School communities wrecked by “value-added”: Two must-reads

Two must-reads on the fallout from the value-added movement:

“‘Creative… Motivating’ and Fired”

Top-notch reporter Bill Turque at the Washington Post dropped this barnburner article today about Sarah Wysocki, a DCPS teacher who received praise from everyone she worked with… and then got fired over test scores. The whole article is a must-read, but the thing that leaped most off the page to me was how likely it seems that Wysocki, a fifth grade teacher, was the victim of a sinister consequence of high-stakes testing: cheating. Turque writes:

[DCPS chief of human capital Jason] Kamras said the disconnect between the [excellent] observations of Wysocki’s classroom and her value-added scores was “quite rare.” Most teachers with poor ratings in one area, he said, are also substandard in the other.

“It doesn’t necessarily suggest that anything wrong happened,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just not possible to know for sure.”

Wysocki said there is another possible explanation: Many students arrived at her class in August 2010 after receiving inflated test scores in fourth grade.

Fourteen of her 25 students had attended Barnard Elementary. The school is one of 41 in which publishers of the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System tests found unusually high numbers of answer sheet erasures in spring 2010, with wrong answers changed to right. Twenty-nine percent of Barnard’s 2010 fourth-graders scored at the advanced level in reading, about five times the District average.

D.C. and federal investigators are examining whether there was cheating, but school officials stand by the city’s test scores.

Wysocki’s firing is a travesty; things don’t have to be this way. Can you imagine any other profession where a successful, much-respected team member is sacked by an opaque algorithm that no one understands?

“Hard-Working Teachers, Sabotaged When Student Test Scores Slip”

In The New York Times, Michael Winerip looks into Brooklyn’s high-achieving P.S. 146 where the school community was shocked to learn that because their already-high test scores evidently didn’t go up enough, revered faculty leaders were rated as bottom-of-the-barrel. Winerip writes:

How could this possibly have happened?

The short answer is: Numbers lie.

And not only do they lie, but they are out of date, in this case covering student test results from 2007 to 2010.

Though 89 percent of P.S. 146 fifth graders were rated proficient in math in 2009, the year before, as fourth graders, 97 percent were rated as proficient. This resulted in the worst thing that can happen to a teacher in America today: negative value was added.

The difference between 89 percent and 97 percent proficiency at P.S. 146 is the result of three children scoring a 2 out of 4 instead of a 3 out of 4.

Would you want your child’s teachers working within this system— one ready to dole out public humiliation over the most arbitrary, minute stat movements?

Who is being educated— and what are they really learning from this?