More from me, later, but for now, I have an anonymous guest blogger with a timely posting. S/he is not able at this time to be named, so I have the honor of providing a platform.
Chancellor Merryl Tisch is confused, and she has questions that need answers. “Will the opt-out movement hurt kids who need help the most?” “I’m not really sure…I think, quite frankly, everyone is all over the map here.” Is Governor Cuomo’s budget passing going to mean that 50% of teachers’ evaluations will be based on test scores? “Nowhere in the new law do they actually state 50% based on state tests.” Technically, that’s true. Given the uproar over the new education legislation making it easier to fire teachers based on student test scores, and harder for teachers to get tenure and maintain certification, however, it’s safe to assume something big just happened and it is making people very upset, and she is doing her best to respond to all that stress. While she may wish to dismiss it as “noise and nonsense,” the controversies over testing, in WNYC’s Brian Lehrer’s words, “continue to grow.”
Thankfully, help is on the way. For example, over at the Perdido Streeet School blog, they cut right to the chase: “The problem with overtesting is not just how many tests are given in the school system – it’s the high stakes that are attached to them that cause stress, pressure and anxiety for both children and educators in schools.” The New York Times also paints a pretty clear picture of what those high stakes do in places where the tests matter more than anything else, say, in a Success Academy Charter School in Harlem. It’s grim stuff, and as many pointed out in the wake of that article and an insider’s view of life in one of those schools posted by Diane Ravitch on her blog, it makes you wonder how they get away with it, for surely if that were happening over at Dalton or Horace Mann there would be an uproar. Tisch apparently wants to appease some public school personnel and parents, for she said there might be “tweaks” to the new law that would exempt certain schools and districts from regulations, you know, the ones doing a “good job” and getting good results. Where she would draw the line is unclear, but regardless, it sounds even more unfair than what is currently unfolding.
Tisch has been reading Professor Aaron Pallas’ Hechinger Report posts to no avail, and seems even more confused by his attempts at clarity using medical analogies. Feeling his comparisons to health care “essentially echo my point,” she doesn’t seem to get that what he said was that her use of medical analogies don’t support her case. He said we have scientific evidence on the benefits of vaccination, but not on any benefits from high stakes standardized testing. There’s some new research that annual checkups don’t have systematic benefits to health outcomes. That doesn’t mean a doctor might still save your life in the course of a routine exam, something that happened with Pallas’ wife. The issue is quite clear: “Parents and teachers already know quite a bit about the academic performance of their children and students.” At the end of the day, test results as they are currently being misused are just numbers lining up on a curve, and the effects attributable to a teacher amount to approximately ten percent. David Berliner, another renowned expert on the subject, also turned to the medical comparison in a lecture at Teachers College last week. One of his dozen reasons why test scores should not be used to evaluate teachers or teacher education programs is precisely because of those small effects. “The paradox of teachers and physicians is that they often have large effects on individuals, but small effects on aggregate measures of their abilities.” A doctor might save your life, just as a teacher might leave an impression to last a lifetime, but those won’t show up in big data. Professor Celia Oyler at Teachers College has also provided the solid research evidence Tisch should be reading up on, explaining why the use of VAMs in teachers’ evaluations is just plain wrong.
It seems Tisch has been looking for help in all the wrong places. Her talking points all come straight from the reformers’ cheat sheet Anthony Cody put up on his blog that warned about “rabbit holes” and the dangers of “trying to explain the technicalities” of testing. She’s constantly trying to “pivot back to how testing helps parents and kids.” As blogger Edushyster warned, when parents bring up all their legitimate concerns about the consequences of this heavy-handed accountability, you might “attempt the rarely attempted triple pivot, pivoting off of said parent’s pivot from your original pivot.” You don’t want the parent to “hijack the conversation” while you get “pulled into the weeds.” The way things are going, you might end up swimming for shore in the Hudson River.