Where Are We Headed?

I try to keep it optimistic here, I really do. Maybe you’ll find some tones of optimism as you read, but I confess at the outset that I sit down to write today feeling very pessimistic.

The other day, I read something that disheartened and frightened me. It was Diane Ravitch’s lucid and scathing critique of the deal struck between New York State and the unions on new teacher evaluations. As Ravitch, Carol Burris, and others have pointed out, it is a scary thing when a new evaluation system can only use 40% of student progress – but is designed, as Ravitch writes, in a way that “actually counts for 100 percent.”

Fuzzy math, you say. I urge you to read both the Burris and Ravitch pieces, linked above, for better explanations, but this is essentially how it works:

  • There are three criteria in the evaluation, in which a teacher can be rated ineffective, developing, effective, or highly effective.
  • One of those criteria is student performance (as based on state and local assessments), which, theoretically, accounts for 40 % of the evaluation.
  • The other two criteria are not important for this discussion because, per the state and union agreement, via Ravitch, “Teachers rated ineffective on student performance…must be rated ineffective overall.” That means that regardless of your ratings in the other criteria (even if both are highly effective), if your students don’t do well enough on the tests, there is no way of being labeled as anything but ineffective. Two straight years of ineffective ratings and you are relieved of your employment.

Can you see why such an arrangement is so troubling to so many?

Both Burris and Ravitch wrote that such a system is going to eliminate truly wonderful teachers, either automatically based on their ratings or because of the increasing lack of autonomy and need to raise test scores at all costs (ie. the conditions will become too overwhelming). It has basically become a choice: test scores or your job.

After reading Burris’ piece, I sent a tweet to Randi Weingarten, former UFT President and current AFT President, saying the following:

To which she responded:

Maybe so, but it seems to me the writing is on the wall. Until I see something saying otherwise, I have to assume that English Language Learners and students with IEPs will be held to the same assessments and standards as everyone else, and therefore, so will their teachers.

Well, guess what? That’d be me.

It is silly for anyone to assume my students will make progress at a rate equal to their general ed peers. It is the nature of their disabilities to require more time to progress – and that progress often isn’t linear. It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole – you can will it as much as possible but until that hole is changed to meet the needs of the peg, it just won’t happen.

Teachers of students with disabilities and ELLs are being asked, then, to do the impossible. Only thing is, if anyone says this, they’re written off as a poor teacher. Baloney.

We are moving toward a very scary time to be a teacher, and, how ironic, New York finds itself drawn into the storm. The horizon seems very dark.

I fear for what school is becoming, what my job is becoming, and what my career may turn out to be. I still believe resolutely that I affect my students’ lives in positive ways, and I am proud of the progress many of them have made this year (because, despite what others may say, it is significant to get a kid off a kindergarten reading level and onto first grade even if they’re nine years old).

I worry, though, that none of it’s going to be good enough.

And then what happens?



5 responses to “Where Are We Headed?

  1. Is the student progress based on a value-added approach? If it is, then I think that’s fair–students should leave a classroom more proficient than they came to it, even if you can’t expect all students to achieve at the same level.

  2. Why not look at where a student was when he/she began the school year and see where he/she is at mid year and the end of the year? This way the progress of the student is measured against the actual student. All students should make progress each year but pitting them against skewed norms makes no sense. No matter how good, creative, dedicated, etc., a teacher is, some children, because of language (ELLs) or disabilities, test phobia, or a myriad of other reasons, will not get the scores that are deemed accepatable. Seeing how they actually progress throughout the year, is in my opinion, the way to evaluate them.

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