The tax loophole test system

A smart article by a New York teacher of the year appears in the Washington Post today. The piece talks about the negative effects of the soon to be implemented system of evaluating teachers based upon student test scores. In New York, 40% of a teachers evaluation will be decided this way. In Ohio under HB153 it would be 50%.

The article makes a lot of good points, but these everyday scenarios get to the heart of some of the problems with relying upon student test scores for high stakes teacher evaluation.

1) Andrew has a severe learning disability. He is a hands-on learner who struggles on written exams. His resource teacher, counselor and mother thought he would be best-served taking a challenging science course, even though everyone knew he would fail the Regents exam. When 40% of a teacher’s evaluation depends on that test score, will schools still make this sort of humane, pedagogically sound decision?

2) Jason missed two days of school this week for golf sectionals. He is a weak student and will struggle to pass the Regents exam. He will miss yet another day next week and perhaps more days if he advances to the state tournament. These golf matches were scheduled during school hours by officials representing New York State. Does the coach or sectional committee bear any responsibility for Jason’s performance on the Regents exam?

3) Tranh moved to America in January to live with his uncle. He speaks very little English and missed half a year of instruction. Who is accountable for his standardized test scores?

4) Simone will miss school all next week because her parents are taking the family on vacation. She will miss five days of instruction for this illegal absence. Will her teachers get an asterisk placed next to Simone’s test scores?

5) Emily finally told her doctor and her parents that she is struggling with depression. She is starting counseling and medication. Needless to say, her grades are suffering. As Emily’s life hangs in the balance, how do we find the strength to show her compassion when we know her poor grades will negatively affect our evaluation?

6) Trudy is a veteran teacher. She volunteered to teach a class of at-risk learners because she has the skills to do so. Her passing rate on the Regents exam will be significantly lower than her peers teaching the stronger students. Under the new APPR, what motivation will teachers have to take on the most challenging students?

7) Marcia teaches art, Beth teaches Special Education and Craig is a Guidance Counselor. There are no standardized assessments attached to their jobs. They are gifted educators, but they—like many others in our profession—will not feel the same pressure as those teachers who have a high-stakes exam attached to their course. How do we deal with the divisiveness caused by this inequality?

8) Diane teaches 4th grade. She worked diligently to prepare her students for the ELA. She went to workshops to learn about standards and her passing rate suggests great skill as a teacher. Last spring, the cut scores were changed without warning. Suddenly both Diane and her students seem less-skilled. How do we ensure that the vagaries of testing don’t harm people like Diane and her students?

Much like corporations seeking out tax loopholes, teachers will soon figure out what to avoid, or worse still, as was discovered in Washington DC under Michele Rhee, how to cheat the system. If you implement a corporate inspired evaluation system, don't be shocked when you get corporate like behaviors.

But what stands out most sharply isn't the deleterious effects this kind of evaluation regime would have on many teachers, but more gravely, the dire impacts on a wide range of students.