Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

More About The New City Tests

The writer of this morning's Times piece about the new battery of city tests the Mayor and his ed deform braintrust plan to add to the city school system in order to evaluate teachers adds a little more to the story:

Officials at the New York City Department of Education provided some more information on Tuesday about the potential cost of the up to 16 new tests they are developing to grade teachers.

Instead of spending up to 25 percent of its $256 million in Race to the Top grant winnings to develop the new tests, the city will spend at most $25.6 million, 10 percent, on the tests, officials said on Tuesday. They will spend another $38 million on other aspects of the development of the new principal and teacher evaluation system.

And as a debate over the merits of the tests takes place on our Web site, we also wanted to offer some more information to fuel the discussion. For example, while the tests will count for up to 20 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation, schools will be able to decide how much the tests count for the children who take them. That means the exams may carry the same weight, for example, as a regular classroom assignment, or a unit test, or not at all.

Daniel Koretz, a Harvard University testing expert whose analysis of the state standardized tests in English and math helped lead New York to acknowledge that scores had become inflated through test preparation, has expressed concern about the proposed design of the city’s new tests, because, he says, they are trying to do many things at once. The city wants to use the new tests both to transform and improve instruction and hold the teachers accountable for their students’ performance.

But Jennifer L. Jennings, an assistant professor of sociology at New York University who also studies tests, also raised another issue last week about the proposed design of the exams that we did not get to explore. She expressed concern that giving the test in two parts and judging the teacher on how much improvement is made could influence teacher and principal behavior in an unusual way. “You have a huge incentive to have your kids underperform on the first test,” she said, “and then maximize performance on the second test.”

Some readers have expressed concern that the students in a class might purposely do poorly on a test to punish a teacher they did not like. That concern was shared by Diane Ravitch, an education historian critical of high-stakes standardized testing, who feels such tests “give the students the power to fire their teachers.”

So here are some questions to ponder:

  • What other consequences, unintended or otherwise, do you think the tests could have?
  • Does their lower cost projection affect your opinion?
  • Could they make a positive addition to instruction, by pushing teachers to focus on writing and other higher-order skills?
  • If you were a principal or teacher, how much would you recommend the tests count for students?

You can leave a comment at the end of the post - so far, most of the comments I read to both this morning's story and this one are negative toward the city's plans.

If Bloomberg gets away with this (and remember, the UFT has the ability to make sure he doesn't by refusing to okay the tests), you can be pretty sure that the teachers who remain in the system will be forced to teach to both the state and city tests and nothing else.

You can be sure that students with behavioral problems will be bounced around like pinballs because no teacher in her/his right mind is going to want to have to deal with behavioral issues if they have even one iota of an effect on other students in a class.

You can be sure that the evaluation system will be rife with mistakes and excellent teachers will be labeled "ineffective" and fired, after they are publicly humiliated in the newspapers and the media.

Remember that the UFT is currently litigating the right of the DOE to release the TDR's to the media for widespread dispersal. The UFT has already lost the first case, is appealing, but could lose that case on appeal.

If so, teacher evaluations will be in the newspapers every year, even though the value-added measurements used to grade teachers are rife with error.

This is a mess, for sure, and while Bloomberg and Klein and the rest of the ed deform proponents of this testing claim it will improve education and hold teachers accountable, it is not meant to do any such thing.

It is meant to destroy the public education system as currently constituted - to force schools to spend millions on test prep and test prep materials, to give districts the tools to fire as many expensive vets as possible and clean the system out of anybody with any seniority whatsoever.

The 25/55 agreement of a few years ago changed how long it takes teachers to get vested into a pension. It's now 10 years.

You can be sure that the city and state politicians want to fire as many vets as possible, replace them with newbies or computer programs, then fire those newbies before they make it to ten years (and a pension.)

The new system allows that to happen, as tenure no longer means anything under the new evaluation rules.

Get declared "ineffective" two years running and you're gone. And you just have to be declared ineffective on 40% of the evaluation to be declared "ineffective" overall.

If the value-added measurements - so complex that even the city admits they have a 25% margin of error - show that you have not "added value" to your students test scores, you're gone whether you have tenure or not.

This is EXACTLY what Cuomo, Bloomberg and the Regents were cooking up over the past few weeks, aided by the Obama administration last year and its Race to the Top Social Darwinist jive.

So now we have the logical extension of the city tests - the tests will only count for teachers, not for students, unless schools declare that they count for students.

In addition, the state is adding tests as well to the year, so a typical high school student could be subjected to fifteen high stakes tests a year or more, depending upon how many classes he/she is taking.

But the stakes are not truly high for the student, they're only high for the teachers who teach him/her.

This is absurd on the face of it, but so far, Bloomberg, Cuomo, Obama and the other proponents of these reforms are getting away with it.

We'll see how this plays out. Bloomberg is gone in 2 and a half years. Mayoral control will be changed next time the law is up for renewal. It is still possible to change the trajectory of this standardized test rocket ship.

But right now, we're headed straight for a system that no one in their right mind would want to either teach in or send their kids to.

As one commenter at the Times said:

As a Brooklyn middle school parent I am seriously considering our family's options. Despite assurances from NYC Education Department "leaders" that teachers won't teach to the test, this new evaluation will ensure it. If a teacher knew that my child's score might affect her salary, his tenure, their future, they will junk traditional methods and make sure our kids know what they'll be tested on and practice, practice, practice. Shame on our schools for not providing a strong, rounded, vigorous curriculum at every school, regardless of privilege or neighborhood. You will let the country know that you put our kids future at stake so you could play the stupid test game.



  1. What makes you so sure mayoral control will be changed when it next comes up? It is the primary vehicle for privatization, and is likely to be kept no matter who is elected mayor.

  2. It's a good point you make, Michael. I guess I was working off the Q poll that had 57% saying they wanted mayoral control ended. But silly me, the people in charge don't care about that.

    I should have written that I "hope" the law will be modified. But I know I should be pessimistic over that.