Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Teacher Data Reports Misused at MS 321 Updated


The Justice Not Just Tests group ICE has been working with has been asking teachers to petitions calling on the UFT to end its fateful agreement to issue teacher data reports based on their students' test scores. One of the members of the JNJT group sent us this story of the way one principal has used this test by handing out copies to the entire staff for comparison purposes. As far back as the early 80's my principal used to put up all the score over the time clock with the teachers' names and circle in red the names of those whose classes scored below what she expected, so I've seen this game before.

Click on the image to enlarge

I posted the text of the JNJT petition on Norms Notes and if this story doesn't get teachers to circulate it, nothing will. Copy and paste it or email me for the pdf. By the way, JNJT meets today at 5:30 at CUNY, 34th and 5th Ave, rm 5414. Come on down and join the struggle.

A teacher reports from MS 321M

I'm a teacher at MS 321, a grade 6-8 middle school in Washington Heights. My school is being "phased out" (read: closed down) over the next two years. The first discussion of these Teacher Data Reports came at the meeting when the announcement of our school closing was made. At this meeting, a DOE representative pointed out that the Teacher Data Reports "would be out there" when we apply for new jobs. As our school closes, we will become part of the teacher reserve and will have to apply for new jobs, so the implication is that principals will use these reports in the hiring process.

Our principal then "rolled out" the use of Teacher Data Reports at a recent faculty meeting. She explained that whether we like it or not, education is becoming a business and these data reports will hold us accountable according to a business model. It was pointed out by staff members that according to the UFT/DOE agreement: 1) the reports are supposed to be kept between you and your principal and 2) they cannot be used for the sake of evaluation. She did not contest these points, but also claimed that this data can be shared with other principals, so when we apply for new jobs principals will look at these reports while deciding whether to hire or not.

This was bad enough, but despite verbally agreeing that these reports were supposed to be private, she handed out all ELA and Math teachers’ data reports to every faculty member, stapled and compiled together, apparently for the sake of comparison. This is in clear violation of the UFT/DOE agreement that the reports were to be private.

Many people in the staff were outraged and several of us called the district representative from our union that night. The next day a union meeting was held with this representative. Everyone at the meeting (about 2/3 of the UFT chapter) signed a letter expressing our outrage, which was forwarded to the leaders of the UFT and the DOE.

After a couple of weeks, a superintendent from the DOE came in to apologize. Notably, our principal was absent and has yet to directly apologize to the staff. The superintendent said that all principals were given professional development outlining the use of data reports and that it was very clear that reports were to be handed out only in individual meetings.

She claimed to be considering disciplinary action against my principal, but refused to guarantee this or state exactly what that action would be. We must demand that swift and dramatic action be taken, lest other principals feel that they can get away with sharing the reports publicly or amongst themselves.

When questioned, she stated that administrators could not share these reports with other administrators. This new position is definitely a welcome development, as statements from the UFT and DOE have been unclear on this issue. Nonetheless, what is to stop principals from discretely sharing the data and this data informing hiring decisions?

The incident and discussion by my principal about these reports show that the notion that they are a tool for professional development is absurd. The effect of the reports can only further encourage teachers to spend weeks of teaching students how to take the test, poring through old exams and dumbing down instruction to only cover the types of problems on previous tests. And in practice, we can expect principals to threaten to use these reports as evaluative tools either explicitly or otherwise.

Despite the implications of the superintendent, I doubt that my principal was really acting as a “lone wolf”. More likely she got the idea that these reports are a “tool for accountability” from somewhere up the chain. It is only because we came together as a united staff that the DOE felt the need to change the tone of the conversation with our staff.

Finally, we need to argue that the Teacher Data Reports should be abolished immediately. It serves no useful purpose for professional development. There can be no effective mechanism to prevent the data’s misuse amongst administrators, either through sharing it with staff or other administrators or using it, in practice, as a tool for teacher evaluation.

Just an isolated case? We know full well that if there had not been concerted response on the part of the chapter, the UFT would have done little. With so many chapters loaded with young teachers without tenure, fear reigns and most would have done nothing. For 2/3 of the teachers to sign a petition shows a higher degree of union consciousness at MS 321. That is not due to the UFT as much as to the political activity of some of the teachers, some of it connected to groups opposed to the Unity Caucus leadership.

The UFT will now try to claim "victory." But the victory belongs to the staff of MS 321. Below, our teacher reporter does some broader analysis, placing the larger role of the UFT in context, some of which may appear in a publication.

Neoliberalism, privatization, charter schools, merit pay, data reports
- and the UFT

by Anonymous teacher at IS 321M

Across the country, the neoliberal educational model continues to be pushed. Privately managed and publicly funded charter schools are multiplying. In public schools, teachers are being forced to teach narrowly to standardized tests and there is a push to deny union rights like seniority and tenure in favor of standardized test-driven evaluation and merit pay.

The examples of such moves abound. All union teachers were fired and more than half of New Orleans schools became charter schools following Hurricane Katrina. In Washington, D.C., hundreds of teachers have been fired and at least 21 schools have been closed, and Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of DC schools proposed ending teacher tenure and seniority for a performance-based system, though this proposal has since been withdrawn. Dozens of other examples could be cited.

New York City is no exception. Advertisements for charter schools are being sent out in mass to residents of Harlem and placed in subway cars. Each year the push to tailor instruction to fit standardized tests is stronger, complete with breakdowns and analyses of previous years' tests, so as better to teach to the test.. The number of periodic assessments, which eat into instructional time and cause immense amount of stress on students, continues to rise.

Shockingly, some of the most dramatic moves toward a neoliberal educational model have been agreed to by the leadership of my union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), and even proclaimed as victories! The oft-stated justification by union leadership for these concessions is that accepting neoliberal-lite proposals will allow for the union to have a say and head off the more draconian versions.

The UFT opened its own charter school in the fall of 2005, which is proudly proclaimed by the union as the “first union-operated charter school in the country”. In the fall of 2007, the UFT agreed to a “pilot”, “voluntary” school-wide merit pay scheme, which my school has been chosen for.

The justification from our union leadership is that if we are going to have charter schools anyway, let them be union-run. If merit pay is coming anyway, let it be group merit pay instead of individual merit pay. But this gets it backwards. The privatizers see such examples as victories! Charter schools are a step away from public control, and for that reason are mostly non-union. We should be fighting to keep public schools public, not jumping on the charter school bandwagon. Where there was no merit pay scheme, there is one now.

The logical conclusion of all of this is that more of our educational funding will go towards these schemes, which will undermine public education and union rights. For example, while the stimulus bill includes a welcome $54 billion for education, the New York Times reports that, “Programs that tie teacher pay to performance will most likely receive money…” in the bill. In fact, a February 19 NYC Department of Education announcement states that, “New York City can also apply for grants to expand its Schoolwide Performance Bonus Program, which rewards educators for improving student achievement, from the $200 million Teacher Incentive Funds.” This money could be better used to prevent budget cuts, lower existing class sizes or to increase teacher salaries across the board.

Most recently, this fall, the UFT agreed to “Teacher Data Reports” for grade 4-8 English Language Arts (ELA) and Math teachers. They break down the performance of each teacher's students on the New York State Math or ELA test in grades 4-8. Chancellor Joel Klein and UFT President Randi Weingarten jointly announced these reports as, “a "new tool to help teachers learn about their own strengths and opportunities for development". They even had the audacity to claim that the idea came from teachers themselves! The letter states, “…many of you have told us how useful it would be to better understand how your efforts are influencing student progress.”

I have heard of teachers complain of lack of mentoring, support and materials (including basics like books and copies), but never of not knowing or having a breakdown of our students’ scores on standardized tests. We are already subjected to countless breakdowns of such “data”, and most teachers would agree that none of this data analysis improves our pedagogy.

At the same time, the letter spells out clearly that, “the Teacher Data Reports are not to be used for evaluation purposes” and in another UFT statement it is made clear that the reports are a private document to be shared with each teacher and their principal. Again, our union leadership proclaimed a victory in keeping the data private and fending off attempts to use such data for evaluation.

But if the reports are not useful in teacher training and development, what are they useful for? Especially given the context of this push towards performance-based evaluation and merit pay, it is impossible to see these reports as anything but a foot in the door towards teacher evaluation on the basis of test scores, and ultimately publicly releasing this data.

Leonie Haimson sent this comment on the story:

Given the tremendous errors in the class size data, the reports may have incorrect evaluations of a teacher’s effectiveness – even assuming the formula is correct (which I’m sure its not.) Every teacher should demand the class size data being used for his or her data report to check it for accuracy.

The teachers should demand that the formula used in the report be disclosed, as well as the research study mentioned below and the identity of the independent panel of experts that supposedly approved it.

A panel of technical experts has approved the DOE’s value-added methodology. The DOE’s model has met recognized standards for demonstrating validity and reliability. Teachers’ value-added scores from the model are positively correlated with both School Progress Report scores and principals’ perceptions of teachers’ effectiveness, as measured by a research study conducted during the pilot of this initiative.

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