Recently I was surprised to hear stories of a handful of school building leaders, both in my own community and in other parts of the state, who have appealed to parents to reverse their decision to refuse New York State Common Core testing in grades 3-8. In these cases the basis of the appeal is not any perceived benefit for students but rather a claim that opt out hurts their own evaluations (which are derived from student test scores) as well as teacher evaluations. In light of the growing number of school boards, superintendents, and principals who have taken a bold stance against high stakes testing, flawed learning standards, and the misuse of test data, these seemingly self-serving appeals are surprising.
No one wants to be deemed to be less than “effective” at his or her job. But when the validity of the methodology used to generate these effectiveness ratings has been debunked by scholarly organizations such as the American Statistical Association, how much stock should any educator put into these scores? Should we put children in harm’s way and give in to poor and senseless education policy in order to chance a more favorable score? Remember, there is NO consensus as to whether or not opt out negatively impacts teacher or principal growth scores. In fact, there are many educators who received highly effective ratings despite high numbers of opt outs. This is because there is no rhyme or reason to VAM (Value Added Model), the volatile and flawed formula used to determine the “growth scores” in teacher and principal evaluations. The Commissioner of Education herself recently agreed with a teacher on a panel who pointed out that these growth scores seem random in nature.
It is clear that these labels are meaningless. It is also clear that unless this system is overturned, the teaching profession as we know it will cease to exist and children will no longer experience the child-centered and well rounded education that most parents want for their children. Despite commissions, task forces, and promises to “listen to parents and educators,” it is clear that NYSED is moving full steam ahead with their testing agenda. Just this week Commissioner Elia announced to attendees of the NYS School Boards Association’s annual convention that the majority of the 2 billion dollar technology bond passed last year will be used to purchase the technological infrastructure needed to move all schools to computerized testing.
Given the fact that many districts have applied for waivers that would exempt them from having to adopt the new APPR (the evaluation system for teachers and principals) this year, many educators will not be affected by the 50% test based evaluations until next year. Once the new APPR is implemented, teachers deemed “ineffective” for two years in a row will lose their teaching certifications. Since a school district cannot employ a teacher who is not certified, a district would have no choice but to terminate an uncertified teacher. While this scenario is real and within the realm of possibility, it is unlikely, especially in well-resourced school districts.
If teachers are rated “effective” or “highly effective” based on classroom observation (which is mainly conducted by the building principal), the lowest rating they can receive is “developing.” While most teachers would prefer to be labeled “effective” rather than “developing,” a “developing” label does not endanger a teacher’s job and most importantly, does not lead to any loss of certification. It should be noted here that within the observation portion of APPR, principals are able to afford their teachers a great deal of protection from receiving an ineffective rating.
But I would argue that there are more important questions to consider. For example, what is in the best interest of the children? Not just your child or mine, but all children? As parents, as educators, and as a community, we must be willing to take a stand for impoverished schools, schools with disproportionately high percentages of children with special needs and English Language learners, schools that suffer under the crippling weight of the “persistently struggling” label while NYS continues to under-fund and under-resource them. We must be willing to take a stand against a receivership model that uses scores from discriminatory, biased assessments to close schools or turn them over to private control. We must ask ourselves, how would we feel if this were happening in our own community?
Hundreds of thousands of New York parents have made it clear that their children will not be used as tools to further the agenda of those who wish to privatize and standardize our schools, narrow the curriculum to test-able subjects and standards, and turn a profit on the backs of students. My own family will not patronize a practice that harms the most vulnerable students and communities in the state. If anyone asks me to allow my child to take part in flawed and harmful state tests for the sake of an adult’s job evaluation, I will suggest that he or she join the fight to protect your child, my child, and all children in New York State. We will not take a step backwards, acquiesce, or submit – this fight is too important.