Faculty Response to Current NY Assessment & Accountability Policy

As members of the faculty at Bank Street, a highly respected graduate school of education dedicated to the preparation of professional teachers and leaders, we wish to express our opposition to the narrow lens and hurried approach New York State is using to design and implement its new teacher and leader evaluation system.

As a society we are concerned about advancing children’s learning, improving schools and enhancing the ranking of the country’s educational achievement internationally, and indeed, these may have been some of the reasons that the new NYS teacher and leader evaluation system was originally conceived. While we share this concern, it is a spurious assumption that the use of students’ standardized tests and the methods of interpreting the “data” derived from those tests to assess teachers and leaders will have the desired effect; indeed, it may result in the opposite.

Governor Cuomo has stated that New York State will be a national leader in a teacher and leader assessment that utilizes students’ test scores to measure teacher and leader productivity. [1] This claim by the governor is problematic for a number of reasons. There is research regarding the significant unreliability of the data and the “value added” model NYS proposes to use, for example, Briggs’ and Domingue’s National Education Policy analysis. [2] We are concerned about the impact of mis-measuring teachers and school leaders given the lack of clarity and accuracy in the reported scores.

Publishing students’ standardized test scores and associating these scores with individual teachers and school leaders as if they are valid and reliable data create confusion among the public and demoralize teachers and leaders. The explanations provided to the public about what these scores actually mean are neither clear nor accurate. They give the appearance of a precision and accuracy that do not exist.

This new NYS system for evaluating teachers and leaders has not yet been fully developed nor tested according to any accepted protocol of measurement standards in order to ascertain the model’s validity, feasibility or effectiveness. Yet districts are being pushed to implement this system without clear guidelines, resources or any foundation in research. The rush to implementation, without a sound research base, will only exacerbate the problems of the proposed evaluation model.

We fear that the new NYS teacher and leader evaluation system will not only discourage creative, intelligent individuals from entering the field of education but may cause strong, experienced teachers and leaders to leave the public school system. Those who remain will be trapped in an assessment program that forces them to spend more time “teaching to the test” at the expense of enriched, engaging learning, which in turn can serve to erode the positive personal teacher-student relationships that are central to effective education.

Because teachers and leaders in independent schools are not subject to the same assessment mandate and its concomitant narrowed curricular foci, the mandate may serve to cement already existing differences in our two-tiered educational system—one privately funded and enriching, and the other publicly funded and assessment driven—thus widening, rather than narrowing, the socio-economic divide. We also are concerned about a continuation of the diminishing status of U.S. students in the international arena that will result from the extreme focus on testing. Other countries are now discovering what we at Bank Street have long advocated as essential for teaching and learning. At a time when China, for example, has begun reintroducing progressive pedagogy, acknowledging that an educational model focused on rote learning and strict assessments limits creative thinking, New York State is poised to do the opposite. Must we wait years to rediscover what we already know is good practice?

What does it mean to educate children for the current world? What constitutes achievement? What knowledge, skills, and dispositions do we want to foster?

At Bank Street we stand behind what we know to be quality teaching, leading, and learning. We recognize that basic skills are necessary for learners in the areas of literacy, technology, mathematical, aesthetic education and critical thinking. These skills are foundational and can emerge and develop in a supportive academic environment. But we want an education system that focuses on more than basic performance through questionable teacher and leader evaluation. We want children to be learners who are given opportunities to engage and create, as well as take responsibility for their learning. We educate teachers to enter classrooms with a commitment to supporting these capacities in their students. We educate leaders with a commitment to collaborate with teachers, students, and parents to create learning communities that foster everyone’s capabilities. A teacher and leader evaluation system that is worthy of its meaning: “to bring out the value” is one that will ensure lifelong learning and professional growth.

Offering a sound solution to the complex issue of teacher and leader assessment is impossible to achieve when key stakeholders are either removed from the process or the process is driven by speed and a false sense of efficiency. New York State and New York City would be wise to reexamine both the desired outcomes and the assessment processes they have designed to achieve them. Are we so cynical that we the people of New York State will agree to let our children bear the brunt of an ill conceived, hastily put together plan that will surely destroy their chances for a full and meaningful education? Is that what we want for our country’s next generation?

We recommend that NYSED pilot any new evaluation system that is being considered, without consequences for the educators willing to participate in the research and without public disclosure, so that it is possible to learn how it works, the types of results its planned system might reveal, and its implications for improving—or putting at risk—quality education. Only through thoughtful, well-researched development can our state and city create evaluation systems that truly contribute to improving teaching and learning.

[1] Governor’s Press Office (2012) Governor Cuomo Announces Agreement on Evaluation Guidelines That Will Make New York State a National Leader on Teacher Accountability. Retrieved from https://www.governor.ny.gov/press/02162012teacherevaluations

[2] Briggs, D. & Domingue, B. (20110. Due Diligence and the Evaluation of Teachers: A review of the value-added analysis underlying the effectiveness rankings of Los Angeles Unified School District teachers by the Los Angeles Times.  Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.  Retrieved 4/2/11 from http://nepc.colorado.edu/publicationdue-diligence.