So here we are starting the new year and NY City is rolling out its new teacher evaluation system.
It was all over the news last year.
Ultimately, the state imposed the plan.
The city hailed the new plan as a way to fire under-performing teachers.
The UFT president hailed the plan as something that "is designed to help teachers improve their skills...."
My take? All three parties have thrown the students and teachers under the bus.
I'd like to think of myself as a pretty effective teacher. Let's see how this plan works with me in mind.
40% of a teacher's evaluation is based on standardized tests, 60% from a supervisors evaluation.
Let's look at the 40% first. It's broken down into 20% state test results and 20% local results. Suppose I taught regents math. 20% of my evaluation would be the city's assessment of how my students performed on the math regents. Since we don't have any local measures, the other 20% would be based on the lowest performing third of my students regents results and how they performed vs what the city expected of them.
So, what does this mean and what are the problems:
- Many sources indicate that these standardized tests aren't even good measures of student achievement and they should NEVER be used as a means of teacher assessment.
- In a way they're using the same data twice.
- By focusing 20% of the lowest performing segment, they're telling teachers to teach to the bottom of the class pushing NY Ed to the lowest common denominator.
- This will CLEARLY encourage teaching to the test.
The biggest problem here is that while the city and state claim they want accountability and transparency, they only want to extend that to teachers (that is, publishing teacher scores). The methods they use to convert a teachers actual scores to their 40% score is hidden. They can work the same "magic" they work on standard tests. Look at the raw scores, decide what they want the results to be and then create or adjust the mapping.
Now, this is already a ridiculous system, but it gets worse. I don't teach regents classes. I teach computer science. So, my 40% will be based on the school's regents results. That is, they will look at the results of all the students taking regents exams at Stuyvesant.
So I'm being evaluated based on students who I probably never taught.
What about the other 60%?
That's basically classroom observation. I've been fortunate enough to always have fair supervisors, but in this system, a vindictive supervisor could easily railroad a teacher. Even with a fair supervisor, there are problems.
New York is using the Danielson Framework for observations. Each teacher will be awarded a score between 1 and 4 in each of 22 areas or competencies. A great teacher that doesn't cover all of the Danielson bases could easily be rated lower than a run of the mill one that does. Some of the best teachers I know could rate either reasonably highly or at the low end of the scale depending on how their supervisor interprets the competencies.
The other day, we all watched a video of a demo lesson of a math class. The evaluators in the video and then Danielson gushed over the lesson. Everyone in the room felt that the lesson was OK, but had real problems. Our issue was over the rigor of the lesson -- it was a math lesson. Both the evaluator and Danielson felt it was rigorous and appropriate based on the fact that the students were saying things that the evaluator didn't understand. As a computer science teacher in a math department, my supervisors have never had a background in my field. This is also true in small schools where there aren't departmental supervisors. In any event, if you have a fair supervisor, great - if not - look out.
So where does that leave us? Teachers of my generation see the writing on the wall. For the first time, I'm seriously considering other career paths.
My first supervisor told me a long time ago that when he went into class to observe a teacher, he asked himself one question: "is learning going on?" He knew that teaching could take on numerous forms but by working from that base question, he could evaluate and work with any teacher.
It should really be that simple.