“Arbitrary and Capricious:” Sheri Lederman Wins Lawsuit in NY’s State Supreme Court

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Recall the New York lawsuit pertaining to Long Island teacher Sheri Lederman? She just won in New York’s State Supreme court, and boy did she win big, also for the cause!

Sheri is a teacher, who by all accounts other than her 2013-2014 “ineffective” growth score of a 1/20, is a terrific 4th grade, 18-year veteran teacher. However, after receiving her “ineffective” growth rating and score, she along with her attorney and husband Bruce Lederman, sued the state of New York to challenge the state’s growth-based teacher evaluation system and Sheri’s individual score. See prior posts about Sheri’s case here, herehere and here.

The more specific goal of her case was to seek a judgment: (1) setting aside or vacating Sheri’s individual growth score and rating her as “ineffective,” and (2) declare that the New York endorsed and implemented growth measures in use was/is “arbitrary and capricious.” The “overall gist” was that Sheri contended that the system unfairly penalized teachers whose students consistently scored well and could not demonstrated growth upwards (e.g., teachers of gifted or other high achieving students). This concern/complaint is common elsewhere.

As per a State Supreme Court ruling, just released today as written by Acting Supreme Court Justice Judge Roger McDonough (May 10, 2016), and at 15 pages in length and available in full here, Sheri won her case. She won it against John King — the then New York State Education Department Commissioner and the now US Secretary of Education (who recently replaced Arne Duncan as US Secretary of Education). The Court concluded that Sheri (her husband, her team of experts, and other witnesses) effectively established that her growth score and rating for 2013-2014 was “arbitrary and capricious,” with “arbitrary and capricious” being defined as actions “taken without sound basis in reason or regard to the facts.”

More specifically, the Court’s conclusion was founded upon: (1) the convincing and detailed evidence of VAM bias against teachers at both ends of the spectrum (e.g. those with high-performing students or those with low-performing students); (2) the disproportionate effect of petitioner’s small class size and relatively large percentage of high-performing students; (3) the functional inability of high-performing students to demonstrate growth akin to lower-performing students; (4) the wholly unexplained swing in petitioner’s growth score from 14 [i.e., her growth score the year prior] to 1, despite the presence of statistically similar scoring students in her respective classes; and, most tellingly, (5) the strict imposition of rating constraints in the form of a “bell curve” that places teachers in four categories via pre-determined percentages regardless of whether the performance of students dramatically rose or dramatically fell from the previous year.”

As per an email I received earlier today from Bruce (i.e., Sheri’s husband/attorney who prosecuted her case), the Court otherwise “declined to make an overall ruling on the [New York growth] rating system in general because of new regulations in effect” [e.g., that the state’s growth model is currently under review]…[Nontheless, t]he decision should qualify as persuasive authority for other teachers challenging growth scores throughout the County [and Country]. [In addition, the] Court carefully recite[d] all our expert affidavits [i.e., from Professors Darling-Hammond, Pallas, Amrein-Beardsley, Sean Corcoran and Jesse Rothstein as well as Drs. Burris and Lindell].” Noted as well were the “absence of any meaningful’ challenge to [Sheri’s] experts’ conclusions, especially about the dramatic swings noticed between her, and potentially others’ scores, and the other ‘litany of expert affidavits submitted on [Sheris’] behalf].”

“It is clear that the evidence all of these amazing experts presented was a key factor in winning this case since the Judge repeatedly said both in Court and in the decision that we have a “high burden” to meet in this case.” [In addition,] [t]he Court wrote that the court “does not lightly enter into a critical analysis of this matter … [and] is constrained on this record, to conclude that [the] petitioner [i.e., Sheri] has met her high burden.”

To Bruce’s/our knowledge, this is the first time a judge has set aside an individual teacher’s VAM rating based upon such a presentation in court.

Thanks to all who helped in this endeavor. Onward!

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4 thoughts on ““Arbitrary and Capricious:” Sheri Lederman Wins Lawsuit in NY’s State Supreme Court

  1. Dr. Beardsley, based on the court’s ruling, it’s fact specific. In other words, it cannot be used as precedent to throw out another teacher’s VAM without similar evidence about that teacher. If another teacher has a larger sample size (less variation from year to year) or fewer gifted/low-scoring kids, then they will have to prove their case all over again.

    You won so congratulations. But I can’t see this doing much for other teachers.

    • On the contrary, it will help any teacher who has the motivation and means to sue their state education agency over these specious VAM scores.

      The science and now the law is on the side of common sense evaluation of teachers. Soon the leaks in the dike will be too many to plug!

  2. This is indeed a step in the right direction! And more and more states are beginning to re-examine the negative impact of using test scores in the teacher evaluation process! The tide is turning!

  3. I attended the arguments last summer and wonder too about the various other sub-sections of the law the Ledermans claimed were violated. The one I remember specifically was that the evaluation system in place must be “transparent and available” prior to the start of the school year, so teachers know what they have to do to be effective.

    First, is this requirement still in place? If so, it violated the rights of every teacher in the state. The formulae is hidden, making it unknowable how poverty, language and disability status affects students. Are ELLs counted as 3/5ths of a human? Who knows? Are all SWDs lumped together regardless of functioning ability?

    It also came out in the hearing that teachers must be able to attain an effective score if they do everything right. But the very existence of a bell curve with percentage quotas means the results are beyond the control of individual teachers.

    The current moratorium on APPR seems to be an emergency band aid on a policy with multiple deep flaws. Even now, NYC teachers have no idea how “local” test measures will be weighted versus observations. Is it 60/40? 75/25? Something else?

    And most absurdly, how can we use math and ELA scores in the evaluations of teachers of other subjects? Most teachers in the state teach non-tested subjects, but have these arbitrary VAM scores used to compute their rankings nonetheless.

    How much money and time is being wasted on these unproven, pseudoscientific policies?

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