Saturday, October 12, 2013

How the UFT Led Members Down the Path to Hi-Stakes Testing Evaluation

The 2008 Agreement Between Chancellor Klein and Weingarten (UFT President) to use teacher data reports on hi-stakes testing, but without the hi-stakes (for now). Many of us argued that with the fundamental premise being so wrong- that you can summary measure student achievement and teacher effectiveness from tests, why go there? Even with the promise of confidentiality of the results, don't go there. But, in Weingarten's zeal to show the new unionism plays well with others, she put us on the path. 

Jump to the present and we see the same Unity UFT leadership indignant over the hi-stakes testing component of the teacher evaluation scheme UFT President Mulgrew signed on to for us, without allowing UFT members to see, much less vote on it. 

How Playing Well with Others Painted Us Into a Corner:

Below is Klein and Weingarten's joint letter with my comments in red and bold for emphasis of their words. Shrouded in platitudes and apple pie statements of education is the agreement to centralize collection of student data for comparison across the city. Teachers could easily take their own students test scores and individually done their analysis with very little training. So, there was no need to do it in a manner that would set up a system for ranking teachers against each other. We know what happens next. Total betrayal on the confidentiality promise and public humiliation of teachers and bewilderment of principals that many of their best teachers were found ineffective. 

Dear Colleagues,

The work of a teacher is not only about teaching; it’s also about learning. As teachers, you know that this learning process isn’t just something that happens in the first week or year on the job. It’s a career-long effort to perfect your craft—to help more students understand, achieve, and progress.
This learning happens in many ways: when you share ideas with other teachers, when you observe your colleagues’ classes, when you participate in professional development sessions or reflect, on your own, about what you’re doing well and what you could do to improve. While information from sharing and observing is critically important, educators have told us that they want as much information as possible about what’s working and not working in their classrooms. How is your work affecting particular students? For the purposes of learning and growing, how do you compare to other teachers? What are your biggest strengths and successes that you could share with your colleagues? What could you learn from your colleagues that could help you fine tune your skills?

We are writing to let you know that this fall, the Department of Education is giving ELA and math teachers in grades 4-8 and their principals a new tool (I was already doing this to a limited extent with Regents results of my own students using the spreadsheet my department head gave me. This, was all unnecessary.) to help teachers learn about their own strengths and opportunities for development. We all appreciate that there is a broad array of factors, many outside of an educator’s direct control, that influence student learning. At the same time, many of you have told us how useful it would be to better understand how your efforts are influencing student progress. This new tool is designed to help you understand just that. The reports will be provided to all 4-8 grade math and English Language Arts teachers and their principals. They will give teachers access to very useful information, including:

  • Whether the data suggest that you had a greater influence on the learning of some groups of students than on others. For example, how have special education students and English language learners fared in your classroom?
  • How are you doing with students in the bottom of the class or the top of the class?
  • What are other English and math teachers in similar circumstances doing successfully and what could you learn from them? What are your biggest successes that you could share with your colleagues—whether they’re other teachers in your school or teachers through the City?

The reports are based on your students’ performance on last year’s New York State math and ELA exams. If applicable, you will also see information for the two prior testing years. The reports isolate individual teachers’ effect on student learning by controlling for more than 35 different factors outside of a teacher’s control, including class size, students’ prior test scores, and the percentage of students with disabilities and living in poverty in each class. Even with these statistical controls, reports like these can never perfectly represent an individual teacher’s contribution to student learning.

We wish to be clear on one point: the Teacher Data Reports are not to be used for evaluation purposes. That is, they won’t be used in tenure determinations or the annual rating process. (We saw this coming then, no Monday morning quarterbacking here. Dissent was equated with support for the status quo.) Administrators will be specifically directed accordingly. These reports, instead, are designed to help you pinpoint your own strengths and weaknesses, and empower you, working with your principal and colleagues, to devise strategies to improve. The data reports will add to the other sources of information—like periodic assessments, examination of student class and homework, and school inquiry teams—that you can use to develop as professionals. These reports will also help your school community plan collaboratively for professional development and make other instructional decisions.

It may be useful to understand the Teacher Data Reports in the context of two values that are central to the collective work of the Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers over the past two years: empowerment and collaboration.

We deeply believe that our students have the best opportunity for success when the school, not the school system, is the central point of focus. (Yet, hypocritically, they are in the process of setting up a system wide teacher comparison scheme.) That is why the school system has shifted more than $350 million from the bureaucracy to schools and classrooms, and that is why schools have been given substantially more power over professional development, scheduling, budget, and even support. This notion of “empowerment” is premised on the view that we need to give educators—the people closest to students with the best knowledge of what it will take to succeed—the decision-making power and tools necessary to determine how to help students succeed. The Teacher Data Reports are very much in that spirit, empowering teachers and schools with even more information that can be the foundation for improved strategies for student success.

Collaboration is an essential ingredient to school success. Over and over again, we have learned what is already intuitively obvious: when teachers work collaboratively with each other and when administrators value and support a collaborative environment, the probability of success rises. Simply put, students benefit when educators work together to assess what they’re doing well and what they need to improve. When educators use this information in a collaborative way to address school shortfalls and build on strengths, they improve their schools and improve results for students. Successful collaboration is at the heart of a well-functioning Inquiry Team (What ever happened to these teams?), which empowers teachers to work together to solve problems and help children make academic progress. These new Teacher Data Reports will, in many cases, create additional opportunities for collaboration around instructional improvement, by giving teachers and principals additional information that will help them make more informed decisions for their schools and their students.

In the next few weeks, we’re asking schools to verify the student and classroom information in the reports. When the reports become available later this fall, the DOE and UFT will work together to provide you with information, training, resources, and support so you understand the information fully and can begin to put it to use. In the meantime, we encourage you to visit the Teacher Portal [link to Teacher Portal] to learn more and to view a draft of a sample report.

Joel I. Klein and Randi Weingarten

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