Analysis: Despite Teacher Evaluation Deal, Test Scores Still Rule

The deal on teacher evaluations was applauded, perhaps prematurely.

By Gabe Pressman
|  Wednesday, Feb 22, 2012  |  Updated 10:36 AM EDT
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Analysis: Despite Teacher Evaluation Deal, Test Scores Still Rule

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When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the deal to set new standards for evaluating teachers, many cheered. At last this problem would be settled, it was said. But that’s far from true.

As educator Diane Ravitch pointed out in a piece for the New York Review of Books, the agreement means that a teacher who does not raise test scores will be found ineffective. Thus, the idea that 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation can be based on testing and 60 percent on other factors, like classroom performance, has been turned on its head. Test scores still rule.

Ravitch dares to challenge the leaders in Albany and the press.

“The New York press,” she said, “treated the agreement as a major breakthrough that would lead to dramatic improvement in the schools. The media assumed that teachers and principals in New York State would now be measured accurately, that the bad ones would be identified and eventually ousted, and that the result would be big gains in test scores.”

Ravitch says rightly: “New York’s educational officials are obsessed with test scores.” She predicts  the peace agreement among education officials, the politicians and the governor will produce an intense focus on teaching to the test. And that this will not benefit the children.

As to evaluating teachers by standardized tests, Ravitch declares: “This is madness.” She believes students should be evaluated by other factors, like how well they can think, their understanding of science or literature or philosophy or how much they love to paint or dance or sing.

Ravitch is right in urging that teachers be evaluated by experienced principals and peers. As she says: “The current frenzy of blaming teachers for low scores smacks of a witch hunt.”

Certainly, the determined offensive waged against teachers by Mayor Bloomberg and his subordinates amounts to a witch hunt. Are the data-obsessed politicians who rule our city better qualified than educators to understand our children’s needs?  Why is poverty never considered a major influence on the success of children in school?

A Columbia University Teachers College professor, Aaron Pallas, says that the term “rigor” comes up a lot in teacher evaluation systems and, like apple pie and motherhood, “what policy maker is going to take a stand against rigor?”

But Pallas warns that the “rigor” in the latest New York agreement on evaluation of teachers was based largely on politics, not on educational criteria. And Pallas thinks it’s time to re-evaluate the agreement based on more realistic, education-friendly standards.

Kim Sweet, of Advocates for Children, told me: “We’re getting to the point where we are creating additional testing, not to benefit children but to evaluate teachers. You have to worry about the effect that will have on students’ education.”

It is sad that the specter of politics as usual still haunts our educational system. The children deserve better. It’s time their needs came first.

Some politicians are determined to blame the teachers for the failures in education. The people who run our educational system, it seems clear, are primarily  responsible.  And they should take most of the blame.       

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