[Editor’s note: The author is a teacher at PS 122 in Queens.]
The recent release of NYC’s Teacher Data Reports has stirred up a wide range of responses from all of the relevant stakeholders in our city’s school system. As a teacher whose name was published in the local media with a corresponding characterization of “Below Average,” I am upset, angry, even demoralized. After a great deal of personal reflection, I felt compelled to reach out to fellow teachers and, especially, to the parents of the students I teach.
For me, it is important for people to know that I teach in the same school that I attended as a child; it is the same school that both of my siblings went to as well. As three children of immigrant parents, we owe a debt of gratitude to our alma mater, and I strongly feel that the experiences that we had at PS 122 were instrumental in paving the way to a life of higher education. Needless to say, I would do anything for my school.
Furthermore, it is critical for one to understand that all of my students meet the standards promulgated by New York State, and all but a small few actually exceed those standards. And yet, even though my students consistently outperform the vast majority of their peers throughout the city and state, the Teacher Data Report concludes that I am an ineffective teacher. What the report fails to take into account is that when students are near the ceiling of achievement, it is impossible to have a rate of growth that is as impressive or steep as may be demonstrated by students at the lower tiers of the spectrum. In other words, if students are already achieving perfect or nearly perfect scores on a test, they have little if any room for improvement on such a test. But because of a flawed system of data reporting, I am being judged on the rate of improvement of my students, rather than on their actual performance.
Over the course of my years at PS 122, I have voluntarily helped to start and organize a math team. We consistently perform very well in the NY Math League Contest even though budgetary constraints have not permitted us to utilize any after-school time in order to prepare for it. On the occasions that we participated in this contest, our school has been the top rated school in our county, and we have been placed second in the state. In 2009, one of my students was the top scoring student in the entire state of New York. All of these accomplishments took place during the years for which the recently released data claims that I was “Below Average.”
During these same years, approximately 90% of my eighth graders were admitted into high schools that required a special screening process. Of these, about half were accepted into Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science, and/or Brooklyn Technical High School. The remainder of these students goes on to other very prestigious high schools such as Bard High School Early College and Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. Anyone that is familiar with the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) that city students must take in order to get accepted to some of these schools knows that there is a very rigorous mathematics component to it. Given these statistics, even the staunchest of TDR advocates must admit that the inherent flaws of the reporting are serious to say the least.
It has been somewhat encouraging to witness the degree to which many news outlets are finally willing to warn their readers or listeners about the inaccuracy of these reports. However, this refreshingly balanced approach to the conversation cannot overshadow the destructive impact that these inaccurate reports will have on the lives of all our city’s educators.
As with many things in life, teaching cannot be simplified into an algorithm. This may seem somewhat ironic coming from a mathematics teacher. However, I am only iterating what everyone already knows. Even city officials are starting to openly admit this, but unfortunately, it may be too late. The damage done to a teacher’s reputation and morale may be irreparable.