Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My interview on WPIX about who is really to blame about the failure of NYC schools

Here is my interview about the release of the Teacher Data Reports on WPIX news on February 23.  (Sorry for the delay -- I finally got the embed code from the producers today.)

In the segment, I make the point that the mayor is trying to use these invalid and unreliable ratings as a way to scapegoat teachers and divert attention from his failure to improve NYC schools.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Why public shaming of teachers is exactly what the corporate reformers want -- with nationwide implications for our public schools

The NYC teacher data reports were released on Friday; and it’s no surprise that Rupert Murdoch's  NY Post was the first out of the gate to name and shame a teacher with a low rating.  Sunday’s Post featured a photo of teacher at a Queens school, naming her and the school, with the headline, “The worst teacher in the city,” based on her TDR.  They also interview a parent at her school who says she should be fired.  

Expect this sort of thing to go on for weeks if not months – as the Post tries to publicly shame one teacher after another, plastering their photos in the paper, pursuing a virulent propaganda campaign to attack the union and eliminate teacher tenure. The only question remaining is how many other papers will follow suit and participate by naming names.  

A restraining order might be the only way to stop this -- given that teachers are not public figures and it is widely recognized that huge margins of error exist for these ratings.   

According to reporter Yoav Gonen of the NY Post, the DOE admitted at a press conference last week that the “average” error rate for a teacher's percentile ranking was 35 in math and 53 in ELA, with a maximum margin of error of 75 in math and 87 in ELA -- out of 100 points!  

And this does not even address the fact that with a different class of students, on a different day and/or a different test, the results could be significantly different; or that (of course) improving test scores only are one facet of what good teaching means.

Moreover, despite claims now from Walcott and other city officials that they had no choice but to release these unreliable ratings, this does not seem to have convinced reporters.  In fact, the DOE seemed eager for this exact scenario to occur.  See what Gonen tweeted about what the DOE said in court, arguing for the release of the TDRs: 

Beth Fertig of WNYC recounts what Joel Klein said, right before he left office to work for Rupert Murdoch:

Joel I. Klein, actively led the charge to release the ratings to the public when he was chancellor. Mr. Klein told WNYC during an “exit interview” in late 2010 that the teacher data reports were a valid measurement, despite the objections of educators.

Also check out the back story about the release of these ratings, from Anna Phillips of NYT/Schoolbook:

… Joel I. Klein, championed the reports’ release, telling reporters that he supported their publication by teachers’ names.

The Columbia Journalism Review reported that the Education Department’s press office went a step further, encouraging reporters to file Freedom of Information requests — known as foils — for the individualized reports. According to the Review article by Lynnell Hancock:
But the Department of Education had privately dropped hints to some reporters that their competitors had already submitted foils, some journalists countered. Suspicions had been raised when the department responded to the foils with uncharacteristic speed. Normally, such requests took months, with layers of negotiations, said Maura Walz, a reporter for, an independent online news service. This time, it was service with a smile. “The Department of Education wants this out,” said Ian Trontz, a New York Times metro editor. “They have a lot of faith in these reports. They believe they are trustworthy enough to educate and empower parents.”
Still, empowering parents had not seemed to be a top goal in the past for this administration. To the most skeptical reporters, it appeared as if the city was using them. 

And when the rankings were first created in 2008 as part of a pilot program to evaluate teachers, a then-deputy chancellor, Christopher Cerf, said it would be a “powerful step forward” to have the teacher measurements made public, arguing, “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.”
Though Bill Gates wrote an oped against the public release of the TDRs last week, it was too little and too late.  In fact, he and Arne Duncan supported the LA Times release of similar unreliable ratings in 2010, which named teachers with low ratings,  with Duncan saying,  "What's there to hide?" 

Indeed, he and Duncan have pushed relentlessly for states to create numerical teacher rating systems based at least in part on value-added student test scores.  The feds made this condition for states to be considered for Race to the Top funds and now,  in order to obtain a waiver from NCLB.  

So far at least 33 states are in the process of developing and implementing such systems – including NY state -- and more are caving in every day.  This Gannett article explains how the NY state teacher ratings will likely be FOILable and published for every public school teacher in the state – and the same may be true of nearly all public school teachers in the nation.  

Gates is also creating a national database to hold confidential teacher and student information, without their consent, to be operated by Wireless Generation -- owned by Rupert Murdoch of the NY Post. 

The Gannett article contains a quote from Andy Rotherham, leading corporate reformer and a member of the advisory board of the new Gates database center, arguing in favor of the release of the TDRs in New York City:
"....public ratings would level the playing field for parents who aren’t plugged in on the best and worst teachers. And districts might have to address community desires when making personnel decisions.'Would it help create more incentives to address personnel if you had this sort of pressure?' [Rotherham] said."

As a result of this public shaming, which does not exist for any other profession, teaching in our public schools may become even more a temporary way-station for recent college grads, who will teach for only one or two years until they decide on a career with more stability, more income, and more respect from society.  

Anyone with a real interest in the profession long term will likely opt  to teach instead at a charter school or private schools, which will be free from having to implement these highly unreliable and reductionist teacher evaluation systems and/or make them public.  

In this way, the corporate  reform crowd will have achieved their goal, while fatally damaging quality public education in this country – with our public schools will in future become the repository for only those students who cannot get into private or charter schools, especially those with special learning needs, physical disabilities, or  recent immigrants.   

Someone, please, tell me why I am wrong!  Quick!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A principal at a high performing school explains why she is "absolutely sick" about the public release of the TDRs"

Here is a message from Elizabeth Phillips, Principal of P.S. 321 in Brooklyn, who writes: “ I am absolutely sick about the public release of the TDRs.  See below for some details in terms of what it actually means at PS 321.”
Principal Liz Phillips; credit NY Press
              Having seen the TDRs when they first came out, I can say that they are extremely inaccurate, both in terms of actual mistakes and in how data is interpreted, particularly for teachers of high performing children.   Here is some more detail on that:  
                1.       The amount of data that is simply wrong is staggering.  In my school alone, the first year of the TDRS, for just two grades (since of course that is all we have getting TDRs) 4-6 teachers have inaccurate data as follows:
                ·         One teacher who taught in 08-09 but was on child care leave for years before that time has data for a previous must be data from someone who was in that same room the previous year.
                ·         For both of my upper grade CTT (inclusion) classes, the special education teacher has a data report that is for all 29 kids; the general education teachers in those classes have no TDRs. (This does appear to be corrected for 2010.)
                ·         In one case, a teacher who has taught 4th grade for 5 years has no data for previous years.      
                2.       Even in cases where the data is correct, I believe the conclusions are arbitrary and often flawed.  I do not believe that because the average scale score went from 3.97 (taken from students' third grade test scores) to 3.92 (their fourth grade scores) a teacher is necessarily a poor teacher, but in this case, she ended up in the 6th percentile for this particular year due to a statistically insignificant change.  In fact, the particular teacher in question is an exceptionally strong teacher by any other measure (parent feedback, colleague's opinions, my observations over many years).  As in the School Progress Reports, particularly when you get to high levels of achievement these small differences are not meaningful.
I realize that some would argue that since teachers are compared to "like" teachers, the data is accurate-however, when you actually know the teachers it just isn't so.  We have great teachers with very high scores, very low scores, and middle scores.  In this example, whether we are saying 3.97 or 3.92 (with a perfect score equating to 4.5) the class average is extremely high.  Once you get to this high level, small changes are meaningless in terms of tracking children's progress.  
The assistant principals and I have often debated one or two ambiguous questions, since the answers are not always clear!   It is wrong to call a great teacher a failing teacher because a few kids got 3-4 questions wrong one year rather than 2-3 questions wrong the year before.  It is particularly problematic given that the 3rd grade test in the past was very different from the 4th grade test.  It could be that the children in a particular class were always weaker in writing, but the 3rd grade test for the years the TDRs are being released had very little writing compared to the 4th grade test, so the children may not actually do worse; it may be that they are just tested on different material.
                3.       Related to the above, there are many reasons why the data may not truly be comparable from class to class.  Some of it has to do with the differing tests from grade to grade (which will be improved at least in terms of the format of the test as of the 10-11 year), but there are other factors too.  Even though we work hard to make all of our classes equal in terms of academic level, behavior, etc, there is no question that in certain situations where children have recently gone through a very traumatic experience, I will hand pick a teacher who is strong academically and also nurturing.  So, one teacher may have some "harder to teach" children, even if they are children with the same test score.     
There is also the issue of who the AIS (Academic Intervention Services) teacher is for each class.  She may have a big impact on the test scores in some classes, yet that isn't taken into account.  Or, it could be that in some schools we decide that with kids scoring high 3s and 4s we devote more time to non-tested subjects--art, music, dance, drama--while in some schools more test prep is done.
4. We know from the School Progress Reports how inaccurate grading based on minute differences in test scores can be.  One example:  PS 321 was in the 83rd percentile for 2010-11, the 95th percentile in 2009-10, the 59th percentile in 08-09; the 36th percentile in 07-08 and the 57th percentile in 06-07.   (Click on chart above.)
Basically, there is no way that our school has changed that dramatically year to year.  In fact, the difference in grades wasn't great (B, B, A, A, A), but the percentile is ...and that is with 550 tested kids in the sample.  When we're looking at a class of 29 kids, a couple of kids having a bad day can make a huge difference.  I know that the "average" range on the TDRs is huge because of the DOE's awareness of the inaccuracy of looking at small differences, but there are two problems with this.
First of all, whether the DOE says it is average or not (which it is according to the DOE), parents seeing a teacher rated in the 30th percentile are going to be upset!  And, as I note above, it doesn't even really seem to work for the very top or bottom.  As many statisticians have written, there is no data that supports using "value added" in the way that these TDRs do.   Just FYI, here is a chart I prepared that shows how the percentiles fluctuate wildly from year to year, even with the % of children getting 3s and 4s in ELA and Math stay fairly constant and with over 550 test children!  The fluctuations for a sample size of 29 children (a class) will be even greater and the percentiles meaningless.
5.       The idea of the TDRs being publicly released with names attached is incredibly demoralizing to teachers--and this includes ones who scored above average.  Because they understand that some of their well respected colleagues scored low, there is the feeling that this is arbitrary, and that "this could me next year. "  I worry that some of the best teachers, who are the ones who have options for jobs elsewhere, will leave the system.  The timing of this is particularly problematic given that four years of budget cuts have made teachers jobs that much harder, with higher class size and fewer support services.  I think it is clear that when teachers are demoralized they cannot do as good a job teaching, so it is the children who will suffer.       
                6.       To improve the quality of education in a significant way, we need to get thoughtful, high performing, dedicated young people to enter the profession.  Treating teachers disrespectfully, which is what I believe the public release of TDRs with names attached does, will make teaching-at least in public schools--a less and less appealing option for high performing college graduates with other choices.    This is partly Bill Gates' argument in his New York Times op ed piece.  
                7.       I honestly cannot understand how public ranking of teachers by percentile will have anything but a negative effect on teaching and learning.  Particularly in middle school, I can imagine teachers losing control as children and parents take the position, "why should I listen to you, you're a below average teacher." 
                There are many other very serious problems with the TDRs.  There is no question that as testing becomes more and more high stakes, with teachers' jobs dependent on student test scores,  in many many schools, the curriculum will be narrowed.  I believe it will lead to a widening of the "achievement gap" since it will be much easier for high performing middle class or upper middle class schools with very involved parents to resist the impulse to narrow the curriculum.  With low performing schools, the temptation will be greater as they face state and city sanctions that can result in school closure.   In all elementary schools, it will be harder to get senior teachers to teach grades 4-5...until of course everyone is tested in every grade, which will just make it hard to get knowledgeable people to teach in public schools at all!            

The diminishing number of black students at NYC selective high schools

There is an interesting NY Times article about the diminishing numbers of black students at Stuyvesant and other Specialized Science High Schools (SSHS) in NYC.   It includes the following statement: 
NY Times chart
Over the years, there have been a host of efforts to increase the number of black and Latino students at Stuyvesant and the other large specialized high schools in the city, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School, like making interviews and grade-point averages part of the admissions process. 
 It is linked to an article that mentions an earlier DOE program to prep promising middle school minority students for the exam (which now has been recast as a program for economically disadvantaged students and has been heavily cut back in any case.)  But it has no info that I can see about any efforts on the part of city to change the actual admissions process which is based solely on one high-stakes exam.   
When there was a push by some advocates and elected officials to make the admission process more holistic many years ago, the NY state legislature stepped in and passed a law making this impossibleThis law, the Hecht-Calandra Act was passed by the New York State Legislature in 1972: 
(b)  all specialized  senior  high  schools. The special high schools shall include the present schools known as:  The Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School,  Brooklyn Technical High School, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and the Arts in the borough of Manhattan, and such further schools which the city board may designate from time to time. The special schools shall be permitted to maintain a discovery program in accordance with the law  in effect on  the  date  preceding  the  effective  date  of this section; admissions to the special schools shall be conducted in accordance  with the law  in  effect  on  the  date preceding the effective date of this section;
 As you can see, though state law makes an exam the sole criterion for the three original specialized science HS – Stuy, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech, as well as La Guardia, which uses another pre-existing process – Joel Klein as Chancellor expanded this rigid admissions policy by mandating that the test be the only factor in admissions to Staten Island Tech, which previously had a more holistic admissions process. 
He also mandated that the test be the only criterion for admission at four more high schools established under his watch, including the HS for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at City College, the HS of American Studies at Lehman College, Queens HS for the Sciences at York College and Brooklyn Latin.  
I don’t see that Walcott has made any move to change this, which would be totally under his control to do, nor to advocate for any change in the state law to allow this at the big three.
Moreover, the DOE has apparently refused to analyze the test to see if it is racially discriminatory, as several people have pointed out, including Joshua Feinman, who wrote about this on our blog here: 
 Excerpt: No predictive validity studies have ever been done– not only to see if the test suffers from prediction bias across genders and ethnic groups, but to see if the test is linked to any desired outcomes. In fact, the NYCDOE has never established what specific, measurable objectives the SHSAT is supposed to achieve. Without well-specified objectives and carefully constructed validity studies, there’s no way to know if these admissions criteria are serving their purpose, or if an alternative system would be more reliable.

Feinman also revealed several glaring problems with this exam, and reported that his FOIA requests to DOE for more data about the exam got no response.
 Something to think about during a week when DOE claimed that they had no choice but to respond to the FOILs for the inaccurate & unreliable Teacher Data Reports.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Why you should not believe a word in the teacher data reports, due to be released today

The DOE is due to release the inaccurate and unreliable teacher data reports today, based solely on standardized test scores from 2010 state exams known to be invalid; with the names of 3-8th grade individual teachers attached.  All the major newspapers are likely to post these false and defamatory reports as soon as tomorrow .  I suggest you refrain from looking up your child’s teacher, but if you do, you should NOT believe ANYTHING the report says.
Check out my interview on  WPIX - TV news yesterday where I explain the huge margin of error in these reports and more.   There is not another profession, whether in the public or the private sector, where the media has ever publicized this confidential stuff, whether accurate or not – and the reporters are all very aware of how inaccurate these reports are. This is just one more attempt by the Mayor to scapegoat teachers & blame all his own failures on them. 
 For more back up, see this great and succinct piece on InsideSchools about why no parent should believe the TDR’s, by Meredith Kolodner, formerly of the Daily News: GothamSchools has a longer piece about this here.
Neither InsideSchools nor GothamSchools will post the ratings because they are so unreliable, and clearly not NEWS from any point of view.  I think we should all thank them by  sending a donation; here are the links.  I just did! 
·         Support Insideschools Now 
 Finally Karen Fine, teacher and Class Size Matters supporter, has a good quote in today’s NY Times:
Karen Fine, a third-grade teacher at Public School 134 in Manhattan who previously taught fifth grade, said she and her colleagues believed that the ratings were an unfair and inaccurate measure of a teacher’s performance because they used an unreliable methodology that had been criticized by many respected researchers and statisticians, and because they did not account for factors that could affect students on the day of testing, like being tired, nervous, or scared. 

“For many of us who teach in N.Y.C., this has been our life’s calling,” she said. “We are constantly attacked on so many levels for what ails education in our country when we know that it takes a community to help children learn: principals, administrators, parents, lawmakers, and yes, teachers. The responsibility cannot lie solely on us.”
I am posting the quote but NOT the link, as I think we should all boycott the NYTimes for as long as possible. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Michael Duffy and the "turnaround" of Victory charter schools

A new charter school called Great Oaks is applying to the state to start in NYC’s District 2, to be located on Governors Island, though Downtown Express reports that the Education Committee of Community Board I opposes it.  The charter school’s letter of intent to NYSED lists as the lead applicant Benjamin B. Carson, described as a former “statistician” for the NYC DOE charter office, as well as the Co-Founder of the Great Oaks Charter School in Newark.
The Newark branch only started last August and has no track record, but the letter of intent says the network has formed to “replicate the successful methods of the MATCH Public Charter School in Boston," featuring “high academic expectations, a No Excuses school culture, a focus on engaging classroom instruction and individualized attention to students’ needs via high-dosage tutoring.”
One of the co-founders of the proposed NYC school and a board member will be Michael Duffy, who is the former head of the NYC DOE charter office, well known for his blase attitude towards protesting parents during intense co-location hearings.   Duffy is also listed as the key contact for the Great Oaks Charter School in Newark on the NJ State website. 
Michael Duffy
Duffy is now employed by a company called Victory, which has started at least 16 charter schools in NYC, Philadelphia and Chicago.  
Victory has had a generally dismal reputation in NYC for charging large management fees while running some of the lowest-performing charters in the city. Here is what Kim Gittleson of GothamSchools wrote about the chain in 2010, after analyzing their management fees and results:
“I found that the five Victory Schools that had progress report scores in 2008-2009 placed in the bottom 35 percent of all charter schools and in the bottom 20 percent of schools citywide… These middling performance numbers come despite the fact that the seven schools paid around $2,163 per pupil to Victory Schools for the company’s services. This is 17 percent of these charter schools’ per pupil revenues from the state.”
DOE now intends to close Peninsula Prep charter, a school run by Victory until recently.  Unfortunately when NYT /School Book ran a story about DOE’s plan to close the school, Duffy was quoted as a approving of the decision, as an apparently disinterested observer, without noting that he currently works for the company that ran the school until June 30, 2010.  Indeed, in Peninsula Prep’s  most recent annual report to DOE, dated July 2011, the board made clear that they had dropped Victory as their management company, in an apparent attempt to persuade DOE to allow the school to stay open:

a. Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School disassociated itself from Victory Schools as a management company.
b. PPACS adopted the New York City Department of Education scope and sequence for Social Studies instruction instead of the Victory proprietary Core Knowledge Program. and: c. PPACS increased the student enrollment to from 300 to 350.

In the NYT/Schoolbook article, Duffy supported DOE closing of the school:
“I definitely think in 2012, what was good enough even five years ago is no longer good enough,” Mr. Duffy said.  (He should know!)
Duffy left DOE to work for Victory in July 2010, shortly after Victory’s Albany charter school, New Covenant, was shut down by SUNY because of poor performance.   
In October 2010, Victory converted to a management company, now called Victory Education Partners, that would “contract” with charter schools to provide services to their schools – in an apparent attempt to exploit a loophole in the new charter law, which bans any new charters in New York State that are operated by for-profit companies. 
According to GothamSchools, “The group [Victory’ will retain its for-profit status, but will continue to work in schools by offering a variety of services, from professional development to back-office support, that schools can choose to purchase.”
Victory’s website says that they can provide full service support for charter schools with “a wide selection of individual services to choose from”, including New School Development, Academic Support, Operations, Finance and Accounting.   
The exact arrangement between Great Oaks and Victory, financial or otherwise, is mentioned nowhere that I can find on the Great Oaks website or in the documents they have filed with the state.   
Yet in a recent bio, Michael Duffy is described as “the Managing Director for Victory Education Partners, a privately held company that advises governments and schools. In this role he has spearheaded an initiative to launch a new network of charter schools, the Great Oaks Charter Schools, the first of which will opened [sic] in Newark, New Jersey this year.”
Duffy is also listed as the President of the Great Oaks Foundation Board, along with Steven Klinsky, the Board Chair, who is the “founder and chief executive of New Mountain Capital, LLC, a private equity firm ” who “founded Victory Schools to serve these [charter] schools and to act as an advisor for other schools and school districts.”
Question: if a for-profit company is launching a network of charters, including one in NYC, doesn’t this violate the intent of the new charter law?  Even the logo of the Great Oaks charter school resembles the logo of Victory Education Partners. 

Here is an excerpt from guidelines for responsible charter governance, suggested by Greg Richmond, chief executive officer of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, based in Chicago:
• Members of a charter school governing board should not be employees of the management organization running their school, nor should they be compensated for their service or selected by the management organization. 
In this case, Duffy will sit on the NYC Great Oaks charter school board, while heading the Great Oaks Foundation board, and remain the Managing Director of Victory.
Other warning signals: One of the members of the Great Oaks Foundation board is listed as Jay Cross, “President of Related Hudson Yards, leading the Related Companies’ development efforts of the 26-acre HudsonYards site on the west side of New York City” NYC parents should beware of a Victory-connected charter school proposed for Hudson Yards, where a public school is currently supposed to go.

Yet another board member is a top aide to Bloomberg: Gregorio Mayers, who “joined the Administration of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2006 as the Senior Policy Advisor to the Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development. In his current capacity as a member of the Mayor’s senior team at City Hall, Mr Mayers serves as the lead member overseeing the School Construction Authority’s $11.5 billion  capital plan and its strategic plan; all public/private partnership initiatives.” [italics added.]  Watch to see if taxpayer funds are expended on proliferating this charter chain throughout the city. 

But Victory is not limited to the Northeast.  Last spring, it was announced that the company had received the contract to run two more charters in Chicago, and the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, made a key policy announcement about lengthening the school day at one of their charter schools last fall.
Amazing how an overcharging, poorly performing for-profit charter management company can turn around its fortunes, seemingly overnight.

No Team Left Behind

February 23, 2012 (GBN News): Signaling a new flexibility in his signature Race to the Top program, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced today that he is giving local school districts greater leeway in at least one area. From now on, in subjects for which there are no standardized tests, districts will have the option of basing teacher ratings on major league sports scores instead of test scores.

While teachers in untested subjects will no longer have their ratings tied, as they often are now, to the test scores of other teachers, the new rules do raise a number of issues. For example, if there are two teams in the same city, which team’s scores will be counted towards teacher evaluations? Furthermore, teachers in small market cities, whose teams cannot afford large payrolls, could be placed at a disadvantage.

However, the Secretary dismissed those concerns as “groundless”. “A good teacher can overcome the effects of a low team payroll,” he told reporters. “And if not, that teacher should be fired.”

NY City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for one, enthusiastically endorsed the plan. “I’m sick and tired of people blaming rich guys like [Mets’ owner Fred] Wilpon for their team’s failure,” the Mayor said through a spokesperson. “Now people will put the blame where it belongs – on the teachers.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Testing expert points out severe flaws in NYS exams and urges parents to boycott them this spring!

Many recent columns have pointed out the fundamental flaws in the new NY teacher evaluation system  in the last few days: by Aaron Pallas of Columbia University; Carol Burris, Long Island principal, education historian Diane Ravitch, (who has written not one but two excellent critiques) and Juan Gonzalez, investigative reporter for the Daily News.  All point out that despite the claim that the new evaluation system is supposed to be based only 20-40%  on state exams, test scores in fact will trump all, since any teacher rated "ineffective" on their students' standardized exams will be rated "ineffective" overall.

To add insult to injury, the NYC Department of Education is expected to release the teacher data reports to the media tomorrow -- with the names of individual teachers attached.  These reports are based SOLELY on the change in student test scores of individual teachers, filtered through a complicated formula that is supposed to control for factors out of their control, which is essentially impossible to do. Moreover, there are huge margins of error that mean a teacher with a high rating one year is often rated extremely low the next. Sign our petition now, if you haven't yet, urging the papers not to publish these reports; and read the outraged comments of parents, teachers, principals and researchers, pointing out how unreliable these reports are as an indication of teacher quality.   

Though most of the critiques so far focus on the inherently volatile nature and large margins of error in any such calculation, here in NY State we have a special problem: the state tests themselves have been fatally flawed for many years.  There has been rampant test score inflation over the past decade; many of the test questions themselves are amazingly dumb and ambiguous; and there are other severe problems with the scaling and the design of these exams that only testing experts fully understand.  Though the State Education Department claims to have now solved these problems, few actually believe this to be the case.

As further evidence, see Fred Smith's analysis below.  Fred is a  retired assessment expert for the NYC Board of Education, who has written widely on the fundamental flaws in the state tests.  Here, he shows how deep problems remain in their design and execution -- making their results, and the new teacher evaluation system and  teacher data reports based upon them, essentially worthless.  He goes on to urge parents to boycott the state exams this spring.  Please leave a comment about whether you would consider keeping your child out of school for this purpose!

New York State’s Testing Program (NYSTP) has relied on a series of deeply flawed exams given to 1.2 million students a year.  This conclusion is supported by comparing English Language Arts (ELA) and Math data from 2006 to 2011 with National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, but not in the usual way.

Rather than ponder discrepancies in performance and growth on the national versus state exams, I analyzed the items—the building blocks of the NAEP and NYSTP that underlie their reported results.
NAEP samples fourth and eighth grade students in reading and math every two years.  Achievement and improvement trends are studied nationwide and broken down state-by-state.  The results spur biennial debate over two questions:
Why are results obtained on state-imposed exams far higher than proficiency as measured by NAEP?  Why do scores from state tests increase so much, while NAEP shows meager changes over time?  
By concentrating on results—counting how many students have passed state standards; or trying to gauge the achievement gap; or devising complicated value-added teacher evaluation models, school grading systems and other multi-variate formulas—attention has been diverted from the instruments themselves.
In 2009, the year statewide scores peaked, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch discredited NYSTP’s implausibly high achievement levels and low standards.  She pledged reform—“more rigorous testing” became the catch phrase.  She knew that New York’s yearly pursuit and celebratory announcements of escalating numbers belied a state of educational decline.
It was an admission of how insidious the results had been, not to mention the precarious judgments that rested on them. Unsustainable outcomes became a crisis.  But Albany refuses to address the core problem.
The NAEP and NYSTP exams contain multiple-choice and open-ended items.  The latter tap a higher order of knowledge.  They ask students to interpret reading material and provide a written response or to work out math problems and show how they solved them, not just select or guess a right answer.
Ergo, on well-developed tests students will likely get a higher percentage of correct answers on machine-scored multiple-choice questions.  In addition, the same students should do well, average or poorly on both types of items.   
NAEP meets the dual expectations of order and correlation between its two sets of items; the NYSTP exams, which are given in grades three through eight, do not.  Here are the contrasting pictures for the fourth grade math test. 
NAEP’s multiple-choice items yield averages that are substantially higher than its open-ended ones.  The distance between them is consistent over time—another way of saying that the averages run along parallel lines.  There is an obvious smoothness to the data.

Items on the NYSTP exams defy such rhyme and reason.  The percent correct on each set of items goes up one year and down the next in a choppy manner.  In 2008, performance on the teacher-scored open-ended items exceeded the level reached on the multiple-choice items. In 2011, when the tests were supposed to have gained rigor, the open-ended math questions were 26.2% easier than the NAEP’s.
The reversals reveal exams made of items working at cross purposes, generating data that go north and south at the same time.  That’s the kind of compass the test publisher, CTB/McGraw-Hill, has sold to the State since 2006 to the tune of $48 million.
I found incongruities in all grades measured by NYSTP.  On the ELA, divergent outcomes on the two types of items are noteworthy for grades 5, 6 and 7 in 2010 and 2011.  The fifth grade items provide a jarring illustration, because they continue to function incoherently in the years of promised reform. Averages on the open-ended items increase (by 10.7%), as sharply as the multiple-choice averages fall (10.3%)—crossing over them last year.
It all goes unnoticed.  Press releases are written in terms of overall results without acknowledging or treating NYSTP’s separate parts.  This is odd since so much time and money go into administering and scoring the more challenging, higher-level open-ended items.
So, we’ve had a program that has made a mockery out of accountability, with the head of the Regents running interference for it.  Parents watch helplessly as their children’s schools become testing centers. And the quality of teachers is weighed on scales that are out of balance, as Governor Cuomo takes a bow for leveraging an evaluation system that depends on state test results to determine if a teacher is effective. 
If the test numbers aren’t good enough, there’s no way teachers can compensate by demonstrating other strengths needed to foster learning and growth.  Within days it is likely that newspapers will publish the names of teachers and the grades they’ve received based on their students’ test scores going back three years.  As shown, however, these results are derived from tests that fail to make sense.
The graphs are prima facie evidence that the vendor and Albany have delivered a defective product. High-stakes decisions about students, teachers and schools have depended on it. An independent investigation of NYSTP is imperative to determine what happened and, if warranted, to seek recovery of damages. 
It is also time for the victims—parents in defense of their children, and teachers in support of students, parents and their own self-interest—to band together and just say “No!” to this April’s six days of testing.
---Fred Smith, a retired Board of Education senior analyst, worked for the city public school system in test research and development.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The battle for the soul of a community: scenes from contentious charter school hearing in S. Williamsburg -- and the memory of another controversial co-location 25 years ago

Please check out the videos of Thursday night’s contentious hearing on the proposed co-location of yet another branch of the Success Academy charter school, this one in IS 50 in South Williamsburg, a proposal that the entire community has risen up in opposition to,  because of the discriminatory recruitment and enrollment policies of the hedge-fund backed Success Academy charters, their policy of pushing out high needs students, and the fact that there are four under-enrolled public elementary schools in this mostly Latino neighborhood within three blocks of the proposed charter. 

Nearly 500 parents, teachers, students, and community leaders filled the large auditorium, with more than 80 of them speaking out against this co-location proposal, and fewer than five parents from Brooklyn spoke out in support.  The rest of the audience consisted of parents bused in from the various Success charter schools in Harlem.  

And yet NYTimes/Schoolbook story ran a highly inaccurate and biased account, showing a large photo of the Success Academy parents, captioned with " parents turned out to support the co-location of a Success Academy charter school at J.H.S. 50 John D. Wells in Williamsburg, Brooklyn", without explaining that they were bused in by the charter operator from Harlem. The article went on to give most of its space to comments from the handful of supporters of the charter school, including the chain’s founder, Eva Moskowitz, with almost no mention of the huge outcry from the hundreds of community leaders, elected officials, and local parents who came out to oppose it. (Read what Williamsburg & Greenpoint Parents for Our Public Schools says about the piece, and read the irate comments from parents and community members at the Schoolbook website.)
Instead, see the video of the nearly 500 parents, students, teachers and community members leading off the hearing,  chanting, “Whose schools? OUR schoolsand Ms. Denise Jamison Principal of IS 50, where the DOE plans to put the charter, saying how grateful she is for the support of the community.
Here's the video of Council Member Diana Reyna, pointing out that the District 14 Community Education Council that is supposed to preside over the hearing is not present because the members are boycotting it in protest; she says that we need the record to reflect that this proposal is not supported by this community.  She recounts how in Sept. 1986, more than 700 parents at S. Williamsburg's PS 16 kept their children home from school-- a 90% absence rate -- in protest of a plan to create segregated classrooms in the school.
(This 1986 protest occurred in reaction to a Board of Education plan to construct barriers inside PS 16, and to hire Jewish teachers to provide remedial education to Hasidic girls enrolled in a nearby yeshiva, in classes held in separate classrooms from PS 16’s mostly Latino students. The parents of PS 16 protested that this segregation was not only discriminatory but would also cause more overcrowded classes for their own children.  The plan also required the displacement of 69 students with disabilities to other public schools -- to make way for the Hasidic classes. The parents of PS 16 sued, asking the court to block this plan, and subsequently won on appeal.  Here is an excerpt of the decision from the US Court of Appeals:

....each day, the public school students would observe some 390 Beth Rachel students arrive at P.S. 16. The Beth Rachel students would be taught in classrooms only they may use; no public school students would be taught either in those classes or in those rooms. Yiddish would be spoken in the Beth Rachel classes. Only Hasidic girls would be taught; those girls would be allowed no contact with boys. Only female teachers would teach the Hasidic girls. And where once there was an open corridor allowing freedom to traverse the entire hall, there are now a wall and doors partitioning the Beth Rachel girls from the public school students....

The lengths to which the City has gone to cater to these religious views, which are inherently divisive, are plainly likely to be perceived, by the Hasidim and others, as governmental support for the separatist tenets of the Hasidic faith. Worse still, to impressionable young minds, the City's Plan may appear to endorse not only separatism, but the derogatory rationale for separatism expressed by some of the Hasidim.)
Here's another video clip, where  CM Reyna says that DOE has abandoned our public schools; despite the fact that our students have a basic unmet human right for quality education.   Evelyn Cruz, representing Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, ironically “thanks” DOE for once again dividing parents, children and neighborhoods, and disenfranchising them throughout the city. 
Rob Solano, head of Churches United for Fair Housing and former IS 50 student, then speaks out in support of the public shool and against the charter co-location: “this is where I learned how to be a boy and then a man and learned about the world,” Ruben Flores, lead organizer for Churches United For Fair Housing also speaks out against the proposal.
More video as Khem Irby, CEC member from District 13, says that Brooklyn does not need any more charter schools, which are here for only one purpose: the money, and not about education. As a former charter parent, she understands the abuse that happens to children in charter schools and that they do not need this in any of their communities, and parents are forming a united front in Districts 13, 14 and 15 against any more charters in their neighborhoods.

I berate the two DOE officials presiding over the hearings, Gregg Betheil and Paymon Rouhanifard.  I say they should be ashamed of themselves and ask if they went into education to provoke the kind of division, anger and resentment seen tonight; I urge them to tell whoever who is making this decision to say no to this charter school; as there has to be someone in the city with the balls or guts to say no to Eva.  I add that if there was one thing good that came out of this evening, it is that it is clear that NYC parents love their public schools and want them protected and supported, no matter how hard the DOE has tried to destroy them  through budget cuts, test prep and rising class sizes.  Lastly, I recount how at the recent City Council hearings on college readiness, the only thing the Council and the DOE agreed upon was that El Puente is a great school and should be replicated; with DOE officials repeating this several times.  So why don’t they replicate El Puente here and create a great 6-12 school, instead of bringing in a charter school that no one in the community wants or needs?
The videos end with Luis Garden Acosta founder and President of El Puente, thanking Ellen McHugh of the Citywide Council for Special Education, for taking a strong stand in favor of the community and against the charter school co-location.  He concludes by saying, tonight the DOE has heard from white, Latino and black parents, all opposed to this proposal; from students, teachers, and community leaders; from our City Councilmember, our State Senator, and our member of Congress; in fact, they've heard from the entire Southside community in opposition, what else does it take?  He then leads us in a chant, “the People united will never be defeated,” first in English then in Spanish, and we walk out together, leaving the auditorium empty except for the DOE and their clients, the charter school operators and the parents they bused in from Harlem.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Want to know what NYC elected officials, religious & civil rights leaders think of Bloomberg's education policies and lies?

Check out Darren Marelli's brilliant video below, using clips from the press conference before the Feb. 9 PEP meeting.

Carol Burris, principal, on the new NY State teacher evaluation plan announced yesterday

Carol is the courageous Long Island principal who co-authored the letter, signed onto by  one third of all NY State principals, protesting the NYS teacher evaluation system. Her follow-up article for the Washington Post Answer Sheet was called, “Forging ahead with a nutty teacher evaluation plan.”

Below is the email she sent out, late last night; appended to a press release from Commissioner King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, that contained an outline of the provisions in the agreement announced yesterday. 
The agreement, as summarized by King and Tisch, says that test scores will trump all, as “Teachers rated ineffective on student performance based on objective assessments must be rated ineffective overall.”
In addition, the Commissioner can reject any locally devised system that isn’t “rigorous” enough, and can require “corrective” action if “districts evaluate their teachers positively regardless of students’ academic progress”, i.e. refuse to rate them as ineffective based on test scores alone. 
This all will be done by means of unreliable state tests that in recent years have been repeatedly shown to be defective, as filtered through a “growth” model that has been shown to have even less reliability. 
The only possible meaning of “multiple measures” in this context is that there are multiple ways to ensure that a teacher can be judged as a failure.
From: Carol Burris
Sent: Thursday, February 16, 2012 10:16 PM
Dear friends,
Every teacher I know in NY is in a state of shock after seeing what NYSUT agreed to.  I think principals were somewhat prepared, but I do believe that teachers had hoped that somehow NYSUT would come through for them.  The power transferred to the commissioner is unprecedented. The governor's 'shot clock' flies in the face of the Taylor Law. The fact that Randi Weingarten applauded this agreement is beyond comprehension.  Teachers feel abandoned.
The governor who just last week said "I am the government" is a bully who is now thumping his chest in victory as the 'student lobbyist'. My greatest fear is that educators will be so discouraged they will bow their heads. Anything you can write, post, blog or send as an editorial in the next days and weeks will help to lift spirits.  I know Sean and I will keep the letter going but we will need your help in keeping resistance to this wrongheaded policy alive. thank you for all you do. Carol

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My take on the teacher evaluation deal announced today in Albany: disappointing & with uncertain results

From what I can tell, the part of the deal that was struck between the city and the UFT seems to be a good one: an external arbiter for the subjective teacher ratings by principals, which is necessary considering the number of unfair "U" ratings we have seen from abusive principals in recent years.  CORRECTION: I should never comment before reading the reporting and the fine print.  Apparently, only 13% of teachers will have independent review the 1st year of  an "ineffective" rating from a principal, and none the second year, according to GothamSchools.

The rest of the deal statewide is very disappointing.  If I am reading the agreement correctly, it founders on four main points:
 .          Teachers will be rated on a curve, with the commissioner having the ultimate power to decide whether the curve is "rigorous" enough -- meaning automatically some teachers must fail;
.         Any teacher rated 0-64 out of 100 will be rated "ineffective" (which seems to be a biased scale);
.         If a teacher is rated ineffective thru growth rates on assessments alone, he or she must be rated ineffective overall; making the agreement to base 20-40% on test scores a total fiction.  If the 40% turns out to be state test scores alone, no matter how used, the results will be unreliable and erratic, teachers will be unfairly evaluated and  students will suffer as a result.
.    The agreement also gives the SED Commissioner too much power -- the authority to approve or disapprove any local evaluation plan he deems "insufficient."
Since the state agreement will govern NYC as well, what it means for our schools will depend on what our local assessments turn out to be. 
If they turn out to be yet more standardized tests, like the 408 standardized exams the city bid out this summer, this will mean our schools become even more test prep factories, with teachers unfairly rated and less learning in the classroom.   
Thus it is critical that some form of portfolio work, based on actual classroom work, be used for the 20 percent local assessments. But will the DOE agree to this? Will the Commissioner agree to a portfolio system, especially as he seems to believe test scores should trump all? Who knows.
As made clear at the press conference, the city has also not yet agreed to refrain from closing the 33 SIG schools -- despite this deal.  There are still many unresolved issues on the table.
In the end, this new statewide evaluation system represents a vast experiment on our kids,  with uncertain and potentially damaging results.  And all this, to get Race to the Top and SIG funds -- most of which will spent on consultants, more testing and data systems -- not to benefit the children.