Friday, July 31, 2015

Double Whammy

For years we've had the APPR system hanging over our heads. Gates thought it was a swell idea, and the UFT participated in the MET program that enabled it all over these United States. But since VAM is based on nothing resembling science and has no validity whatsoever, the geniuses who enabled it decided to balance it with actual ratings from supervisors. Since VAM is pretty much a crap toss, and pretty much rates students rather than teaching, it's supposed to be objective. The subjective balance is the supervisor rating.

Of course, if your supervisor has an agenda counter to yours, hates you and everything you stand for, or gets peeved when you report her for grade-fixing, that part of your rating could end up swirling the bathroom bowl. In fact, the DOE recognized just such a case and has demanded that several poor ratings be reversed.

When the junk science APPR first came into effect, I complained loudly at a UFT meeting that it was nonsense. A district rep. I do not know get very angry with me. He said that if the principal gave him a bad rating, that maybe the test scores would bring his rating up. (That's unlikely since district reps teach only one class and are not included in junk science ratings.) I did not bother stating the obvious--that if his principal gave him a good rating, that maybe the scores would bring it down. The argument, though, endorsed a crap shoot for a high-stakes teacher rating. A colleague remarked it was akin to telling people to smoke cigarettes, because maybe they wouldn't get cancer.

But there is, in fact, a cancer in our system, and it is the high-stakes testing system Gates pushed, and we, the UFT and NYSUT, swallowed hook, line and sinker. It claimed another fatality last week but the casualties are too numerous to count, and are everywhere. Neither teachers nor supervisors ought to be in a position where they need to falsify test scores to satisfy nonsensical quotas.

But as long as we are, not only are the test scores unreliable, but the supervisor ratings are as well. For example, I am clearly a terrible teacher. My students, having arrived from every corner of the world yesterday, last week, or six months ago, don't even speak English. There is no question whatsoever but that they will fail every single English-based test they attempt. And since the tests have nothing whatsoever to do with the basic English I teach, there is no way I can ever get a good rating.

So what is my supervisor to do? If I get a good rating, if she thinks I'm a good teacher, she must be wrong because my kids failed the tests. If she gives me a bad rating, how are we to know she isn't just covering her own behind so as to shirk responsibility for the miserable test scores of my students?

Mulgrew defended the system to the DA, suggesting that those of us who criticized it, like me, like Diane Ravitch, were simple-minded and contrary, fretting that the sky was falling. After all, only a small percentage of us got poor ratings. There were a couple of points he forgot, though. One, of course, was the high stakes attached and that those with poor ratings were looking at job loss. Another was the consequence of the paucity of poor ratings, to wit, the draconian Cuomo/ Heavy Hearts plan facing the entire state. It was rolled out for the express purpose of firing more teachers, and if it fails it's likely as not we'll see an even worse plan.

The entire system stinks. The test scores are meaningless as to actual teacher quality, and the supervisors are under so much pressure to produce test scores that they simply cannot be objective. Can you imagine being a supervisor in a school with poor test scores and fighting for the careers of teachers whose kids got them? It would be like wearing a big red "Kick me" sign. Or, more likely a "Fire me" sign.

Rubrics most certainly do not guarantee objectivity, not for supervisors, not for teachers, and especially not for kids. It's insane to take all kids, no matter what learning disability, no matter what home environment, no matter whether or not they know English, and say, "You're 12 years old, and therefore must know A, B, and C." It's even more insane to say if the kids don't know A, B, and C that their teachers are incompetent and must be fired.

And yet now, in 2015, that is precisely where we find ourselves.
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