ASU Regents’ Professor Emeritus David Berliner at Vergara v. California

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As you (hopefully) recall from a prior post, nine “students” from the Los Angeles School District are currently suing the state of California “arguing that their right to a good education is [being] violated by job protections that make it too difficult to fire bad [teachers].” This case is called Vergara v. California, and it is meant to challenge “the laws that handcuff schools from giving every student an equal opportunity to learn from effective teachers.” Behind these nine students stand a Silicon Valley technology magnate (David Welch), who is financing the case and an all-star cast of lawyers, and Students Matter, the organization founded by said Welch.

This past Tuesday (March 18, 2014 – “Vergara Trial Day 28“), David C. Berliner, Regents’ Professor Emeritus here at Arizona State University (ASU), who also just happens to be my forever mentor and academic luminary, took the stand. He spoke, primarily, about the out-of-school factors that impact student performance in schools and how this impacts and biases all estimates based on test scores (often regardless of the controls uses – see a most recent post about this evidence of bias here).

As per a recent post by Diane Ravitch (thanks to an insider at the trial) Berliner said:

“The public and politicians and parents overrate the in-school effects on their children and underrate the power of out-of-school effects on their children.” He noted that in-school factors account for just 20 percent of the variation we see in student achievement scores.

He also discussed value-added models and the problems with solely relying on these models for teacher evaluation. He said, “My experience is that teachers affect students incredibly. Probably everyone in this room has been affected by a teacher personally. But the effect of the teacher on the score, which is what’s used in VAM’s, or the school scores, which is used for evaluation by the Feds — those effects are rarely under the teacher’s control…Those effects are more often caused by or related to peer-group composition…”

Now, Students Matter has taken an interesting (and not surprising) take on Berliner’s testimony (given their own slant/biases given their support of this case), which can also be found at Vergara Trial Day 28. But please read this with caution as the author(s) of this summary, let’s say, twisted some of the truths in Berliner’s testimony.

Berliner’s reaction? “Boy did they twist it. Dirty politics.” Hmm…

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