable credit recovery?  What was the impact of teachers marking papers of students they taught?   The charter school research ignores “push out” rates in charter schools, the lower percentages of students with disabilities enrolled as well as the absence of English language learners.

Howard Wainer in Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies (2011) warns us that theory is not evidence – click on the site  – Wainer gives an excellent discussion of the flaws in creating education policy.

We must move from counting the number of observations to creating cultures that “talk about teaching,” and, we have to be wary about advocacy research.

Can we use performance tasks as an alternative to standardized testing?

It may take a while for the dust to settle and a new vision for accountability to emerge, [Columbia professor] Jeff Henig  said; but one blueprint for the future may be the past, specifically, the years just before the passage of the NCLB law, which saw a real range of approaches to accountability.

“Looking back to pre-NCLB, we see what we could anticipate as a likely outcome in the future, which is considerable variation in terms of how [states] use greater authority and discretion. Some states were leaders and innovators, some were laggards,” he said. “They vary in terms of political dynamics, vary in terms of bureaucratic capacity … and in terms of what they value.” 

Top-down solutions to education are commonplace – purchasing some package that is expected to be used in every classroom in the district. After a couple of years the superintendent changes, the costs are too high, the “magic bullet’ becomes a dud.  I have served on many Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams, and, in extremely low functioning schools I invariably walked into a wonderful classroom. Unfortunately the school leadership ignored the excellence of the outlier. In high poverty, low performing school districts there are also outliers, schools that appear to have “figured it out.”  In a low performing school that was being phased out a new principal converted a school from chaos, numerous suspensions every week to order – no suspensions. Since it was a phase-out school the powers that be ignored the success. What was he doing differently? No one seemed interested.

With the passage of the new ESSA law policy devolves to the states, and, we can expect to see a wide variety of approaches.

New Hampshire is the only state with a pilot program approved by the US Ed Department in which performance tasks replace standardized tests to assess student performance.  A caveat: attempts to adopt programs from one state to another frequently stumble.

There’s a lot of potential in the approaches getting a test run in New Hampshire and California, Deborah S. Delisle, the executive director of ASCD, other places need to know that neither state’s approach could be replicated overnight.

“These systems took a significant amount of thinking, analysis, and work at the local level… It is easy to be tempted to adopt another state’s or district’s pilot; however, processes are not necessarily transferable, and they need to be analyzed in terms of the local schools’ needs and goals for their students.”

New Hampshire is in the second year of a pilot program, four school districts in the first year and an additional four this year.  The New Hampshire Department of Education describes the program,

The … system, a pilot currently being implemented in New Hampshire, is designed to foster deeper learning on the part of students than is capable under current systems. A competency-based system relies on a well-articulated set of learning targets that helps connect content standards and critical skills leading to proficiency. Such a system requires carefully following student progress and ensures that students have mastered key content and skills before moving to the next logical set of knowledge and skills along locally-defined learning paths This requires timely assessments linked closely with curriculum and instruction.

… a rich system of local and common (across multiple districts) assessments that support deeper learning, as well as allow students to demonstrate their competency through multiple performance assessment measures in a variety of contexts. Performance assessments are multi-step assignments with clear criteria, expectations and processes which measure how well a student transfers knowledge and applies complex skills to create or refine an original product and/or solution.

Read a detailed description of the NH DOE program here:

The New Hampshire pilot is rigorous, extremely rigorous, and in the first year the students in the control group, the students who took the Smarter Balance standardized tests did slightly better than the students involved in the pilot.

Windows open windows close, New York State has four years to explore how to move from a teacher assessment compliance model to a teacher competence growth model.

In addition, by aligning a teacher growth model to a performance task model in lieu of a standardized testing model the state has an opportunity to change a culture.

I am not advocating for the New Hampshire plan or any specific plan, under the new federal law all states have an opportunity to create a model at the local level.

For example, New York State  can move away from a “one size fits all” regents diploma model to a true multiple pathways diploma. If a student cannot pass five regents exams, in spite of multiple attempts, in spite of their handicapping condition or language disability, currently, they are a dropout.   We should consider a range of pathways with a type of diploma for each pathway, and, performance tasks in addition to regents exams, requires exploration.

Let’s not shut the window, we have a unique opportunity.

One response to “Windows Open, Windows Close: Will New York State Move Away from Punitive Testing to a Performance Task Model? From Rating Teachers to Facilitating Teacher Growth?

  1. I sure hope so..


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