(It’s time for one of my periodic /RantOn posts. Sorry, right up front, for the tone – this is (hopefully) an uncharacteristic “no more Mister Nice Guy” moment! A /RantOn is always about a topic that deeply frustrates good classroom teachers, by preventing us from teaching and undermining the education of our children,)
(An outstanding submission by teacher “anonymous” follows this introduction, as part
of our BeHEARD! initiative to publish teacher stories so that your voice is
heard nationwide. If you did not know about BeHEARD! – please click here.)
If you have been a teacher as long as most of us following this blog, then seeing yet another exercise in incompetence by career DoE bureaucrats is never a surprise. After all, these are the people who have taken us away from the lesson plan for an average of 35 minutes each class period, have forced teachers to dumb down teaching, whose policies cause administrators to force us to promote children who failed, and whose fixation on simplistic standardized testing is forcing cancellation or arts, music, and electives in all schools.
These are the same bureaucrats who seem blind to the impact of their policies, especially in the last five years. We have 74% of students taking the ACT and SAT tests who are found to be unready to attend college! And 46% of all new teachers get so frustrated by the inept DoE micromanagement of our classrooms that they quit a profession they loved in the first five years. Overall we are losing 20% of our best teachers, each year, because of early retirements, burnout, and simply leaving teaching in frustration.
But few of their past blunders hold a candle to what these career DoE bureaucrats, back in their lifetime cubicles, are doing to teacher evaluations.
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We have had to live with inept classroom mandates by bureaucrats who have not been in a classroom for years, or at all, and who have never experienced all the damage to education their policies have caused. Now these career DoE bureaucrats, nationwide, are developing complex human relations (HR) plans despite having absolutely no training or experience in HR! The policies they are developing violate all HR best practices, and even mid-level HR professionals with just a few years of experience are appalled at the metrics and procedures embedded in these plans.
Look at some of the most inane policies:
Evaluate teachers based upon how someone else taught another class, and based upon students the teacher never had in class
In many states (for example, NYC in the following teacher passage by “anonymous”) a teacher’s evaluation is based upon school-wide test scores in math and English – even if the teacher’s classes are history, science, art, etc. Roughly 75% of the teachers in NYC schools, those who do not teach math and English, have 20-40% of their evaluation based upon standardized test scores for subjects and students completely out of their control. Even “very good” teachers (85% score out of 100) in struggling urban high schools with low test scores, are frequently dropped into the “developing” category, or from “developing” to “ineffective,” because of this inane policy.
And one immediate impact is already happening in such schools with low test scores – teachers avoid applying to such schools, and look to move to “better” schools. We lose the best teachers right where we really need them.
This violate every principle of accepted HR best practices. It is as absurd as evaluating career DoE bureaucrats based upon how many parking tickets the state police write in February, or Starbucks baristas on whether the city subway runs on time.
Evaluate based upon test scores regardless of whether the teacher taught in a standard inclusion class of 30, or was in a select honors class of 15.
Many new plans are using standardized test scores to evaluate a teacher, regardless of the class level he/she teaches. A math teacher, like myself, whose passion for struggling students leads me to volunteer to teach urban high school inclusion classes of 30 students will have far lower class test scores (and therefore be deemed a weak teacher) than if I (the exact same teacher) taught in a select honors class of 15. Once again, the complete lack of HR experience and training leads to policies that violate all current HR best practices.
And as a side impact of such an inept policy, evaluating-to-the-test is a primary factor behind administrators forcing teachers to do dumbed-down teaching-to-the-test.
Evaluate teachers on 33 separate metrics – some covering less than 1% of a teacher’s efforts
The Massachusetts new evaluation plan is a prime example of what happens when someone with no experience or training in human relations (HR) develops a complex HR evaluation policy. You get something with metrics so poor that one HR pro told me “…it looks like something a summer intern still in college would draw up.”
The new Massachusetts system reflects the complete lack of competency by the authoring career DoE bureaucrats in the area of proven HR practices by requiring evaluation in thirty-three different areas. Even a mid-level HR professional knows that an individual cannot be effectively judged based upon metrics looking at factors that average just 3% of the individual’s work effort. Most pros will say that any evaluation that focuses on more than a handful of practical, manageable, and implementable factors is ineffective. This is akin to the absurdity of evaluating a computer programmer on a metric that evaluated how well aligned were the boxes in his/her flowcharts, or a fireman on how well she cleaned her boots after a fire. Even if we move up a level to look at the sixteen major groupings for the thirty-three, the total runs counter to proven best practices in any HR organization.
Evaluate based upon “…the ability to raise expectations” – while the teacher must also deal with competing DoE mandates that destroy expectations
The most discouraging part of many of these new evaluations is that they were once again created in a bureaucratic bubble – not giving consideration to other competing factors in the system that undermine any chance at success. One simple example is especially disturbing – the excellent idea in many of these plans to emphasize raising student expectations. The single most important set of factors in some of these evaluations is “…how well does the teacher set and raise student expectations” – an awesome goal.
But this is in the same educational system where nearly one half of my students have the expectations-sapping IEP accommodation of allowing unlimited retests, and/or the expectations-destroying accommodation of awarding an “…an ‘A’ for doing half the work expected of the class as a whole.”
Cronyism still raises its ugly head
Almost all of the new evaluations are accomplished in the same environment of cronyism that has undermined so many parts of the current educational system, leading to little initial faith that the evaluations will be fair. Teachers know, from a long and painful history dealing with cronyism and abuse, that the highest evaluations will go to the clique. Teachers have learned that most principals will take care of their friends, first. It is the nature of bureaucracies.
Only career DoE bureaucrats could take something as commendable as developing fair teacher evaluations and promoting higher expectations of our students, and twist them into policies like these that make the situation worse.
The following passage was written by anonymous, a “…teacher who just wants to teach.” He is a music teacher in New York City. He chose to remain anonymous to avoid retaliation from school principals and administrators for speaking out – a reaction that is common in all schools. He is part of our ongoing effort via BeHeard! to nationally publicize teacher voices via this blog.
I am currently “shouting from the rooftops” about a policy that most New Yorkers don’t even know has been in place for over a year. So what is this issue? It starts with the question “…since the tests are given only in Math and ELA, do you know how all the other teachers in NYC are evaluated?” The answer is hard to fathom, but true – we just take Math or ELA test scores and attribute them to all the other teachers, even though they don’t teach the subject, are not certified to teach the subject, and may never have met the students in question.
But it’s really happening – NYC teachers of social studies, science, art, music, physical education, foreign language, health, technology and everything else have 20-40% of their evaluations are now based on Math or ELA test results.
How It Works in NYC
Social studies’ teachers are automatically attached to ELA scores. Science teachers are attached to Math scores. Other teachers are told to choose between Math or ELA. Then, we are also told to pick which student group will be measured – either the kids we teach (what if we teach them for only a part of the year?), one whole grade that we may choose, or the school wide test results for that subject. So it’s like a game show. Of course, the last two options include students we don’t teach and might not even know. We basically bet on who will fare better. For example – 8th grade math, or 6th grade ELA? The whole school’s combined Math scores? It’s guesswork that makes all teachers rely on Math or ELA teachers, with their careers at stake.
A recent news article explained how gym teachers will incorporate Math-related activities, or Art teachers incorporate literacy in assignments, but expecting this nibbling-around-the-edges approach to translate into boosts on Common Core test scores is a pipe dream, and concrete proof of how we are narrowing learning. For example, I have to displace my arts curricula to include test prep, to collective groans.
The other 20%
Local Measures account for another 20% of all evaluations. Teachers are asked to choose from a list of tests such as “Performance Series”, without any familiarity or training in what any the tests are. Some schools have a MOSL committee that decides for everybody. But arts teachers must again choose between Math or ELA, relying on more out-of-subject test results for another 20% because no subject-specific assessments are on this list.
Threat of Dismissal
There are thousands of teachers in NYC who already saw their APPR ranking drop just because of the tested portion of the evaluations. I’m one example. For teachers in my school, this is serious. My ‘effective’ rating dropped to ‘developing’ solely because of the 20% based on Common Core math scores. But I teach Art! I specifically teach art to offer high needs kids creative outlets for expression, because it is supposed to be the antidote to high-pressure in academics. Now I’m evaluated on circumstances beyond my control, namely, math scores.
Anyone whose ratings dropped to ‘ineffective’ will be just one more ineffective rating away from dismissal, under the proposed changes.
Immediate negative impact
In practice, this evaluation scheme has caused an immediate hiring crisis in schools like mine. Experienced teachers avoid schools with low-performing students, period. Last year, we had to hire four teachers who have never taught before. This policy makes inner city kids less likely to see a great teacher because this penalizes teachers in high needs schools for issues years in the making.
This also affects the composition of classes – teachers may try not to be saddled with slower learners, those who need the most help. Think about the disruptive students who need serious social-emotional help – this testing regime makes them toxic, less likely to find understanding or support in school because teachers know they are unlikely to score ‘proficient’. But it also helps bad teachers who teach in a school with good Math or ELA scores, reducing a principal’s ability to dismiss them.
So that’s the story – as it is, the validity of Common Core and using test scores as a measure of Math and ELA teachers is hotly contested, but when it comes to out-of-subject testing, it doesn’t even pass the laugh test.
Sincerely, a NYC teacher that just wants to teach
The 2nd edition of the acclaimed book about today’s failed education system
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