I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, April 4, 2015

New York's Absurd Debate About Teacher Evaluations & Test Scores

From this side of the Hudson, the controversy in New York this week over test scores and teacher evaluations makes New Jersey's education policy debates look relatively sane.

And that's no small trick.

Of course, there was already plenty to hate about New York's teacher evaluation system, APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) before Angry Andy Cuomo got his way and imposed changes that make a bad system even worse.

APPR, like New Jersey's AchieveNJ, is predicated on the idea that the educator -- and only the educator -- is responsible for the "growth" of his or her students. It ignores the impacts of funding inequities or district-level curriculum decisions or inadequate facilities or non-random assignment of students or any of the many factors that impact student learning that are completely out of the control of teachers and/or principals.

In New Jersey, the test-based components of AchieveNJ also ignore student characteristics, even though SGPs -- Student Growth Percentiles, the test-based measures of student achievement used in teacher evaluations -- are clearly biased against teachers who work in high-poverty, low-resourced schools.

New York's growth model at least attempts to account for differences in student characteristics. According to the state's Technical Report, the bias against teachers and schools serving high-needs students has been significantly reduced compared to earlier versions of the model.

But that doesn't make New York's growth measures any less statistically noisy or invalid. According to the Technical Report, one-third of New York's teachers changed ratings from 2012-13 to 2013-14 (p. 43). The report crows that this is relatively stable compared to other growth measures, but in reality, it only means that the measures are merely the best of the worst.

Think about it: does it make any sense whatsoever that a full one-third of New York's teachers significantly changed in their "effectiveness" within the span of a year? Should a high-stakes decision be compelled by a measure that is this unstable?


Here are the Technical Report's growth ratings for teachers in "tested grades" over the last two years. If we add together all of the teachers who had at least two consecutive "Developing" or "Ineffective" ratings, we are only dealing with the bottom 5 percent of the teaching corps.

I know that the reformy line is these 5 percent are keeping us from competing with Singapore and Finland, but let's get real: this small number is not worth Angry Andy's disproportionate response. Yes, we need to remove bad teachers from classrooms, but does anyone really think the vast majority of these teachers couldn't be identified through their classroom practices?

Angry Andy doesn't think so; he is convinced that large numbers of administrators are, for reasons known only to Andy, fudging their observations so they can retain poor teachers. That's why Andy wants to impose a huge unfunded mandate on school districts and require them to bring in outside observers to evaluate teachers.

It never occurs to Angry Andy that it may be possible administrators retain less-than-optimal teachers simply because there are not enough qualified candidates standing ready to replace them. Angry Andy has actually helped to create this situation in his own state, imposing "financially crippling" exams on teacher candidates (more on this later).

Even more foolishly, Angry Andy Cuomo thinks his demonization of teachers won't have an effect on the number of bright young people willing to enter the profession. He believes his own inability to properly fund New York's schools has no effect on the quality of teachers; no, it must be all these deceitful, lazy administrators, handing out phony high marks to lazy, ineffective teachers.

The outside observer policy and the increase in importance of test-based measures are both indications of how little faith Cuomo has in the teaching profession to regulate itself. The "proof" he puts forward to justify this claim is that too many children don't show proficiency on standardized tests. Of course, the game is rigged in New York (and everywhere else), and the number of children who are "proficient" is determined by a largely arbitrary process that has been manipulated time and again in Angry Andy's state.

But even if we leave that aside: where is Angry Andy's own accountability in the performance of New York's children on state tests? The state itself has enshrined in law the amount of resources necessary for students to achieve proficiency. This law was the result of a carefully researched process, years in the making, which determined how much money schools need to be able to provide their students with an adequate education.

But, as Bruce Baker says:
The 2007 foundation aid formula was adopted by the state specifically to achievecompliance with the high court’s order in Campaign for Fiscal Equity. The state argued that this new formula was built on sound empirical analysis of the spending behavior of districts that achieved adequate outcomes on state assessments. The state argued that the foundation formula applied this evidence, coupled with additional evidence-based adjustments to address student needs and regional cost variation, in order to identify a specific target level of per pupil spending for each district statewide, which would provide comparable opportunities to achieve adequate educational outcomes. The state determined the share of that target funding to be raised through local tax revenues and estimated the amount to be paid by the state toward achieving each districts’ sound basic funding target.
Then, they simply failed to fund it. [emphasis mine]
As the Education Law Center notes, New York State is now approaching an $8 billion cumulative shortfall in the funding the state itself says is necessary to provide an adequate education for New York's students. But Angry Andy does not care: he demands that teachers step up and educate all of New York's students, even if they don't have the money the state itself says is needed to do their jobs.

It is cynical beyond belief for Angry Andy Cuomo to hold teachers solely accountable for the progress of New York's deserving students when he won't do his damn job and give schools the money the state itself says they need to be effective.

This state of affairs, however, is the last thing Angry Andy -- or his Wall Street patrons -- want to talk about. New York, consequently, is now engaged in an absurd debate about what percentage of a teacher's evaluation should be based on test scores -- as if this is the central issue in the state's education policies, and not the lack of funding the state itself says is needed for its schools.

We had this same debate over percentages in New Jersey last year. Chris Christie, on the basis of nothing more than his feelings, decided that tests will account for 10 percent of a teacher's evaluation this year, and 20 percent next year. There is absolutely no evidence to support these percentages; they are completely arbitrary. But at least Christie's percentages have an effect on how the evaluations turn out (even if the evaluation system itself is unforgivably innumerate).

In New York, however, any debate about the percentages is pointless. As Carol Burris, America's Principal™, points out, the new APPR system compels decisions based on tests that have nothing to do with percentages:

If a teacher is "Highly Effective" on their observation but "Ineffective" on their growth measure, they get an overall rating of "Developing." Percentages have nothing to do with it; it is what it is. You could say that tests account for 1 percent of a teacher's evaluation or 99 percent -- it doesn't matter.

Now, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch is trying to make the case that there is flexibility in weighting the test scores. But if that's true, it completely negates the point of the table above. Cuomo himself said that he wants 50 percent, which is, de facto, what the table proposes. But you can't have it both ways: either there is flexibility in the weighing, or the table above stands. There's no middle ground here.

What's truly disappointing is watching UFT President Mike Mulgrew's apparent acquiescence to all this. "Punchy" Mike swears the NYC Teachers Union has "won":
“It’s not 50 percent test scores,” Mulgrew said. “It’s not a victory for [Cuomo] at all.”
Please. This is a huge victory for Angry Andy, if only because he has turned the conversation away from his own failures and toward a meaningless debate about how test-based measures should be weighted in a teachers evaluation. Mulgrew has played right into Cuomo's hands by arguing about percentages; NYC's teachers will pay the price.

The better response is that of NYSUT's (the statewide teachers union) president, Karen Magee:
“New York State United Teachers president Karen Magee hinted on Monday that the powerful statewide union would launch a campaign to further encourage parents to have their children “opt out” of state-administered, Common Core-aligned exams in order to undermine the use of test scores as a component of teacher evaluations.
Speaking to reporters at the Capitol, Magee said the union has posted information on its website instructing parents on how to have their children refuse the third through eighth grade English and math exams, which are required by the federal government and will be administered next month.
“I’m a parent,” said Magee, who lives in Westchester. “My child is in 11th grade at this point in time. Had he been a third to eighth grader, he would not be taking the test. The tests are not valid indicators. The American Statistical Association has said there is no direct link to tie these tests to student performance or teacher evaluation. Let’s look at tests that are diagnostic in nature, that actually inform practice in the classroom, that actually work to serve students who are directly sitting in front of the teacher for the year as opposed to what we have in place right now.
“At this point in time, yes, we are encouraging parents to opt out,” she said. “We will be taking further steps to make parents aware of this…..”
“Magee admitted that some level of opt outs could hurt teachers in this way, but said, “Statistically, if you take out enough, it has no merit or value whatsoever.”
“When asked whether it was her goal to impact the validity of the exams, the union president responded: “At this point in time it’s the best way to go.” [emphasis mine]
Let's be clear: the New York State growth measures are already invalid, because they measure changes in student test scores, and not teacher effectiveness. Opting out will certainly affect the tests' validity as measures of student growth; however, that growth was never a valid measure of a teacher's abilities to begin with. We should never forget that the entire premise of test-based teacher evaluations is fundamentally flawed.

Still, Magee is right to start bringing the teachers unions directly into the opt out movement. The more monkey wrenches that are thrown into the machine, the better -- and not just for teachers.

I saw some preliminary research this week at Rutgers Graduate School of Education on how test-based accountability is affecting instruction. It confirms what we already know: high-stakes testing is changing how schools educate children, and not for the better. Teachers and their unions have an ethical obligation to stand up to increasingly expansive testing regimes, imposed for purely political reasons, to protect not just themselves but also their students.

Angry Andy Cuomo is not charging ahead with the expansion of high-stakes testing because he is the one true advocate for children in New York. His motive is transparently obvious: he does not want to be held accountable for his own failure to fully fund New York's schools. Teachers and their unions -- along with parents, students, lawmakers, and all stakeholders in New York's school system -- shouldn't go along with his destructive plans.

Furthermore, New York's teachers unions shouldn't play Andy's game and engage in a meaningless debate about percentages.  There are much bigger concerns here than whether UFT can claim a pyrrhic victory about how much tests count toward a teacher's evaluation.

Forest from the trees, fellas...

America's Angriest Governor


Unknown said...

Perhaps you meant predicated not predicted....

Duke said...

Ah, the joys of self-editing. Thx.