Teaching and Learning in Times of High Stakes Testing

A week from Thursday (6/25), SWR’s own Rob Verbeck will be one of four speakers at the “Teaching and Learning in Times of High Stakes Testing” forum being held at Hofstra from 6 to 8PM.
Yes, the night before the last day of school is kind of inconvenient. But the featured speaker is Jessie Turner, who will be making his second walk from Connecticut to Washington D.C. “to protest the education malpractice that is demoralizing parents and teachers, and turning our children into human capital” and that’s the night he’ll be in this area.
Also on the bill are Debra Goodman, who will be moderating, Hofstra professor and writer Alan Singer, and teacher Elizabeth Lynch, who was one of the speakers at the Patchogue-Medford Forum on March 10th.
The event is free, but tickets are required. You can get more information and get tickets by clicking here

New APPR Regs Approved By Regents

The Board of Regents approved the new APPR regulations by an 11-6 vote. As the Perdido Street School Blog notes, the dissent evidenced by last week’s letter from seven of the Regents is still evident, the bottom line is that this mess is moving forward.

Here are some of the key points (or read the whole thing here):
  • As the law dictates, state testing (or SLOs) will account for half of the teacher’s total evaluation
  • There will be a minimum of two observations (one principal/supervisor; one independent) with the frequency and duration determined locally; at least one observation must be unannounced. 
  • The independent observer portion must account for at least 10% but no more than 20% of the total observation score
  • The state approved practice rubrics will remain the same (meaning that we can, if we choose, continue to use the NYSUT rubric).
  • However, (again, per the law) artifacts cannot be used as evidence – only elements that are observed during the observation cycle
  • Language is included to address anomalous results (e.g. a teacher who is highly effective on observation but ineffective on student performance) which includes a potential appeals process. Unfortunately, this language is rather vague. 
The next step is for districts to negotiate specific plans that meet this criteria. Plans must be approved by November 15th or districts will lose state funding. 

The Regents did include the possibility of waivers of up to four months, which, if granted, would essentially push the adoption of individual plans back one year. However, it is not at all clear how many waivers will be granted and just how stringent the criteria will be, especially given that Governor Cuomo is on record as saying that such waivers should be the exception not the rule.

Two more important points – one good, one not so much.
  • On the bright side, we’re always glad to show evidence that political action works, if even a little, and here’s one bright spot. The preliminary plan proposed a few weeks ago required a score of 3.0 for a teacher to be “effective” on the observation score, which basically meant that a SINGLE element rated developing against every other element rated effective would label a teacher developing. In response to feedback, the Regents revised the scoring band so that districts can set a range of 2.5 to 2.75 as the minimum for an effective rating.
  • It’s bad enough that the parameters for local negotiation are so narrow that it will be impossible to come up with plans that anyone is happy with, but beyond that, the regulations also make it clear that NYSED can even override our plans: “If a district’s system does not result in meaningful feedback for teachers and principals, the Department may impose a corrective action plan that may require changes to a collective bargaining agreement.” 

Patricia Polacco on the Common Core

Noted children’s author Patricia Polacco (Thank You, Mr. Falker; Pink and Say; Thunder Cake; etc.) posted the following on her Facebook page and we thought it was worth sharing.

Good morning all of you, especially educators!

The pneumonia knocked the wind out of me, but I have it back now, and more than that, all of my warning bells signifying danger, are ringing full tilt! A couple of days ago I saw a piece on the news about Jeb Bush and his stand, not only on “Common Core” but his position on nationalizing education in this country. If he becomes leader of our republic, he has made it clear that he will authorize even more astringent school testing !!!!

My god, as if the American teacher and these poor kids can afford one more test! As it is, thanks to the “No Child Left Behind”, combined with Common Core, our schools have forced the educators to teach our children, how to pass test…this, in my opinion, has absolutely nothing to do with the joy of discovery and authentic learning.

Programmed information, which may be temporarily memorized, does not stand the scrutiny of passing time and usage in daily life. Our children are not computers, who glibly devour information. Ideally one should hope that the child is discerning and evaluates incoming information, then questions what is unclear and rejects what is untrue. These test evaluate programmed responses, something Hitler did in Germany, Stalin did in Russia, and Mao did in China. This is the second part of what I am terribly concerned about. Mr. Bush went on to say, that there should be a formation of a national school board. In other words, “governmentizing” and nationalizing public education in the United States. This means of course, eduction will be forced to promote the ideals and ideas, of the current government officials, instead of rewarding individual progress. This strikes terror in my heart. Because this is exactly the slippery slope that Hitler, Stalen, and Mao climbed onto their toboggan and used to plow down freedom of thought, expression, and dreams.

Please, could we lemmings, on a full run, heading for the edge of the cliff, take the time to put on the brakes and realize we are about to pour our young over the edge into an abyss that is dark, cavernous, and lethal.

Teachers and educators it is time to unite and speak with one voice. Bury your differences. Gird up your loins and prepare to do battle and stand your ground! We are fighting for the minds of our children, as well as preserving the very freedoms the framers of our nation and our forefathers fought so gallantly for. I am truly distressed and fearful at the thought of a national education theme. This can bring nothing but disaster and the end of the American way of life as we know it.

I will state again, it is not that I don’t believe in assessment. I am well aware that this is a tool to measure the scope of what our children are learning. It seems to me, we have moved into a chapter taken from “Brave New World” and we will have to face it’s consequences.

Just before I left on national tour, I stopped by a teacher’s house, who is a very close friend. She informed me, she was physically ill, in that she had just finished administering the Meeps, the Mcats, and a diabolical third one, that just about finished her and her students off. In telling me about this third test, she spoke in hushed tones as if afraid her own home had been bugged. She appeared to be very afraid and informed me, that it was against the law to discuss this test, describe it in any way, and most certainly, she would lose her job if she even wrote down an example of the questions in this test. All essay questions for fourth to sixth graders. When I asked her how they would be graded and who would read these essays, her reply was that she was being forced to read all of them. Let me say here, this teacher has taken her sixth grade students to winning national writing contest. This test had brought her to tears and almost a nervous breakdown.

What are we doing folks, as a nation, to our children? Who, exactly, is behind this monsterous corporate takeover of the human mind?

I am sitting in my day room, furiously rocking in my squeaky rocker. White and Tonto, my cats, are scared to climb on the cat fight table today. They can see their missy is agitated and angry. How much more can the average American student, not to mention their courageous, brave teachers..take? PP

An Important Court Victory

While there’s still a long way to go in this case, this is great news. The New York State Supreme Court decided today to allow Sheri Lederman’s case to proceed.

Sheri Lederman is a fourth grade teacher in Great Neck, who has been teaching for 17 years and is very highly regarded. Per the Washington Post: “Her students consistently outperform state averages on math and English standardized tests, and Thomas Dolan, the superintendent of Great Neck schools, signed an affidavit saying “her record is flawless” and that “she is highly regarded as an educator.”

Last year, due to the “convoluted statistical model that the state uses to evaluate how much a teacher ‘contributed’ to students’ test scores,” Ms. Lederman received a score of ineffective on that portion of her evaluation. She responded by suing the State Ed Department, “challenging the rationality of the VAM model being used to evaluate her and, by extension, other teachers.”

The initial response from the NYSED was not to defend the system, but to challenge Lederman’s standing to bring suit. Because she was rated effective overall, the State claimed that she had not suffered any damage and moved to have the suit dismissed.

However, as Diane Ravitch reports: A judge disagreed and determined that an ineffective rating on a growth score is an injury which she is entitled to challenge in Court.

This doesn’t mean she’ll win, of course, only that the case can proceed; the State may still manage to prove that its methodology is valid. But since the lawsuit was first filed there has been a hope that this may help to undermine the whole value added model system, and that hope grew just a little brighter today.

A hearing will most likely be scheduled for the end of the Summer. We’ll keep you posted.