NY Teacher Lederman’s Day in Court

Do you recall the case of Sheri Lederman? The Long Island teacher who, apparently by all accounts other than her composite growth (or value-added) score is a terrific 4th grade/18 year veteran teacher, who received a score of 1 out of 20 after she scored a 14 out of 20 the year prior (see prior posts herehere and here; see also here and here)?

With her husband, attorney Bruce Lederman leading her case, she is suing the state of New York (the state in which Governor Cuomo is pushing to now have teachers’ value-added scores count for approximately 50% of their total evaluations) to challenge the state’s teacher evaluation system. She is also being fully supported by her students, her principal, her superintendent, and a series of VAM experts including: Linda Darling-Hammond (Stanford), Aaron Pallas (Columbia University Teachers College), Carol Burris (Educator and Principal of the Year from New York), Brad Lindell (Long Island Research Consultant), and me (Arizona State University) (see their/our expert witness affidavits here). See also an affidavit more recently submitted by Jesse Rothstein (Berkeley) here, as well as the full document explaining the entire case – the Memorandum of Law – here.

Well, the Ledermans had their day in court this past Wednesday (August 12, 2015).

It was apparent in the hearing that the Judge carefully read all the papers prior, and he was fully familiar with the issues. As per Bruce Lederman, “[t]he issue that seemed to catch the Judge’s attention the most was whether it was rational to have a system which decides in advance that 7% of teachers will be ineffective, regardless of actual results. The Judge asked numerous questions about whether it was fair to use a bell curve,” whereby when using a bell curve to distribute teachers’ growth or value-added scores, there will always be a set of “ineffective” teachers, regardless of whether in face they are truly “ineffective.” This occurs not naturally but by the statistical manipulation needed to fit all scores within the normal distribution needed to spread out the scores in order to make relative distinctions and categorizations (e.g., highly effective, effective, ineffective), the validity of which are highly uncertain (see, for example, a prior post here). Hence, “[t]he Judge pressed the lawyer representing New York’s Education Department very hard on this particular issue,” but the state’s lawyer did not (most likely because she could not) give the Judge a satisfactory explanation, justification, or rationale.

For more information on the case, see here the video that I feel best captures the case, thanks to CBS news in Albany. For another video see here, compliments of NBC news in Albany. See also two additional articles, here and here, with the latter including the photo of Sheri and Bruce Lederman pasted below.

a - ledermans_0

“Students Matter” Sues 13 California Districts for Not Using Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers

From Diane Ravitch’s Blog, here:

“Students Matter,” the Silicon Valley-funded group that launched the Vergara lawsuit to block teacher tenure in California, is now suing 13 school districts for their failure to use test scores in evaluating teachers.

The goal is to compel the entire state to use value-added-modeling (VAM), despite the fact that experience and research have demonstrated its invalidity and lack of reliability.

The Southern California school systems named in the latest filing are El Monte City, Inglewood Unified, Chaffey Joint Union, Chino Valley Unified, Ontario-Montclair, Saddleback Valley Unified, Upland Unified and Victor Elementary District. The others are: Fairfield-Suisun Unified, Fremont Union, Pittsburg Unified; San Ramon Valley Unified and Antioch Unified.

“School districts are not going to get away with bargaining away their ability to use test scores to evaluate teachers,” said attorney Joshua S. Lipshutz, who is working on behalf of Students Matter. “That’s a direct violation of state law.”

The plaintiffs are six California residents, including some parents and teachers, three of whom are participating anonymously.

In all, the districts serve about 250,000 students, although the group’s goal is to compel change across California.

“The impact is intended to be statewide, to show that no school district is above the law,” Lipshutz said.

The plaintiffs are not asking the courts to determine how much weight test scores should be given in a performance review, Lipshutz said. He cited research, however, suggesting that test scores should account for 30% to 40% of an evaluation.

The current case, Doe vs. Antioch, builds on earlier litigation involving the Los Angeles Unified School District. In 2012, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that the school system had to include student test scores in teacher evaluations. But the judge also allowed wide latitude for negotiation between the union and district.

The court decision was based on the 1971 Stull Act, which set out rules for teacher evaluations. Many districts had failed for decades to comply with it, according to some experts.

Will the Silicon Valley billionaires help to find new teachers when the state faces massive teacher shortages based on the litigation they continue to file?

Breaking News: New York’s Sheri Lederman is to Have Her Day in Court

Remember Sheri Lederman of Long Island, the apparently, by all other accounts, terrific 4th grade and now 18 year veteran teacher who received an “ineffective” rating based on New York’s value-added model (VAM); that is, a score of 1 out of 20 after she scored a 14 out of 20 the year prior (see prior posts herehere and here)?  With her husband, Bruce Lederman – an attorney – she was suing the state of New York to challenge the state’s teacher evaluation system…

Well, the state of New York sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, but a few days ago the New York Supreme Court ruled that the lawsuit would move forward. This is great news for the Ledermans, and (hopefully, soon to be) great news for many others across the nation!

This comes from an email sent by Bruce Lederman yesterday (with his permission to share with you all):

I am very pleased to advise all of you, who have generously helped and volunteered your time and thoughts, that Judge Roger D. McDonough just issued the attached decision finding that Sheri does indeed have standing to challenge her growth score of 1 out of 20 points. The [New York] Education Department [NYED] has been ordered to answer the Petition claiming that the score is arbitrary and capricious within 30 days from notice of entry…

The Court is holding off a decision until after the [NYED] answers our request for discovery and depositions. We have requested underlying data, a clear statement of what Sheri needed to do to get a perfect score, and to take depositions of both State Ed and [the American Institutes for Research (AIR) – the VAM developer in NY].

I don’t know what the Ed Department will say but predict that they will predominantly argue that the growth score, while not perfect, is not sufficiently irrational to justify Court intervention. Obviously, [we] strongly disagree. I suspect that they will try to argue that there is some overriding legislative interest in promoting student “growth” which will somehow allow them to avoid the merits of Sheri’s otherwise very strong case.

Thanks to all who have helped and I look forward to getting a Judicial decision actually addressing the irrationality of Value Added Models.

As per a post yesterday on Diane Ravitch’s blog (also covering the same “Breaking News”) this means that “that the NY Education Department must now answer to a Judge and explain why a rating which is irrational by any reasonable standard should be permitted to remain. The NY Education Department argued that Sheri Lederman lacked standing to challenge an “ineffective” rating on her growth score since her overall rating was still effective and she was not fired. A judge disagreed and determined that an ineffective rating on a growth score is an injury which she is entitled to challenge in Court.”

Sheri, on behalf of many, will finally have her day in court.

Value-Added in the Courthouse

As I wrote in a recent post, I believe that the VAM “wars” will be won out in the courthouse, primarily given some of the key lawsuits currently underway across states (e.g., New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, Texas), and despite the “landmark loss” last June with the “Vergara v. California” case.

In a recent article written by Emma Stone of The Washington Post, she also highlights how said “[c]ontentious teacher-related policies [are] moving from legislatures to the courts,” and how “[n]ow the largest unions in the country” are turning to the courts “to fight for one of their most pressing interests: An end to test-based evaluations they say are arbitrary and unfair.” This is ultimately “giving judges the chance to make decisions that could shape the way teachers are hired, fired and paid” well into the future.

Specifically highlighted in this article are the cases in New Mexico (click also here) and Tennessee (click also here and here), but there are two others still to watch in Texas (click here) and New York (click here). There is also another case in Florida in federal appeals court (click here).

As per Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT:) “There will be more challenges because things are not being seen as credible and fair…What we’ve gotten to is this routinized, mechanized displacement of human judgment, and that’s what I think you’re seeing — that is the underlying issue that is the root of this agita about evaluations.” She added “It’s ridiculous that we have to go to the courts,” but  education officials (really across states) and “other supporters of test-based evaluation are deaf to evidence that the evaluations aren’t working.”

As the counterpoint, Eric Hanushek – Economist, Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the (conservative) Hoover Institution of Stanford University, and visible/active supporter of VAMs for teacher evaluation – responded that “[e]ssentially teacher unions don’t want any evaluation,” adding that  “[t]hat’s what [the unions are] angling for.”

I try to refrain from cursing (most of the time) but I’m tempted on this one…especially given an “academic” made such a non-academic comment given (most of) the current research on the topic and despite (and in spite of) the “growing number of groups” that have voiced research-informed skepticism about VAMs, in particular regarding their uses for teacher evaluation. These groups include, most notably, the National Academy of Education (NAE), of which Hanushek is a member, the American Statistical Association (ASA), the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), to name a few.

NY Congressman’s Letter to Duncan on Behalf of NY Teacher Lederman

In the fall I posted a piece on a “Highly Regarded’ Teacher Suing New York over [Her] ‘Ineffective’ VAM Scores.” This post was about Sheri Lederman, a 17-year veteran and 4th grade teacher, recognized by her district superintendent as having a “flawless” teaching record and “highly regarded as an educator.” Yet she received an “ineffective” rating this last here.

She is now suing the state because of her VAM scores that placed her in the “ineffective” category, which is the worst possible category in the state. She received the lowest VAM-based rating possible in the state and was assigned a 1 out of 20, with a 20 being the highest in terms of “added value.”

Her case is onto its way to the courthouse in the state of New York this week, and all fingers and toes are crossed in terms of a positive outcome, also given her particular case could also help to set a precedent for the (many) others in (many) other states.

Two days ago and on her behalf, a New York Congressman mailed to Secretary Arne Duncan a letter (attached here) explaining Sheri’s story and asking Secretary Duncan to not only hear Sheri’s case but also answer a series of questions about the VAMs Duncan has incentivized throughout the country (primarily via Race to the Top funding attached to “growth” [aka value-added] models).

These questions are pasted below; although again, I encourage those who are interested to read the full letter (attached again here) as well as the questions pasted below, as both provide a sense of that which this congressman is now questioning, as are others.

  1. Does the U.S. Department of Education believe that VAMs accurately measure a teacher’s contribution to student growth?
  2. What form of guidance has the U.S. Department of Education provided to states that are using VAM to measure teacher effectiveness?
  3. Has the U.S. Department of Education issued any guidance to states specific on how states and Local Education Authorities should handle appeals for teacher evaluation scores generated by VAMs?
  4. Has the U.S. Department of Education identified covariates of interest that should be included in a model that attempts to isolate teacher contribution to student growth?
  5. Has the U.S. Department of Education identified covariates that should not be included in the model that attempts to isolate teacher contribution?
  6. What alternatives to VAM have been found to be suitable to measure teacher effectiveness?

I will keep you posted…

New Mexico’s Teacher Evaluation Lawsuit: Four Teachers’ Individual Cases

Regarding a prior post about a recently filed “Lawsuit in New Mexico Challenging State’s Teacher Evaluation System,” filed by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and charging that the state’s current teacher evaluation system is unfair, error-ridden, harming teachers, and depriving students of high-quality educators (see the actual lawsuit here), the author of an article recently released in The Washington Post takes “A closer look at four New Mexico teachers’ evaluations.”

Emma Brown writes that the state believes this system supports the “aggressive changes’ needed “to produce real change for students” and “these evaluations are an essential tool to support the teachers and students of New Mexico.” Teachers, on the other hand (and in general terms), believe that the new evaluations “are arbitrary and offer little guidance as to how to improve.”

Highlighted further in this piece, though, are four specific teachers’ evaluations taken from this state’s system along with each teacher’s explanations of the problems as they see them. The first veteran teacher with 36 years of “excellent evaluations” scored ineffective for missing too much work, although she was approved for and put on a six-month’s leave after a serious injury caused by a fall. She took four of the six months, but her “teacher attendance” score dropped her to the bottom of the teacher rankings. She has since retired.

The second, 2nd-grade teacher, also a veteran teacher with 27 years of experience, received 50% of her “teacher attendance” points also given a family-related illness, but she also received 8 out of 50 “student achievement” points. She argues that her students, because most of them are well above average had difficulties demonstrating growth. In other words, her argument rests on the real concern (and very real concern in terms of the current research) that “ceiling effects” are/were preventing her students from growing upwards, enough, when compared to other “similar” students who are also to demonstrate “a full year’s worth of growth.” She is also retiring in a few months “in part because she is so frustrated with the evaluation system.”

The third teacher, a middle-school teacher, scored 23 out of 70 “value-added” points, even though he switched from teaching language arts to teaching social studies at the middle-school level. This teacher did not apparently have the three-years needed (not to mention in the same subject area) to calculate his “value-added,” nor does he have “any idea” where his score came from or how it was calculated.” Accordingly, his score “doesn’t give him any information about how to get better,” which falls under the general issue that these scores are apparently offering teachers little guidance as to how to improve. This is an issue familiar across most if not all such models.

The fourth teacher, an alternative high school mathematics and science teacher of pregnant and parenting teens many of whom have learning or emotional disabilities, received 24 of 70 “student achievement” points, she is arguing, are based on tests that are “unvetted and unreliable,” especially given the types of students she teaches. As per her claim: ““There are things I am being evaluated on which I do not and cannot control…Each year my school graduates 30 to 60 students, each of whom is either employed, or enrolled in post-secondary training/education. This is the measure of our success, not test scores.”

This is certainly a state to watch, as the four New Mexico teachers highlighted in this article certainly have unique and important cases, all of which may be used to help set precedent in this state as well as others. Do stay tuned…

Lawsuit in New Mexico Challenging State’s Teacher Evaluation System

On Friday (February 13) the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) posted a news release “Teachers and State Legislators Join AFT New Mexico in Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of Punitive, Error-Ridden Teacher Evaluation System” in which it is detailed why New Mexico teachers, state legislators, AFT New Mexico, and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation are taking on New Mexico’s Public Education Department and the State’s Education Secretary-Designee, charging that “New Mexico’s current teacher evaluation system is harming teachers and depriving students of the high-quality educators they need to succeed.”

The actual lawsuit can be found here, in which the “numerous problems” with the state’s systems are detailed more fully. But in short, the key claim in the charge follows.

Throughout the state value-added measures (VAMs) comprise 50% of a teacher’s rating, with the other 50% coming from supervisor observations, student or parent surveys, attendance records, and the like. The charge is that all of the indicators are “riddled with errors,” not only in terms of the quality of the data inputted into the system but also, related and perhaps more importantly, the quality of the data coming out (i.e., the teacher evaluation output). Errors include but are not limited to: “teachers rated on incomplete or incorrect test data (for example, teachers matched up to students they never taught, students given tests on subjects or levels they didn’t know); teachers docked for being absent more days than they were actually gone from school, and some penalized for being absent for family or medical leave, bereavement, or professional development; missing data from student surveys; and teachers rated poorly on the student achievement portion of the evaluation, even when their students had made clear progress on tests.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten, commenting on this lawsuit said, “Last year, I called the VAM-based individual teacher evaluation system a sham based on how it was being used in places like Texas and Florida. New Mexico’s use of it is just as concerning.” Hence, New Mexico has certainly made it to the top of the list in terms of state’s to watch, although I would also add to this list the states of Tennessee and New York.

As I have written and said before, I believe the VAM-related “wars” will be won out in the courthouse. Hopefully this, as well as some of the other key lawsuits currently underway in these other states (see, for example, here, here, and here), will continue to take the lead, and even lead our nation back to a more reasonable and valid set of standards and expectations when it comes to the evaluation of America’s public school teachers. Do stay tuned…

More from Moshe on Chetty, Kane, and their Vergara Testimonies

Moshe Adler is one of Chetty et al.’s biggest and most important critics, especially as an expert in economics and econometrics himself. Likewise, he has been debunking Chetty et al.’s works from the time Chetty et al.’s studies were first released in 2011 (when the studies were cited by by President Obama) through their most current 2014 versions (when the studies were cited by the judge in Vergara v. California). Examples of some examples of Adler’s criticisms of Chetty et al.’s works can be found here and here.

Adler is also a critic of the work of Thomas Kane, another person of interest (see prior posts about Kane here and here), as Kane is also involved with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he is a proponent of VAMs as aligned with the Gates Foundation’s interests, and he (like Chetty) served as a key witness for the prosecution in the same Vergara v. California trial. In many ways, Chetty and Kane together delivered the final blows that cost the defense its lost in the Vergara v. California case (as explained here).

That being said, Adler recently presented his work at a conference of the National Organization of Lawyers for Education Associations that was held in Washington DC in October of 2014. More specifically, he presented his review of Chetty’s and Kane’s Vergara v. California testimonies. He also agreed to share his PowerPoint presentation with a brief summary, below. Here’s what he wrote, although you can also click here for his full PowerPoint here.

In the Vergara trial in Los Angeles, the economist Raj Chetty testified that teachers with high teacher value-added scores have a life-long positive impact on the incomes of their students, and the economist Tom Kane testified that minority students in Los-Angeles lose more than a month of schooling each year because they are assigned low value-added teachers.

Chetty’s testimony is based on two articles that he co-authored with economists John Friedman and Jonah Rockoff. Tom Kane’s testimony is based on his work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

However, what is highlighted in this PowerPoint presentation is that Chetty’s research, on which he based his testimony, constitutes bad science, and that Kane chose to present his findings in units that present trivial effects as significant [emphasis added].

When Chetty et al.’s articles were accepted for publication by the American Economic Review (AER), Chetty emailed me to inform me of this news (and to suggest that these articles should earn him the Nobel Prize). I immediately wrote to the editors of the AER to alert them of the problems with the articles. Curiously, the editors did not send my concerns to a third party reviewer or even to the referees who originally reviewed the papers for the review. Instead, they sent them to Chetty et al., who published a reply to which I have responded. For more information about all of this, see this aforementioned debate here, and see all of this email correspondence here.

But as for this PowerPoint, the main point is that Chetty et al.’s claim that an increase in teacher value-added leads to higher income throughout adulthood is contradicted by their own findings. Again, you can read more about this here.

“Highly Regarded” Teacher Suing New York over “Ineffective” VAM Scores

According to a recent Washington [Blog] Post written by Valerie Strauss, in New York a 17-year veteran and current 4th grade teacher, recognized by the district superintendent as having a “flawless” teaching record and being “highly regarded as an educator,” is suing the state of New York over her VAM scores that have just placed her in the “ineffective” teacher category. This is, and will prove to be very important for her and perhaps other teachers’ in general, or who might also engage in similar legal actions elsewhere.

In this case, though, the teacher’s “students consistently outperform state averages on math and English standardized tests,” and the superintendent signed an affidavit on her behalf saying “her record is flawless” and that “she is highly regarded as an educator.” In addition, he noted “[her] classroom observations have consistently identified her as an exceptional educator,” among other praises.

So, “[h]ow is it that a teacher known for excellence could be rated ‘ineffective’?” One guess: VAM.

“[T]he New York State Growth Measures [i.e., New York’s version of VAM] ‘actually punishes excellence in education through a statistical black box which no rational educator or fact finder could see as fair, accurate or reliable.” For example, “[i]n 2012-13, 68.75 percent of her students met or exceeded state standards in both English and math. She was labeled “effective” that year. In 2013-14, her students’ test results were very similar but she was rated “ineffective.” This likely occurred because she did not “grow” her students as much the second year as compared to her comparison group of peers, although any system that can be used to rate the same teacher “effective” one year and “ineffective” the next should raise eyebrows, naturally. As per the lawsuit, “This simply [and obviously] makes no sense, both as a matter of statistics and as a matter of rating teachers based upon slight changes in student performance from year to year.”

This is certainly one to watch, and I look forward to other teachers following her lead as this is something likely to ultimately be won in the courthouse. Onward!

One Houston Teacher and Future Teachers Reportedly Not to Be

Following up on a previous post about “Houston Teachers Suing over their District’s EVAAS Use,” an opinion piece released this summer via The Houston Chronicle about the realities of another teacher in Houston working for 15 years in the district, highlights some of the same and a few more of the unfortunate details, including details about those who are reportedly choosing, now, not to teach in the district.

The authors write, “the tool that the Houston Independent School District school board had hoped would keep its best teachers in the classroom is actually sending great teachers running,” and here are some reasons why:

The one teacher highlighted in this piece, “holds a mathematics degree from the University of Houston, has taught all levels of high school mathematics for 15 years…and has repeatedly pursued assignments in high-needs schools with large Latino populations. While administrators, parents and peers have consistently rated him as a highly effective teacher, his EVAAS scores have varied wildly. While at [one district high school], he earned one of the highest EVAAS scores and year-end bonuses possible. Two years ago, teaching the same subject at [another high school] he received a below-average EVAAS score.” This teacher decided to leave the high-needs school in which his students’ performance apparently “biased” his results. He explained, “I can’t afford to be heroic. I want to be in the toughest schools, but the EVAAS model interprets my students’ challenges as my personal [and professional] failure.” For this teacher the ‘unintended consequences meant leaving the students who needed him most.”

Likewise, there seems to be anecdotal evidence that the EVAAS model may be preventing other reportedly “great” teachers from entering the district as well. Although in the article no “hard” numbers are provided, the authors report that “Instructors for teaching certification programs report that their students [i.e., future teachers] are increasingly looking for jobs outside of HISD.” This makes sense, as well, as HISD has been looking for more teachers out of the state, specifically in North Carolina where teacher salaries are among the lowest (read more about this here).

Overall, the authors conclude that “[o]ver the coming months, [the district’s board of] trustees [must] decide whether HISD will continue to evaluate teachers with flawed and unreliable models [i.e., the EVAAS in particular]….”

“Like [with] the seven highly regarded HISD teachers who have filed a lawsuit against the district, the community must call upon the school board to send EVAAS packing. [Houston’s] children deserve no less,” nor do any other districts’ children for that matter.

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The views expressed herein and throughout all pages associated with vamboozled.com are solely those of the authors and may not reflect those of Arizona State University (ASU) or Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College (MLFTC). While the authors and others associated with vamboozled.com are affiliated with ASU and MLFTC, all opinions, views, original entries, errors, and the like should be attributable to the authors and content developers of this blog, not whatsoever to ASU or MLFTC.