Friday, January 04, 2013

UFT Evaluations: Painted into a Corner

There's an interesting UFT commercial airing right now. It criticizes Mayor Bloomberg, rightly so, for being an intransigent galoot. But it goes on to demand a fair evaluation system. Now, who, aside from Mayor Bloomberg, could oppose such a thing? Not I. I support a fair evaluation system, just as I support Mom, Apple Pie, and the American Way.

Yet I fail to see how it is possible for us to achieve one under the law our union leadership helped craft. The law calls for, depending on when and whom you ask, 20, 25, 40, or even 100% value-added measures. This means, roughly, we give kids a test, then test them again later, and whatever gains they make in that test equal your value as a teacher.

What's problematic here is that there is no validity whatsoever to this method. Furthermore, when it was used last year, the margins of error were so large as to be preposterous. Can you imagine Mayor Bloomberg using such methodology to figure out where he stood in a political race? "Well, Mr. Mayor, we have you winning by five points, give or take 55."

No one would depend on such a thing. But let's say, for the sake of argument, that it's only 20%. That means 80% of your rating will depend on other factors, like AP observations, a portfolio, or what gets reported on the principal's secretary's Ouija board. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the Ouija board says you're one heckuva teacher. Your AP thinks your DO NOW is the best she's ever seen. You're golden, right?

Well, not necessarily. In fact, under the current regime, your school will remain open or close based on test scores. Your principal will keep the job or not based on test scores. Now it's conceivable that principals will exercise principle, and fight to keep those teachers they deem good. It's been done before. However, it's inevitable that some principals will keep only those who keep their scores up, and further keep them only so long as said scores stay up. People are funny when you put guns to their heads.

So my problem is this--I see no way, no way at all for there to be a fair evaluation system that comprises junk science. This is exacerbated by an insane system that closes schools based on test scores, and will surely be made worse when working teachers lose their jobs based on test scores. Not only that, but having examined and graded hundreds, thousands of standardized tests, I'm not even persuaded the writers of those tests are qualified to test the subject matter, let alone those who teach it.

So, yes, we should have a fair evaluation system. But how on earth can we achieve it when the law constricts us to incorporate junk science? How is it fair to use junk science to determine whether or not people are allowed to work? How can it be?

If anyone has a serious answer, I'm all ears.
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