“Insanity Reigns” in New York

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As per an article in Capitol Confidential, two weeks ago New York’s Governor Cuomo – the source of many posts, especially lately (see, for example, here, here, here, here, and here) — was questioned about the school districts that throughout New York were requesting delays in implementing the state’s new teacher evaluation program. Cuomo was also questioned about students in his state who were opting out of the state’s tests.

In response, Cuomo “stressed that the tests used in the evaluations don’t affect the students’ grades.” In his direct words, “[t]he grades are meaningless to the students.”

Yet the tests are to be used to evaluate how effective New York’s teachers are? So, the tests are meaningless to students throughout the state, but the state is to use them to evaluate the effectiveness of students’ teachers throughout the state regardless? The tests won’t count for measuring student knowledge (ostensibly what the tests are designed to measure) but they will be used to evaluate teachers (which the tests were not designed to measure)?

In fact, the tests as per Cuomo, “won’t count at all for the students…for at least the next five years.” Hence, students “can opt out if they want to.” Inversely, if a student decides to take the test the student should consider it “practice” because, again, “the score doesn’t count.” Nor will it count for some time.

In others words, those of a colleague who sent me this article: “Cuomo’s answer to parents who are on the fence about opting out, “oh, it’s just practice.” He expects that when parents hear that testing is low stakes for their kids they will not opt out, but once kids hear that the tests don’t count for them, how hard do you think they are going to try. Low stakes for students, high stakes for the teacher. Insanity reigns!”

This all brings into light the rarely questioned assumption about how the gains that students make on “meaningless” tests actually indicate how much “value” a teacher “adds” to or detracts from his/her students.

What is interesting to point out here is that with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Governor turned President George W. Bush’s brainchild, the focus was entirely on student-level accountability (i.e., a student must pass a certain test or face the consequences). The goal was that 100% of America’s public school students would be academically proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014 – yes, last year.

When that clearly did not work as politically intended, the focus changed to teacher accountability — thanks to President Obama, his U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and their 2009 Race to the Top competition. Approximately $4.35 billion in taxpayer revenues later, we now have educational policies focused on teacher, but no longer student accountability, with similar results (or the lack thereof).

The irony here is that for the most part the students taking these tests are no longer to be held accountable for their performance, but their teachers are to be held for their students’ performance instead, and regardless. Accordingly, across the country we now have teachers, justifiably nervous, who without telling their students that their professional lives are on the line — which is true in many cases — or otherwise lying to their students (e.g., your grades on these tests will be used to place you into college) — which is false in all cases — could face serious consequences, now because their students who as per Cuomo don’t have to care about their test performance (e.g., for five years)

While VAMs certainly have a number of serious issues with which we must contend, this is another that is not often mentioned, made transparent, or discussed. But the reality is that teachers across the country are living out this reality, in practice, every time they prepare their students for these tests.

So I suppose, within the insanity, we have Cuomo to thank for his comments here, as these alone make yet another reality behind VAMs all too apparent.

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One thought on ““Insanity Reigns” in New York

  1. Peter Cunningham, in his screed against John Oliver’s standardized testing segment, says that teachers are trying to “evade” accountability with all the opt-outs, blames unions and teachers for pushing opt-outs. Never mind that parents and students have been the driving force in the opting out; these ed deformers are going to write their own version of educational history to go along with their educational policy.

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