The week in blogs: When the numbers don’t add up

Sarah Wysocki, a fifth grade teacher at McFarland Middle School in Washington, D.C, was worried about how she’d fare under the district’s IMPACT teacher evaluation, writes Bill Turque in a disturbing article in The Washington Post.

Her main concern was this: Fourteen of Wysocki’s 25 students had attended Barnard Elementary, which had five times the number of advanced fourth-grade readers as the district average. Yet Wysocki said that some of those so-called “advanced readers” could barely read.

Were the scores –the scores from which Wysocki’s “value-added” evaluation would be derived — inflated? Despite the high number of erasures on Barnard’s test papers and a subsequent investigation, a district spokesman told Turque that “it’s just not possible to know for sure.” And so, despite glowing evaluations, and even suggestions that she share her teaching methods with colleagues, Wysocki got the low score she feared and was dismissed.

The Post story is one of several this week that call into question the kind of “value-added” teacher evaluation programs that are becoming increasingly common across the country. Of course, many of the previous evaluation systems weren’t so great, either. In a New Republic article titled The False Promise of the New York City Teacher Evaluations, author Simon van Zuylen-Wood notes that, under a previous evaluation system that relied solely on classroom observations, 97 percent of New York teachers were judged “satisfactory.” But the new system has apparently substituted new errors for old ones.

There’s more. Read the essay by William Johnson in the New York Times titled “Confessions of a ‘Bad’ Teacher.” Then see how some liberal parents — many concernebout what they consider a misplaced emphasis on testing and evaluation– are joining their conservative counterparts in the home schooling ranks, thereby removing some of the most high-performing students from public school.

With all this — as well as massive budget cuts and staff reductions — is it any wonder that, according to the latest MetLife Survey of the American Teacher,  teacher job satisfaction has fallen by 15 percentage points since 2009, and nearly a third of teachers are considering leaving the profession?

I didn’t plan to make this column so negative, but I think these things are important to point out. Certainly, most school districts value their teachers and treat them like professionals. But even with the best of intentions, grand ideas concerning testing, evaluation, and accountably — when applied clumsily — can end up harming the very professionals we need to support.


Lawrence Hardy|March 11th, 2012|Categories: Assessment, Data Driven Decision Making, School Reform, Teachers, Urban Schools|Tags: , |

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