Monday, January 21, 2008

Grading Teachers

The NY Times reports today that New York City has "embarked upon an ambitious experiment, yet to be announced" in which 2,500 public school teachers are being measured on how much their students improve on annual standardized tests.

The program, which may be a breach of the teachers contract, is considered so "contentious" that it has been kept secret from some of the teachers who are being scrutinized in the 140 elementary and middle schools participating in the program.

The Times article says DOE officials will not say publicly what they plan to do with the information being collected, but Chris Cerf, a deputy chancellor of the NYCDOE and former head of Edison Schools, surely gives a good indication:

“If the only thing we do is make this data available to every person in the city — every teacher, every parent, every principal, and say do with it what you will — that will have been a powerful step forward,” said Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is overseeing the project. “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.”

The Times reports the UFT has known about the program for months but does not know which schools are involved because of "confidentiality" agreements between the DOE and the principals who agreed to participate in the program.

The Times says UFT President Weingarten is concerned about the program:

Randi Weingarten, the union president, said she had grave reservations about the project, and would fight if the city tried to use the information for tenure or formal evaluations or even publicized it. She and the city disagree over whether such moves would be allowed under the contract.

“There is no way that any of this current data could actually, fairly, honestly or with any integrity be used to isolate the contributions of an individual teacher,” Ms. Weingarten said. “If one permitted this, it would be one of the worst decisions of my professional life.”

Ha - what a joke! When Ms. Weingarten and the UFT leadership agreed to merit pay for teachers based upon standardized test scores earlier this school year, they opened the door to all kinds of funky other things related to test scores - including grading teachers based upon scores whether the tests were meant for that purpose or not.

While the Times reports that DOE officials "adamantly deny" they plan to hand out letter grades to teachers and base tenure decisions solely on test score performance, those of us in the system know better.

That's exactly where this is going in the near future. And just as giving letter grades to schools based upon a formula overly weighted toward annual test score improvement has proven reductive and harmful (schools with 85%-95% test score passing rates have been handed D's and F's by the DOE for failing to improve on their test scores while schools with 30%-50% test score passing rates have been handed A's and B's because their test scores have improved from one year to the next), so too will handing out letter grades to teachers.

And before my friends at the Democrats For The Return Of Feudalism and other education "reform" groups starting chirping about how I must be a bad teacher because I'm complaining about being held accountable to standards, let me tell you that I am a teacher who works at a school that received an A and a "Well Developed" assignation from the DOE in this year's assessments, I teach at least three sections of ELA Regents prep each year (sometimes four or five if I teach remedial Regents prep in the Spring), and have very high passing rates every year.

I'm attacking this program not because I'm worried I will be exposed as a "bad teacher," but because I do not believe the testing regimen as currently constituted was designed to provide enough insight into teachers' performances to base salary decisions, tenure decisions and personnel decisions nor do I think any one annual standardized test should be given the kind of weight Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein and others are giving them.

And yet, that is where we are headed, and despite Ms. Weingarten's "Oh, I am so concerned about this program..." tone, Ms. Weingarten and the UFT leadership have partnered with Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein and the other education "reformers" to bring them to us.

The NY Sun reports
that Ms. Weingarten is widely expected to move up the ladder this year and take over the reins of the American Federation of Teachers when the current head steps down.

That means all the concessions that Ms. Weingarten has made here in New York on merit pay, on additional days and additional time, on grievance rights, on seniority rights, on authoritarian mayoral control, on charter schools, on curriculum and a host of other issues can now be made at a national level so that teachers all across the nation can learn just how much fun it is to be lead by Rod Paige's favorite teachers union head.

Frankly, I'm not as mad at Bloomberg, Klein and Cerf for the merit pay, the additional standardized tests a year (10 and counting so far), the additional days and time, the loss of grievance and seniority rights, and all the other things they've done to take more power for the DOE and diminish the power and work conditions of the teachers in the system as I am at Randi Weingarten, Leo Casey, and the other sell-outs at the UFT who have enabled all these things while telling us to our faces they're fighting them.

That's who is at fault here. And despite her "grave reservations" to the contrary about the newest DOE horror show - measuring teachers in secret by how much their students improve on test scores, you can bet Ms. Weingarten is either in favor of the program or doesn't care enough to stop it.
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