Is it possible to close the achievement gap, reach a 99 percent Regents diploma rate, be rated by Newsweek and US News and World Report magazines as one of the nation’s top high schools, serve a “motley crew” of students that includes,without regret, some who are learning disabled or economically hard-pressed, and accomplish all this without the need to rank a single teacher with a value-added score?
This should be a rhetorical question but alas these days it stymies and rankles a lot of people in high places.
In a brilliant piece on the Washington Post‘s “Answer Sheet” blog, principal Carol Corbett Burris, named the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York, affirms that it can be done and explains how she and her school community managed it.
If she exemplifies in the field the values that she expresses persuasively in this essay, she must be an enlightened and inspiring school leader indeed.
Read her piece in its entirety. Here are a few of her main points:
1) “Our high school’s philosophy has been ‘kids, it’s you and your teacher against the test.’ If students fail an exam, we prepare them to try again. The goal is for students to take the most challenging courses they can, even if their scores are not the best.
But the school’s student-centered, healthy approach to testing may change dramatically with the recent passage of the New York State Board of Regents’ regulation to evaluate teachers and principals by student test scores. In classrooms all over New York State, it will no longer be “teacher and student against the test” but rather “teacher and test against the student.” This is because under the new teacher evaluation system in New York (and in states across the nation), how students do on the test will play a key role in deciding whether or not teachers and principals keep their jobs.”
2) “A single test given to students of a teacher does an extremely poor job of somehow measuring that teacher’s effectiveness. That our educational leaders don’t understand this is horrifying.”
3) “The system is rigged so that it is nearly impossible to be rated effective or even ‘developing’ if the test-score components are low. In short, test scores trump all. The biggest losers of these new (teacher) evaluation policies ( in New York State) will be students. A teacher will look at each student as potential ‘value added’ or ‘value decreased’.”
4) Burris reflects on the “punitive consequences under NCLB,” the waste of time and money that have generated neither increased learning nor higher test scores, imposed programming considerations that may have needless and untoward ramifications, and “growth models” that “will be even less incentive for good teachers and principals to work with students that need them the most.”.
5) Student enrichment activities will be further sacrificed ( because of the new teacher evaluation protocols) on the altar of test prep, because a teacher’s livelihood may depend on the results of a test which, to add insult to injury, is an exam “of dubious value.”
6) Many factors, both positive and negative, are beyond a teacher’s control, but nonetheless they impact students’ test scores and may mitigate the appearance of a teacher’s performance.
7) Burris says that hers “isn’t an argument against holding teachers accountable; it’s an argument against holding them accountable for the wrong things and in a way that will result in very negative unintended consequences.”
How did such common sense become so uncommon?