Opting out of testing in Connecticut — now a civic duty by Drew Michael McWeeney

Drew Michael McWeeney is an Early Childhood Education major and teacher candidate at Southern Connecticut State University.  His powerful commentary piece first appeared in the CTMirror.  You can read and comment on it at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/10/13/opinion-drew-michael-mcweeney/

Opting out of testing in Connecticut — now a civic duty

Since implementation of the new teacher evaluation system by Gov. Dannel Malloy and the legislature, I have believed opting out of standardized testing was a student right. I now see it as a civic responsibility.

Under the current system, 45 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on student test scores. According to a 2014 Brookings Institute study, however, teachers can elect not to be evaluated on the scores if a significant number of students do not show up to take their standardized tests. This is because having too few test takers can cause the test data to produce false results, labeling a teachers’ classes either high- or low-performing incorrectly.

What Malloy and the legislature did was a direct attack on public education under the guise of raising standards. Because of this, here is the narrative the system creates: Since students are failing tests, teachers must be poor performers. Therefore since public school teachers are poor performers, let us close down public education and privatize public schools.

Having observed countless Connecticut classrooms, I can tell you that basing almost half of a teacher’s rating on student test scores is too much in the first place. Then, when Gov. Malloy makes it impossible for us teacher candidates and teachers to present other evidence to establish our effectiveness — by eliminating lesson plans from consideration, for example — he compounds the problem.

Finally, researchers at the University of Connecticut’s NEAG School of Education, in a study released last year, reported that only 58 percent of teachers surveyed felt the rating they received from the state’s new evaluation system was accurate. Of the 533 teachers surveyed, more than half found no added value in the time they spent on their evaluations.

With these and other problems, the teacher evaluation system is a catastrophe. Although our state tried addressing many shortcomings through customization, it is the highly-destructive effects of accountability reform that teachers must resist. I insist – must resist.

Yes, teachers need to be evaluated. I would expect nothing less in any job. It is even more critical, especially in fields such as education, when a teacher receives job protection under union contract. It costs school districts hundreds to thousands of dollars to both hire and retain teachers. You want to protect your community investment.

Now, I understand teachers have to follow their district evaluation plan or they could be fired for insubordination. However, what is interesting is that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, formerly known as No Child Left Behind and now called Every Student Succeeds Act, does not require that teachers be evaluated by student test scores. That was what Race to the Top required in order for states to be eligible to apply for Race to the Top money; so states incorporated student test scores in their teacher evaluation process.

Is it time for the fight to end? No. This is only the beginning. We need to fight this war on common sense. We need to fight the war Connecticut and other states, such as New York, have declared on public education by supporting a better, fairer, evaluation system for teachers. Before we demand better comprehensive education reform, we must shout battle cries of “Opt-Out.”

We need these evaluations to fail if we want public school teachers to succeed.

Judge botched rulings on education policy by Wendy Lecker

Education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker returns to the recent CCJEF v. Rell legal decision in her weekend piece in the Stamford Advocate.  You can read and comment on her piece at:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Judge-botched-rulings-on-education-9945947.php

Judge botched rulings on education policy by Wendy Lecker

In issuing his decision in the CCJEF school-funding case last month, Judge Thomas Moukawsher claimed he was faithfully following the dictates of the Connecticut Supreme Court. However, it is clear that the judge ignored a major warning by our highest court: that the judiciary is “ill-equipped” to deal with educational policy matters. Nowhere is this disregard of the court’s warning more evident than in Moukawsher’s rulings on high school and teacher evaluation. In these rulings, the judge contravened the mountain of academic and experiential evidence showing that what he proposes is dead wrong.

First, the judge declared that Connecticut should institute standardized high school exit exams. The judge decided that because Connecticut does not have “rational” and “verifiable” high school standards, meaning standards measured by a high school exit exam, Connecticut diplomas for students in poor districts are “patronizing and illusory.” He concluded that the cure for this problem is standardized, “objective” exams that students must pass to graduate.

In pushing this proposal, the judge relied heavily on one defense witness, Dr. Eric Hanushek, a witness whose testimony has been flatly rejected in school funding cases across the country. Hanushek claimed that Massachusetts’ status as the “education leader” in the country was a result of instituting an exit exam.

Had the judge examined the evidence, however, he would have discovered that Massachusetts’ high school exit exam has increased dropout rates for the state’s most vulnerable students. In fact, as the New America Foundation reported, decades of research on exit exams nationwide show two things: students are not any better off with exit exams, and exit exams have a disproportionately negative impact on the graduation rates of poor students and students of color. That is why the trend among states is to drop exit exams. Exit exams would widen the graduation gap in Connecticut.

Again, had the judge examined the evidence, he would have also learned that the actual major factor in Massachusetts’ improvement was the very measure he refused to order Connecticut to implement: school finance reform that dramatically increased the amount of school funding statewide. No fewer than three studies have shown that increasing school funding significantly improved student achievement in Massachusetts. Recent major studies confirmed those findings nationwide, demonstrating that school finance reform has the most profound positive impact among poor students.

The judge also missed the mark by a wide margin in his ruling on teacher evaluations; which again he insisted be “rational and “verifiable” from his unstudied perspective. Anyone who has been paying attention to education matters the past few years has surely noticed the understandable uproar over the attempt to rate teachers based on student standardized test score “growth.”

Experts across the country confirm, as the American Statistical Association pointed out, that a teacher has a tiny effect on the variance in student test scores: from 1 percent to 14 percent. Thus, it is now widely understood that any system that attempts to rate teachers on student test scores, or the “growth” in student test scores, is about as “rational” and “verifiable” as a coin toss.

Courts that have actually examined the evidence on systems that rate teachers on student test scores have rejected these systems. Last year, a court in New Mexico issued a temporary injunction barring the use of test scores in that state’s teacher evaluation system. And in April, a court in New York ruled that a teacher’s rating based on her students’ “growth” scores — the foundation of New York’s teacher evaluation system — was “arbitrary and capricious;” the opposite of “rational” and “verifiable.”

Yet despite the reams of evidence debunking the use of student growth scores in evaluating teachers, and despite these two court rulings, Judge Moukawsher insisted that rating teachers on student “growth” scores would satisfy his demand that Connecticut’s system for hiring, firing, evaluating and compensating teachers be “rational” and “verifiable.” His ruling defies the evidence and logic.

These and all of the judge’s other rulings are now being appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court by both sides: the state and the CCJEF plaintiffs. One can only hope that that our highest court will steer this case back on course, away from these ill-advised educational policy rulings and toward a proper finding that the state is failing to provide our poorest schools with adequate funding and is consequently failing to safeguard the educational rights of our most vulnerable children.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  Her column  can be found at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Judge-botched-rulings-on-education-9945947.php

Inside school funding “victory,” CT Judge apparently seeks to set special education services back 40 years

As the evidence makes clear … the State of Connecticut fails to provide most of its cities and towns with adequate school funding.

Now, in an important but flawed legal ruling, the judicial branch of government is finally making it clear that the state’s unwillingness to deal with this significant problem violates Connecticut law.

Yesterday, September 7, 2016, a Connecticut state judge agreed with a coalition of towns, parents and public school advocates that the actual mechanism by which Connecticut distributes school aid is unconstitutional because it fails to provide poorer communities with adequate resources that are required by the Connecticut constitution. The judge’s proposed remedy, however, was limited (More coming on that front).

While the decision is an important milestone on the school funding issue, Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s Memorandum of Decision is nothing short of absurd, ill-conceived and simply  wrong when it comes to Connecticut’s special education programs, the state’s illogical teacher evaluation system and the state’s over-reliance on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC and SAT testing schemes.

In his ruling, Moukawsher actually suggests that students should face even more standardized testing in Connecticut’s classrooms.

And of greatest concern is his unwarranted, outrageous and mean-spirited attack on special education services in Connecticut’s schools.

The truth is that Connecticut has actually been a leader when it comes to providing special education services to those who need extra help in the classroom.  While issues certainly exist when it comes to adequately identifying and providing services to those students who have special needs, the underlying problem is not that students get special education services, but that Connecticut’s cities and towns are left with an unfair share of the burden when it comes to financing those extra educational activities.

In Connecticut, there has been widespread consensus that society and the state have an obligation to ensure that every child is provided with the knowledge, skills and opportunities to live more fulfilling lives and that includes children with special needs.

Yet in an stunning diatribe, Judge Moukawsher appears to suggest that Connecticut retreat from that commitment.

Moukawsher writes;

“Yet school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from an elementary or secondary school education….It is about whether schools can decide in an education plan for a covered child that the child has a minimal or no chance for education, and therefore the school should not make expensive, extensive, and ultimately proforma efforts..

To suggest that Connecticut public schools do not have an obligation to serve, as best they can, every student is to suggest policymakers retreat from the most basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and that of the State of Connecticut, as well as, from federal law and regulations that apply to those who need extra services.

In today’s world, a policy that seeks to define any children as unteachable is repugnant.

One can only hope that the judge, in his haste to issue a ruling, misspoke or misunderstood his fundamental role in ensuring that the state continue to meet its duty to all of Connecticut’s children, their parents and the broader society.

To reiterate, when it comes to Connecticut’s special education programs, the problem is not that services are provided, but that the state is failing to fully reimburse school districts for those costs.

As a society we must recognize our commitment to every public school student.  Stepping back from that commitment is simply not acceptable.

To read the Judge’s entire Memorandum of Decision go to; https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3100630-School-Funding-Decision.html

More media coverage of the ruling can be found at:

Judge strikes down state education aid choices as ‘irrational’  (CT Mirror)

Ruling may end ‘hold harmless’ principle in CT budget politics (CT Mirror)

Judge Orders State To Make Sweeping Changes To Education Funding, Policies (CT Newsjunkie)

Court Orders Far-Reaching Reforms for Public Schools (Hartford Courant)

Judge says state’s school funding formula is irrational  (CT Post)

Judge, Citing Inequality, Orders Connecticut to overhaul its school system (New York Times)

Hey Malloy, what’s the deal with the new Common Core SBAC test results?

With great fanfare and self-congratulations, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration recently released the results of last springs’ Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests. Their claim is that the Governor’s anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-charter school agenda is succeeding.

The SBAC test is succeeding?

The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme is the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory national testing system that the Malloy administration instituted and are now being used to evaluate and label students, teachers and public schools.

As if to give the charade some credibility, Governor Malloy, Lt. Governor Wyman and their team call it Connecticut’s “Next Generation Accountability System.”

However, the testing and evaluation system is a farce that fails to properly measure how students, teachers and schools are really doing, nor does it properly evaluate the impacts that are associated with poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs.

To showcase the extraordinary problems with Malloy’s testing scheme, the following chart highlights the results from two of Malloy’s favorite charter schools, the Achievement First Hartford charter school and the Achievement First New Haven charter school, which is called Amistad Academy.

Percent of students reaching “proficiency” in Math as measured by the 2015 SBAC tests;

DISTRICT GRADE 3 GRADE 4 GRADE 5 GRADE 6 GRADE 7 GRADE 8
Achievement First Inc. Hartford  

56.8%

 

44.4%

 

16.2%

 

20.3%

 

17.5%

 

33.9%

Achievement First Inc. New Haven – Amistad Academy  

63.3%

 

54.4%

 

34.4%

 

40.0%

 

46.1%

 

46.9%

 

Here are the core results;

  • Approximately 60% of students in both charter schools were labeled “proficient” in MATH in grade 3.
  • The percent deemed “proficient” dropped by about 10 points in Grade 4.
  • The percent “proficient” dived in Grade 5, with only 1 in 6 students deemed “proficient” in Hartford and only 1 in 3 at the “proficient” level in New Haven.
  • The number reaching a “proficient” level remained extremely low at Achievement First Hartford in grades 6, 7 and 8.
  • While the percent of students labeled proficient in at Achievement First New Haven was slightly better than its sister school in Hartford, less than 50% percent of Amistad Academy’s 6th, 7th and 8th grade students were deemed to be “proficient.”

According to Malloy’s policies, these SBAC results allow us to determine how students are doing, whether teachers are performing adequately and whether any individual school should be labeled a great school, a good school, a school that is doing fairly well or a failing school.

So, according to Malloy, which of the following statements are true;

  1. As measured by the SBAC proficiency number, while students at these two Achievement First schools are doing “okay” in grade 3, the two schools are falling short in Grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
  1. The results indicate that Achievement First Inc. has apparently hired talented teachers in grade 3, but the results prove that teachers in grade 4-8 are simply not equipped or capable to do their job. Grade 5 teachers are particularly weak, but the data indicates that Achievement First’s teachers should be evaluated as ineffective and the charter school chain should remove and replace all teachers other than those teaching in grade 3.
  1. Achievement First, Inc. proclaims that their students do much better on standardized tests, however, the SBAC results reveal that they are failing and should be labeled as failing schools.

According to Connecticut policymakers, all three statements are true, but of course, the truth is much more complex and the test results provide no meaningful guidance on what is actually going on in the classrooms.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is that these results provide no useful information about the impact of poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs

One question rises to the top.

What if the students and teachers are not the problem? What if the problem is that the testing scam really is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory and that the entire situation is made worse by Malloy’s absurd “Next Generation” Accountability system?

No evidence standardized testing can close ‘achievement gap’

In a commentary piece entitled, No evidence standardized testing can close ‘achievement gap’, and first published in the CT Mirror, Connecticut educator and public education advocate James Mulholland took on the absurd rhetoric that is being spewed by the corporate funded education reform industry.

Collecting their six figure incomes, these lobbyists for the Common Core, Common Core testing scam and the effort to privatize public education in the United States claim that more standardized testing is the key to improving educational achievement.

Rather than focus on poverty, language barriers, unmet special education needs and inadequate funding of public schools, the charter school proponents and Malloy apologists want students, parents, teachers and the public to believe that a pre-occupation with standardized testing, a focus on math and English, “zero-tolerance” disciplinary policies for students and undermining the teaching profession will force students to “succeed” while solving society’s problems.

Rather than rely on evidence, or even the truth, these mouthpieces for the ongoing corporatization of public education are convinced that if they simply say an untruth long enough, it will become the truth.

In his recent article, James Mullholland takes them on – writing;

In a recent commentary piece, Jeffrey Villar, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, praises the Connecticut State Board of Education’s support for using student SBAC results in teacher evaluations. He claims, “The absence of such objective data has left our evaluation system light on accountability.” He further contends, “Connecticut continues to have one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation, the SBE appears committed to continuing to take this issue on.”

Contrary to Mr. Villar’s assertion, there is little, if any, evidence to support the idea that including standardized test scores in teacher evaluations will close the so-called achievement gap.

In some ways, it is a solution looking for a problem. Mr. Villar writes, “recently released evaluation results rated almost all Connecticut teachers as either proficient or exemplary. That outcome doesn’t make much sense.”

Other education reform groups express similar disbelief that there are so many good teachers in the state. In her public testimony during Connecticut’s 2012 education reform bill, Jennifer Alexander of ConnCAN testified that too few teachers were being dismissed for poor performance: “When you look at the distribution of ratings in those systems, you again see only about two percent of teachers, maybe five max, falling at that bottom rating category.” (Transcript of legislative testimony, March 21, 2012, p. 178.)

Education reform groups seem dismayed that they have been unable to uncover an adequate number of teachers who are bad at their jobs and continue to search for a method that exposes the boogeyman of bad teachers. But that’s exactly what it is: a boogeyman that simply doesn’t exist.

Regardless of the methodology that’s used, the number of incompetent teachers never satisfies education reform groups. They see this as a flaw in the evaluation system rather than a confirmation of the competency of Connecticut’s teachers.

However, Connecticut isn’t alone. After both Tennessee and Michigan overhauled their teacher evaluation systems, 98 percent of teachers were found to be effective or better; in Florida it was 97 percent. The changes yielded only nominal differences from previous years.

Mr. Vallar believes that including SBAC scores in teacher evaluations will decrease the achievement gap. There is no evidence to support the belief that including SBAC scores in teacher evaluations will lessen the differences in learning outcomes between the state’s wealthier and less-advantaged students.

In 2012, the federal Department of Education, led by Secretary Arne Duncan, granted Connecticut a waiver from the draconian requirements of No Child Left Behind. To qualify for the waiver, the results of standardized tests were to be included in teacher evaluations.

However, the policies of the secretary, which he carried with him from his tenure as Superintendent of Schools in Chicago to Washington D.C., never achieved the academic gains that were claimed. A 2010 analysis of Chicago schools by the University of Chicago concluded that after 20 years of reform efforts, which included Mr. Duncan’s tenure, the gap between poor and rich areas had widened.

The New York Times reported in 2011 that, “One of the most striking findings is that elementary school scores in general remained mostly stagnant, contrary to visible improvement on state exams reported by the Illinois State Board of Education.”

Most striking is a letter to President Obama signed by 500 education researchers in 2015, urging Congress and the President to stop test-based reforms. In it, the researchers argue that this approach hasn’t worked. “We strongly urge departing from test-focused reforms that not only have been discredited for high-stakes decisions, but also have shown to widen, not close, gaps and inequities.”

Using standardized test scores to measure teacher effectiveness reminds me of the time I saw a friend at the bookstore. “What are you getting?” I asked. “About 14 pounds worth,” he joked. Judging books by their weight is a measurement, but it doesn’t measure what is valuable in a book. Standardized tests measure something, but it’s not the effectiveness of a teacher.

To read and comment on James Mulholland’s commentary piece go to:  http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/04/20/opinion-james-mulholland/

Connecticut – A failed application of standardized tests by Wendy Lecker

Connecticut – A failed application of standardized tests is another MUST READ piece by education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker;

One of the most damaging practices in education policy, in Connecticut and nationwide, is the misuse of standardized tests for purposes for which they were never designed. Standardized tests are being used to measure things they cannot measure, like school quality and teacher effectiveness, with deleterious results; such as massive school closures, which destabilize children and communities, and the current troubling shortage of students willing to enter the teaching profession.

Connecticut policy makers engage in this irresponsible practice constantly. They jumped on the bandwagon to adopt the SBAC as the statewide accountability test, despite the complete lack of evidence that it the SBAC can support reliable or valid inferences about student performance, let alone school quality or teacher effectiveness. After abandoning the SBAC for 11th graders, our leaders hastily approved the mandated use of the SAT for accountability purposes, despite, again, the absence of evidence that the SAT is either aligned with Connecticut graduation requirements or valid or reliable for use a test to measure student performance, school quality or teacher effectiveness.

Connecticut’s political leaders also blindly adopted the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations in 2012, despite the evidence, even then, that standardized tests are inappropriate for this use. Since that time, every reputable statistical and educational research organization has repudiated this invalid practice; because a mountain of evidence proves that standardized tests cannot be validly or reliably used to rate teachers.

If only our leaders would examine evidence before adopting a policy, our state would not only save millions of dollars, but it would guide education policy in a direction that is good for students and teachers. Engaging in thoughtful educational policymaking requires a more nuanced understanding of what happens and should happen in schools. It demands an acceptance that in this very human endeavor, objective measures are not always possible and even when they can be applied, they can only measure a fraction what we want schools to accomplish.

Although four years late, the legislature seems to be finally heeding the substantial evidence on teacher evaluation and is considering SB 380, a bill to decouple state standardized tests. This bill, though it only covers state standardized tests, is a step in the right direction.

There are those, however, who cannot seem to let go of the idea that we need standardized tests to measure teachers, even if those tests are wholly inappropriate for this use. They want a measure that looks “objective” no matter how scientifically invalid that measure is.

Thus, some Connecticut groups advocate replacing the invalid use of SBAC and SAT for teacher evaluation with an off-the-shelf, commercially produced test never proven to be valid for teacher evaluation: the NWEA MAP (“MAP”) test.

The MAP test is a standardized tests some districts use to measure progress during the year. In other words, it is used to measure students, not teachers. Some teachers find the MAP test helpful, although a study from the national Institute of Educational Sciences found that the MAP test has no impact on student achievement.

There is only one study on the use of the MAP for teacher evaluation. An urban Arizona district interested in using the MAP for teacher evaluation engaged a well-known expert, Professor Audrey Amrein Beardsley, and her team, to determine whether this use of the MAP would be valid. Unlike Connecticut officials, these Arizona district officials wanted to be sure of its validity before imposing it on their teachers. Thus, they requested the study before beginning implementation.

The MAP test is closely aligned with the Arizona state test. However, despite the close alignment, the study revealed that the MAP test is unreliable for use in teacher evaluation. Consequently, the district decided against this use of the MAP.

The study’s authors stressed that measuring “growth” is not as simple as policy makers think it is; and “it is certainly unwise for states or school districts to simply take haphazard or commonsense approaches to measure growth. While tempting, this is professionally and (as evidenced in this study) empirically misguided.”

This paper is the only study on the use of MAP in teacher evaluations. And it proves that it is invalid to use MAP for this purpose. It is irresponsible for Connecticut policy makers to accept the use of MAP in teacher evaluations unless and until there is empirical evidence to prove its validity.

Connecticut teachers and children do not deserve an easy, but invalid, solution to the complex task of measuring teacher quality. They deserve the right solution.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

You can read and comment on this piece were it was first published in the Stamford Advocate – http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-failed-application-of-7251515.php

Why Common Core SBAC results SHOULD NOT be part of the teacher evaluation process

On March 7, 2016 the Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 380, An Act Concerning the Exclusion of Student Performance Results on the Mastery Examination from Teacher Evaluations.

Those speaking at the public hearing fell into two camps.

Parents, teachers, school administrators, public education advocates and experts all speaking in favor of the legislation that would drop the use of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core tests from Governor Dannel Malloy’s teacher evaluation program.

On the other side were the lobbyists and paid spokespeople for the corporate education reform industry and their allies, including a handful of public school superintendents.  As a group, corporate education form front groups have spent in excess of $7 million lobbying on behalf of Malloy’s pro-charter school, pro-Common Core, pro-Common Core testing and anti-teacher initiatives.  As a result of their efforts, in conjunction with the Malloy administration, public schools are being turned into little more than testing factories and more than $100 million a year in scarce taxpayer funds are being diverted away from public education to privately owned charter school companies in Connecticut.

One of the most negative elements of their “education reform” initiatives was a new and warped teacher evaluation program that requires that students Common Core test results be a significant factor in assessing teachers, rather than a system in which teachers are evaluated based on the factors that correctly measure whether they are doing a good job.

Yesterday’s Wait, What? post entitled, Speaking out for decoupling Common Core testing from the teacher evaluation process (Part 1), reported on the testimony of Madison Superintendent Thomas Scarice who laid out the reasons standardized test scores SHOULD NOT be part of teacher evaluation process.

Wendy Lecker, a fellow education advocate and education columnist, who works as an attorney specializing in education equity law, used her testimony to the Education Committee to explain why standardized testing, of any kind, has no scientifically sound or appropriate role in the teacher evaluation process;

The weight of evidence demonstrates that the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations is junk science.

As the American Statistical Association maintains, teachers account for only 1-14 percent of the variance in student standardized test scores. Joining the ASA and others, the American Educational Research Association recently declared that it is almost impossible to disentangle this tiny teacher effect on student test scores from other in-school and out-of-school factors.

A New Mexico court recently blocked that state’s test-based teacher evaluation system because there is no scientific evidence proving that such a system is valid. Standardized achievement tests were not designed to be instructionally sensitive, i.e. show what or how well a teacher teaches.

[…]

With the passage of the new federal law replacing the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB), Connecticut now has a unique opportunity to rethink its flawed teacher evaluation system. In response first to the federal Race to the Top grant and then the NCLB waiver mandates, Connecticut developed a teacher and principal evaluation system calling for student standardized test scores to be a part of a teacher and principal’s effectiveness rating. Under the federal law replacing NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”), the federal government no longer requires states to link student standardized test scores to teacher evaluations.

[…]

Test scores are simple, readily available measures, but they are completely inappropriate for use in teacher evaluations. As the renowned testing expert, W. James Popham, noted, using standardized tests to evaluate teachers is like measuring temperature with a tablespoon. Rather than construct an evaluation process based on what is easiest to measure, shouldn’t we start with an examination of the type of skills we want in teachers?

Determining whether a teacher has those skills will require us to rely on the professional judgment of administrators and other teachers who observe a teacher’s practices, the work she assigns, and her students’ work.

The state can provide guidelines but it is time start trusting professional educators again. Teaching and learning are complex human endeavors that will never be properly reduced to numbers. Connecticut now has the opportunity and moral duty to right the wrong being done to our teachers and students.

Many others were equally persuasive in their testimony.

Dr. Linette Branham, a retired school educator wrote;

Research done over the past decade, as well as the perspective of Connecticut’s public school educators on the use of the current teacher evaluation guidelines, has shown time and again how inappropriate it is to base the evaluation of a teacher on standardized test scores. The reasons are clear, simple, and logical, including the following:

  1. Standardized tests are not designed to evaluate teacher performance.

  2. Such tests do not show growth over time; they provide a snapshot of student performance on a given day and hour.

  3. Standardized test results don’t take into account how factors outside of a teacher’s control impact student performance on the day the test is taken; these include factors such as whether or not the student slept and ate well prior to the test, social and emotional occurrences (e.g., student’s parents are going through a divorce, there is a serious illness in the family, student had an argument with a best friend just before the class in which the test is given, student doesn’t feel well that day).

  4. What’s tested on the test may not match the district curriculum in skill and content.

  5. Students show what they know in many other, often more appropriate, ways, such as through oral or visual modes.

  6. The standardized test may not be developmentally appropriate for the students.

Dr. Jacob Werblow, an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Central Connecticut State University, Harber Fellow of Education at Wesleyan University, and the President of the Connecticut Coalition for Real Learning added;

After 15 years of mandated testing under the No Child Left Behind Law, what do standardized test scores actually tell us about school and teacher quality? The answer: almost nothing. In 2012, one of my graduate students and I explored this question using data of 191 high schools in Connecticut and found that multiple linear regressions revealed that 69% of the difference (variance) in a school’s average student achievement can be explained by the percentage of students living in poverty. In other words, nearly 70% of the difference in the average achievement scores among all Connecticut High Schools is directly attributed to the percentages of poor kids enrolled in each school. Therefore, there is only 30% of the variance left to attribute to any factors related to differences in schools (or teachers).

[…]

…differences in average standardized test score performance has little to do with teacher or school quality. This is something that national experts (i.e., David Berliner, Linda Darling-Hammond, Diane Ravitch, etc.) have been consistently saying for years. This is because nearly all of the variability in test score performance lies in the demographic differences among the student.

Rose Reyes a Bilingual Educator and expert on improving educational achievement for students who are not proficient in English told legislators;

In May 2015, the online article, The Case Against Standardized Testing – Harvard Political (harvardpolitics.com/united-states/case-standardized-testing/)  explained, again, how standardized testing focus negatively impacted curriculum and student learning as well as how it compromised teacher evaluations.

Students are not receiving a well-rounded education and teachers’ value is reduced by a metric.

[…]

In our district we have State, district and common formative assessments. In fact, we have tests for the tests. A third grader can experience as many as seven assessments in a month and all we can show for this duress is what we have shown for decades: (socioeconomic) class follows scores.

An ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) 2013 article, recognizes that standardized tests “favor those who have socioeconomic advantages” (ASCD EDge – 15 Reasons Why Standardized Tests are … edge.ascd.org/…/15-reasons-why-standardized-tests-are-problematic) which is why attaching such a metric to teacher evaluations seemed inappropriate. We are still at an impasse in the understanding that when an Emergent Bilingual student attains a proficiency level in their second language it is still inappropriate to test them for mastery in ELA and language embedded math. What is best for EB students is best practice of experiences and cooperative learning. These elements are not quantifiable yet priceless.

SB 380 can be the stepping stone to re-evaluating our evaluation system. By excluding the use of student scores on statewide mastery examinations in teacher evaluations curriculum emphasis can return to a well-rounded experience instead of the narrow focus of artificial achievement in the form of test preparation.

In addition, the Education Committee heard from many others who articulated why standardized tests scores should not be part of the teacher evaluation process in Connecticut.  You can read some of that testimony via the following links

Christine Ladd: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Christine%20Ladd-TMY.PDF

Sheila Cohen: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Connecticut%20Education%20Association-TMY.PDF

Dan Blanchard: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Dan%20Blanchard%20-TMY.PDF

David Cicarella:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-David%20Cicarella-TMY.PDF

Jason Morris: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Jason%20Morris%20-TMY.PDF

John Bestor: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-John%20Bestor%20-TMY.PDF

Kathleen Koljian:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Kathleen%20Koljian-TMY.PDF

Kim-Nagy Maruschock: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Kim%20Nagy-Maruschock-TMY.PDF

Martin Walsh:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Martin%20H.%20Walsh%20-TMY.PDF

Patti Fusco:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Patti%20Fusco%20-TMY.PDF

Roxanne Amlot:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Patti%20Fusco%20-TMY.PDF

Scott Minnick:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Scott%20A.%20Minnick%20-TMY.PDF

Ed Leavy:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-State%20Vocational%20Federation%20of%20Teachers-TMY.PDF

Tom Kuroski: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Tom%20Kuroski,%20President,%20Newtown%20Federation%20of%20Teachers%20-TMY.PDF

Additional testimony, including that of the pro-Common Core testing forces, can be found at: https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/CommDocTmyBill.asp?comm_code=ed&bill=SB-00380&doc_year=2016

Catch up on the Holiday Week Posts

If you didn’t get a chance to read last week’s Wait, What? Posts….  Here are the major pieces.

A heart wrenching story from a teacher in Tennessee.  Could have been Connecticut or anywhere…

“Thanksgiving Thanks to Teachers We Remember Who Didn’t Teach Common Core” By Alan Singer

Public Good or Private Gain – the story behind the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s Data Mining Effort

New York Superintendents call for an end to evaluating teachers on standardized test results

New York Superintendents call for an end to evaluating teachers on standardized test results

Labeling children on the basis of unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory standardized tests is bad public policy.  Evaluating teachers on the scores their students get on those tests is equally wrong, yet that is exactly what the policy is in the State of Connecticut.

Last spring, more than 500,000 students across the country were opted out of the standardized testing craze.

This unprecedented development was the direct result of a growing awareness by parents, students, teachers and public education advocates that the standardized testing scheme isn’t useful and that the Corporate Education Reform Industry is turning public schools into little more than testing factories.

While school superintendents and administrators have been a major part of the anti-standardized testing coalitions in New York, far fewer Connecticut school administrators have been willingly to step forward and speak up on behalf of the students, parents, teachers and public schools they are sworn to serve.

In contrast, in the Constitution State Madison Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice has consistently been one of the school leaders who has been willing to provide his students, parents, teachers and community with the appropriate information about the extraordinary problems that come with a public education system that is overly reliant on standardized testing.

(See for example, Superintendent Scarice addresses the powerful and ugly truth about SBAC testing charade and Madison Public School Superintendent Thomas Scarice makes national waves – again. and Diane Ravitch features Madison Superintendent Tom Scarice’s powerful letter on “education reform”)

With parents increasingly recognizing the inherent negative consequences that stems from the Common Core testing program, attention is now turning to the second major problem with the pro-Common Core, Pro-Common Core testing initiatives that have been sponsored by Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the other political allies of the “Education Reformers” — and that is  — the inappropriateness of evaluation of teachers, based, at least in part, on their student’s standardized test results.

Late last week, superintendents in Nassau Country, New York sent a powerful letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo calling for an end to the use of standardized test results as part of that state’s teacher evaluation process.

The superintendents wrote;

It is because of our residents’ deep commitment that we feel a responsibility to protect our education system from misguided policy decisions, however well intended they may be. We understand that building an accountability system to ensure highly effective instruction for all students is a natural extension of the effort to raise expectations for all students. However, the exaggerated use of student test data in that system unfortunately undermined the initial goals.

[…]

We believe our parents understand the value of assessment but stand firmly against the continued distortion of curriculum driven by this flawed accountability system. The well-thought out decision of a significant percentage of our parents to opt their children out of State testing is a reflection of this concern.

Salvaging higher standards will require the State to accomplish three important objectives:

  • Declare a moratorium on the use of student achievement data for educator evaluations
  • Begin work in earnest toward developing a computer adaptive testing system, which will require far less time devoted to testing, ensure questions more appropriate to academic functioning rather than chronological age, and return actionable data in a timely fashion
  • Complete the review of the standards and make adjustments where appropriate.

Connecticut’s superintendents should follow the lead of their New York colleagues and demand that Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly repeal the law they developed mandating that student achievement data from standardized tests be used as part of the educator evaluation process.

Numerous models have been developed to evaluate teachers (and administrators) without relying on flawed standardized test results.

In fact, Superintendent Scarice and the Madison Board of Education have adopted exactly such a model.

Opt Out growing – Now decouple Common Core test from Teacher Evaluation Program

Parents across the nation are rising up against the Common Core testing scheme.  More than 200,000 parents in New York State have already stepped up and refused to allow their children to be abused by the unfair Common Core tests.  The number of opt-outs in New York could easily exceed a quarter of a million by next week.

Although Governor Dannel Malloy, his State Board of Education, most state legislators and the leadership of Connecticut’s two teacher unions are refusing to step forward and support Connecticut’s parents and children, the opt out effort is growing here as well.

As in New York, the Connecticut opt out effort will skyrocket after parents receive their children’s scores next summer and learn, first hand, just how inappropriate and discriminatory the Common Core test really is.

As parents are slowly coming understand, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC testing program is intentionally designed to fail the vast majority of children, including a projected failure rate of over 90 percent for students requiring special education services and those that aren’t fluent in the English language.

The Common Core SBAC pass/fail rate is so rigged that 3 in 4 African American and Latino children will likely fail the 8th grade English/Language Arts portion of the SBAC test and the failure rate for 8th grade math will exceed 80 percent for African American and Latino children.

What most parents still don’t understand is that the gross absurdity of the Common Core SBAC test is the fact that not only is it designed to fail students but under Governor Malloy’s “Teacher Evaluation Program,” the twisted results are to be used to “judge’ teachers.

Governor Malloy’s corporate education reform initiative included a new mandated teacher evaluation program.  According to the propaganda produced by Malloy’s State Department of Education;

“Excellent schools begin with great school leaders and teachers. The importance of highly-skilled educators is beyond dispute…”

[…]

“The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) is committed to raising the overall quality of our schools’ workforce….”

[…]

“Educator evaluation is the cornerstone of this holistic approach and contributes to the improvement of individual and collective practice. High-quality evaluations are necessary to inform the individualized professional development and support that an educator may require. Such evaluations also identify professional strengths which should form the basis of new professional opportunities. High-quality evaluations are also necessary to make fair employment decisions based on teacher and leader effectiveness. Used in this way, high-quality evaluations will bring greater accountability and transparency to schools and instill greater confidence in employment decisions across the state…”

The term “high-quality” evaluation is repeated over and over and over again by Connecticut’s State Department of Education.

But in reality the Connecticut State Department of Education’s “Teacher Evaluation Program” is anything but high quality.

The Connecticut State Department of Education explains,

“Informed by research, including the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study … [The Gates Foundation is the major force behind the Common Core and Common Core testing]… Connecticut’s System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED) is a model evaluation and support system that is aligned to the Connecticut Guidelines for Educator Evaluation (Core Requirements), which were adopted by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) in 2012 and revised in 2014…”

However, what the rhetoric skips over is that reality that foundation of Connecticut teacher evaluation system actually uses the faulty Common Core SBAC test scores.

The Malloy administration’s “teacher evaluation program” is based on the following factors:

Student learning (45%),

Teacher performance and practice (40%),

Parent feedback (10%)

School-wide student learning or student feedback (5%)

The formula looks reasonable enough until one learns that half of the “Student Learning” portion of the evaluation system is derived from the Common Core SBAC tests meaning that all Connecticut teachers, no matter how good they are, will be punished because the Common Core tests intentionally define the majority of students as failure.

Teachers who work in urban and poorer communities, those that work with students of color, those that work with English language learners and those that teach students with special education needs will be especially punished under the new teacher evaluation system.

Imagine, instead of developing a teacher evaluation program that is actually designed to evaluate teachers, Connecticut’s elected and appointed officials have concocted a bureaucratic nightmare that relies on the untried, untested and faulty Common Cores SBAC tests results.

The new teacher evaluation program is only absurd and unfair but counterproductive because it will produce a disincentive to work in more challenging districts and with more challenging student populations.

The fact is Connecticut’s elected officials; the teacher unions and all who believe in public education should be doing far more to support parents who are opting their children out of the Common Core testing.

And equally important, those same people and groups should be de-couple the teacher evaluation program from the Common Core tests and demand that the Connecticut State Department of Education develop a fair, appropriate and effective teacher evaluation programs.

Good teacher evaluation programs exist; there are even experts in Connecticut who have developed outstanding models that could and should be utilized in Connecticut’s school districts.

The powers that be need to stop the Common Core testing madness before they do even more damage to our children, our teachers and our public education system.