Gov. Cuomo’s sudden call for a “comprehensive review” of New York’s use of the Common Core educational standards stands as a loud warning that the drive for teacher accountability is in dire jeopardy.
What Cuomo should now clearly state is not what is on the table but what’s off it. Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia should join him in laying down non-negotiables:
They will not bend on ensuring higher standards that closely track Common Core guidelines developed over many years by the nation’s top education experts.
And that they will not accept any attempt to decouple student achievement gains, as measured primarily through rigorous state tests, from teacher ratings.
The teachers union, petrified about finally being subjected to serious evaluations, has played a skillful and cynical game in amplifying anti-Common Core anxieties among parents and legislators.
Stunningly, Speaker Carl Heastie, who represents the Bronx, has gone along with a suburban-based movement that works to the disadvantage of the city’s largely minority student body.
Kids in struggling schools have for years been plagued by low expectations and too many lower-performing teachers.
For their sake, supporters of higher standards for kids and more accountability for teachers must gird for war.
Did the Daily News just declare war against parents and teachers in this state who are opposed to the corporate education reform agenda Cuomo, NYSED and the Regents have imposed?
They did indeed - and of course, they do so with a straw man argument that attempts to paint teachers as children who wish to skirt accountability and parents who go along with critiques of the APPR teacher evaluation system as dupes of the teachers union.
Another straw man argument from a pro-reform newspaper editorial board about teacher evaluations - gee, what a surprise.
Let's dispense with the straw man argument that teachers don't want to be evaluated.
Teachers are not afraid of evaluations - we're afraid of an irrational evaluation system that has an adverse affect on our jobs, professional reputations, and ability to take care of our families.
Cuomo's vaunted APPR teacher evaluation system - the one the reformers at the Daily News love so much - is currently in the courts with a judge deciding whether to toss part or all of it onto the junk heap because it is an irrational system set up not to fairly evaluate teachers but rather one that uses a value-added method that NYSED refuses to explain, that often seems inexplicable (more on this in a moment) and is rigged to find at least 7% of teachers "ineffective."
Sheri Lederman, 19 year veteran teacher, sued the state over her APPR VAM because she went from 14 out of 20 on her state test component to 1 out of 20 in a year - even though her students performed similarly on their tests in both years.
Lederman, who was rated "effective" overall on her evaluation, nonetheless was given an "ineffective" rating on her state test component, something that now matters a lot since Governor Cuomo has insisted the state test component should count for 50% of a teacher's evaluation.
Here's Carol Burris in the Washington Post explaining the irrationality of the system and how it played out in the Lederman court case:
The exasperated New York Supreme Court judge, Roger McDonough, tried to get Assistant Attorney General Galligan to answer his questions. He was looking for clarity and instead got circuitous responses about bell curves, “outliers” and adjustments. Fourth-grade teacher Sheri Lederman’s VAM score of “ineffective” was on trial.
The more Ms. Galligan tried to defend the bell curve of growth scores as science, the more the judge pushed back with common sense. It was clear that he did his homework. He understood that the New York State Education Department’s VAM system artificially set the percentage of “ineffective” teachers at 7 percent. That arbitrary decision clearly troubled him. “Doesn’t the bell curve make it subjective? There has to be failures,” he asked.
The defender of the curve said that she did not like the “failure” word.
The judge quipped, “Ineffectives, how about that?” Those in attendance laughed.
Ms. Galligan preferred the term “outlier.” Those who got ineffective growth scores were “the outliers who are not doing a good job,” the attorney said. She seemed oblivious to the fourth-grade teacher who was sitting not 10 feet away from where she stood.
“Did her students learn nothing?” Justice McDonough asked. “How could it be that she went from 14 out of 20 points to 1 out of 20 points in one year?” He noted that the students’ scores were quite good and not that different from the year before.
Back behind the bell curve Ms. Galligan ran. As she tried to explain once again, the judge said, “Therein lies the imprecise nature of this measure.”
Lederman was not the only teacher in the school to get a poor score. In 2014, 21 percent of the staff at E.M. Baker School received a score of “ineffective,” 21 percent “developing” and 57 percent were “effective.” Just the year before, not one teacher received an “ineffective” score.
The irrationality was not limited to the teachers of Sheri Lederman’s school, one of the highest performing elementary schools in the state. In 2014, 44 percent of the teachers of the Fox Meadow School in Scarsdale received growth scores that said they were not “effective” teachers with 22 percent rated “ineffective.” Yet 61 percent of the school’s students were proficient in English Language Arts, and 75 percent were proficient in math—more that double the state’s proficiency rate. Similar results were found at the high-achieving Harbour Hill School in Roslyn, where 36 percent of its teachers received growth scores that labeled them “ineffective.”
The Lincoln School in Rochester, is a school designated as a priority/failing school by the state. Its proficiency rate was less than 3 percent. In 2014, 100 percent of its teachers received “effective” state scores, with 7 percent being rated “highly effective.” At another school facing receivership, The Martin Luther King Jr School in Utica, New York, 60 percent of the teachers received “effective” VAM scores and 40 percent were given VAM scores of “highly effective .”
I point out these dramatic differences not to disparage or embarrass the teachers of any school, but rather to shine a light on the irrational state-produced teacher scores based on the New York Common Core tests. For more information on the unreliable manner in which these scores functioned in 2013 and 2014, read here.
Bruce Lederman argued the irrationality of that rating system before the court. He laid out a careful, systematic argument. He was not opposed to evaluation. He was not even opposed to evaluation based on a measurement of student learning growth. He objected to a rating created in a black box that spit out predictions that compared his wife’s students to “avatar students.” He was disturbed that when questioned, that system responds with “because we say so.” He noted that “the magic of numbers brings a suspension of common sense.”
“There is nothing in the law that requires a bell curve,” he argued. He explained that a bell curve with its forced failures violates that law that requires that every teacher must be able to get all scores. Not only did he want the court to set aside his wife’s score, he wanted the court to “declare the measure an abuse of discretion” because “the State Education Department does not get a pass on unreasonable and irrational actions.”
NYSED never showed cause for why Lederman received the 1 out of 20 on her VAM score the year after she received 14 out of 20. They instead tried to have the Lederman case dismissed twice (here and here), arguing there was no harm to Lederman because she was rated "effective" overall despite the "ineffective" VAM score.
But the evaluation system that the Ledermans have put on trial has been made that much worse by Governor Cuomo and the Legislature this year, with test scores now increased to about 50% of a teacher's evaluation rating, so the "irrationality" of the state's APPR VAM matters greatly and a decision by the judge to declare the measure "an abuse of discretion" will have serious consequences for the governor, the Legislature, the Board of Regents, NYSED and teachers and schools all across the state.
But not for the reformers at the DN editorial board.
They want teachers held "accountable" for student performance, the rationality, sanity and justice of the evaluation system be damned, and so, they publish a straw man argument in today's paper to warn Cuomo they will not be happy if his teacher evaluation system is changed and warning that "war" coming between reformers and the rest of the system.
BTW, Sheri Lederman got her latest APPR teacher evaluation rating from the state and her state test component VAM has again changed drastically - she received an 11 out of 20 on it.
So from 14 out of 20 to 1 out of 20 to 11 out of 20 in three year's time.
That's some trend.
How exactly do the reform-friendly writers at the Daily News defend a system that jumps around like that?
Reality is, they don't - they simply ignore the problems with the system, smash their proverbial fists down onto their desks, insist upon "teacher accountability!" and "gird for war!"
A shameful editorial, but just the kind of thing we can expect from education reformers as they desperately try to save their precios education reforms.