Booo to the NYCDOE, New York Times, and others who will publish teacher data reports

Boooo to the NYC DOE, NY Times, and all of the other media outlets that will publish value added data reports for NYC teachers—and I don’t usually talk like that.

Bill Gates, who suddenly decided to speak up on the issue (even though he’s been a huge part of the development and use of value-added data systems across the country), explains the problems with this plan pretty well in his NY Times op-ed, Shame is not the solution. (Wait, who is this guy and why should people listen to him now? Oh yeah, a super rich business man. I guess he has all the cred.)

Gates’ main point is that “we are just beginning to understand what makes a teacher effective.” (Who is the “we” here—and effective to what end?) He argues, “Value-added ratings are one important piece of a complete personnel system. But student test scores alone aren’t a sensitive enough measure to gauge effective teaching, nor are they diagnostic enough to identify areas of improvement. Teaching is multifaceted, complex work,” he says.

The NY Times also explains that there are many issues with the validity and reliability of the data including a huge margin of error, also explained by Jose Vilson here. Basically VAMs are in an experimental stage. There is nothing tried and true about them and the standardized tests that VAMs are actually attempting to report on are an extremely narrow and equally flawed measure of student learning.

Finally, I just don’t know what anyone is hoping to accomplish by publishing value-added data reports on teachers. In 2010, when the plan was first introduced and fought, I posted about this, comparing the practice with that of a teacher who fears her students haven’t paid enough attention to the lessons and so she gives the whole class a “Gotcha”-style pop quiz. Though this tactic might occasionally work to catch some students’ attention, it is more about punishment than teaching—more to prove a point than to improve the situation. (Imagine the pushback from students if said teacher then published the pop quiz scores for the entire school community as definitive measures of students’ intelligence.)

Is it appropriate to compare the NYC DOE’s relationship with NYC teachers and a teacher’s relationship with his or her students? I think so, in the sense that both are in leadership positions. Both the DOE and teachers have a mandate to make leadership decisions that will increase student success rates.

But instead, here’s what we will see as a result of the publishing of these reports:

  • the creation of unsafe working conditions for teachers (Remember the star teacher in LAUSD, highly valued by his students and community, who committed suicide after his poor VAM’s were published.)
  • increased incentive to “teach to the test”
  • increased risk in doing anything other than teaching to the test
  • sadly, as we’ve seen time and again, increased incentive for cheating on the test
  • incentive to leave high-needs schools, especially those that serve ELLs who have the most unfair burden of taking the same tests in English after just ONE year in the country (this is for shame); teachers leaving their positions in high-needs schools will create even less stable conditions where they are most needed
  • strong incentive for teachers to teach untested subjects
  • possibly increased competition among teachers, since the VAMs rate us in relation to our peers and use a kind of bell curve
  • confusion for parents and an awkward range of emotions (while I’d love to see parents across the city advocate for the public education their children need—and some are—I’m not sure how this empowers them; most parents I talk to want to see far less testing and more extracurricular activities for their children; parents are aware that their children’s teachers vary in their skill levels; in some cases, the reported VAMs might match their own impressions of teachers and in other cases they won’t; so what does a parent do with that information? I can’t see how it’s helpful)

These are not positive outcomes for students, the teaching profession, or for parents at a time where there is, in fact, plenty of forward motion in NYC public schools. Enough people have spoken up to make that clear. For shame, NYC DOE. For shame, NY Times, NY Daily News, and others who will jump at the chance to do something bad just to watch the big splash.

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