LI Principals speak out forcefully

Nov 2, 2011 by

Kenneth Bernstein –

in opposition to the idea of tying the evaluation of teachers and principals to student test scores.  In 2010 the NY State Legislature modified the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) of teachers and principals in an effort to gain Race to the Top Funds from the US Department of Education.  As the principals note this introduction to the paper they prepared,

The new law states that beginning September 2011, all teachers and principals will receive a number from 0-100 to rate their performance. Part of that number (ranging from 20% to 40%) will be derived from how well students perform on standardized tests. At first glance, using test scores might seem like a reasonable approach to accountability. As designed, however, these regulations carry unintended negative consequences for our schools and students that simply cannot be ignored.Our paper describes in clear detail why everyone should be concerned about these changes, and we provide recommendations for moving forward in a manner that is best for our students and schools.

As they note on their home page,

Across Long Island, there is growing concern about the direction being taken by the New York State Education Department. In breathtaking speed, State Education officials have made sweeping changes to how our schools operate, how our teachers and principals are evaluated and how our students are assessed.As building principals, we applaud efforts aimed towards excellence for all of our students. We cannot, however, stand by while untested practices are put in place without any meaningful discussion or proven research.

Please, keep reading below the little squiggle.

The paper, for which research is provided as backup, is titled “An Open Letter of Concern Regarding New York Stateʼs APPR Legislation for the Evaluation of Teachers and Principals”
and can be viewed or downloaded from the first link provided above the fold.

Allow me to quote just a few parts and also offer some additional commentary.

Concern #1: Educational research and researchers strongly caution against teacher evaluation approaches like New York Stateʼs APPR Legislation

To support their concern, the principals note that shortly before the state legislature adopted an approach based on using a value-added methodology of applying student test scores, ten noted scholars had issued a report that pointed out the limitations and instability of such an approach.  I wrote about that report, issued by the Education Policy Institute, in this diary in August 2010at the time it was issued.

Concern #1: Educational research and researchers strongly caution against teacher evaluation approaches like New York Stateʼs APPR Legislation

The principals rightly note that the tests being used were designed to “evaluate student learning, not teacher effectiveness, nor student learning growth . Using them to measure the latter is akin to using a meter stick to weigh a person: you might be able to develop a formula that links height and weight, but there will be plenty of error in your calculations.”There are two additional concerns expressed:

Concern #2: Students will be adversely affected by New York Stateʼs APPR

The principals list a number of reasons for the adverse effects, including the narrowing of the curriculum and the undermining of the sense of collaboration, writing about the latter

Collaboration among teachers will be replaced by competition. With a “value added” system, a 5th grade teacher has little incentive to make sure that her incoming students score well on the 4th grade exams, for incoming students with high scores would make her job more challenging. When competition replaces collaboration, every student loses.

Concern #3: Tax Dollars Are Being Redirected from Schools to Testing Companies, Trainers and Outside Vendors

In a time of increasingly tight school budgets, when many districts are already having to reduce their teaching staffs, this is a real issue for principals and should be for all considered about the well-being of our students.   I will not attempt to summarize the arguments the principals offer in support of this concern because you really should read the entire document.The principals offer a series of 3 recommendations.

1. School-wide achievement results should be used as part of every teacherʼs and principalʼs evaluation.

The principals are not opposed to examining achievement results. Rather they sink to use the results in a way that makes sense.  Teaching is a collaborative effort, even at the secondary level.   How we evaluate should reinforce that sense of common purpose on behalf of students, not undermine it.

2.  Pilot and adjust the evaluation system before implementing it on a large scale.

One problem with recent national approaches to education “reform” is that they seek to impose untested approaches.  As Diane Ravitch has noted, of the four methods approved in Race to the Top for restructuring failing schools none had a track record of actually working.  Similarly, wide-spread application of value-added methodologies for the purposes required by New York State also lack the requisite research base.  Yes, Tennessee has had a value-added system in place for more than a decade, but the research on that has indicated some issues that are not taken into consideration when new value-added systems are imposed.  For one thing, the scores of teachers are not stable, because they are still too much tied to the characteristics of a particular student cohort which can be very much NOT under the control of the teachers.   In my posting on the EPI report, I noted that

a report of a workshop run jointly by The National Research Council and the National Academy of Education offered this:

Value-added methods involve complex statistical models applied to test data of varying quality. Accordingly, there are many technical challenges to ascertaining the degree to which the output of these models provides the desired estimates. Despite a substantial amount of research over the last decade and a half, overcoming these challenges has proven to be very difficult, and many questions remain unanswered…

3.  Use broad bands, not numbers, for the evaluation of teachers and principals.

That is, do not reduce teacher performance to a single number, but instead indicate the general range of where the performance fall.   Even this is frought with difficulty, as the EPI report noted more than a year ago. Studies have shown serious error rates in previous attempts of using value-added statistics, with those rates as high as 36% when using only 2 years of data.  I mentioned that teacher performances are not stable,  and quoted the following from the EPI report:

One study found that across five large urban districts, among teachers who were ranked in the top 20% of effectiveness in the first year, fewer than a third were in that top group the next year, and another third moved all the way down to the bottom 40%. Another found that teachers’ effectiveness ratings in one year could only predict from 4% to 16% of the variation in such ratings in the following year.

The Principals of Long Island care deeply about their students and their schools, which may be why so many are signing the open letter.

They are not opposed to accountability, as their closing statement, offered below clearly indicates.  What they want is accurate measures, not imposed in haste.

We, Principals of Long Island schools, conclude that the proposed APPR process is an unproven system that is wasteful of increasingly limited resources. More importantly, it will prove to be deeply demoralizing to educators and harmful to the children in our care. Our students are more than the sum oftheir test scores, and an overemphasis on test scores will not result in better learning. According to a nine-year study by the National Research Council , the past decadeʼs emphasis on testing has yielded little learning progress, especially considering the cost to our taxpayers.We welcome accountability and continually strive to meet high standards. We want what is best for our students. We believe, however, that an unproven, expensive and potentially harmful evaluation system is not the path to lasting school improvement. We must not lose sight of what matters the most—the academic, social and emotional growth of our students.

As one who helped organize an earlier mass opposition to the test-centric approach to education reform (this past summer’s Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action), I welcome this endeavor by the principals of Long Island.

I urge you to read the complete open letter, then to pass it on as widely as you can.

We know from Occupy Wall Street that sometimes a single visible pushback at things destructive can spread rapidly and become a mass movement, one that can begin changing the direction of policy, one that can also reshape the narratives that drive the making of policy.

Perhaps you can help this be another such instance?

Thanks

Originally posted to teacherken on Wed Nov 02, 2011 at 03:29 AM PDT.

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