Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NC to Test Every Subject K-12 and Tie Teacher & Principal Evaluations to Test Scores

In a meeting this past Monday I attended, representatives from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provided educators with a presentation describing how our state is adding a sixth standard to our teacher evaluation and an eighth standard to our principal evaluation directly tying those evaluations to test scores. What I discovered at that meeting was that the standards proposed are worded innocuously and can hardly be questioned. For example the teacher standard reads:

"Teachers contribute to the academic success of students. The work of the teacher results in acceptable, measurable progress for students based on established performance expectations using appropriate data to demonstrate growth."

I would think just about all teachers hope that what they're doing is contributing to the academic success of their students. The big difference in opinions among educators, however, is perhaps what this "academic success" is and whether growth measured by a test score is accurate. The principal standard is also written in this hard-argue-against language:

"ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT LEADERSHIP: School executives will contribute to the academic success of students. The work of the school executive will result in acceptable, measurable progress for students based on established performance expectations using appropriate data to demonstrate growth."

Both of these standards make sense on the surface. There's no educator alive who would argue that teachers and principals are not responsible for the achievement of their students. In my years as an educator, there's not a day that passes where concern about whether our students are learning what we're asking them to do isn't on my mind. The problem is not with these standards, but it is with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction's interpretation of what "student achievement" is. Under their plan, student achievement = growth on standardized test scores. While that is a nice, neat simplification of what achievement is, it ignores all learning that can't be tested with standardized testing. By interpreting student achievement as test score growth, the state is simply making testing in North Carolina even higher-stakes than before. With this test-emphasis, we will be well on our way to becoming test-prep factories that don't churn out educated students, but excellent test-takers. North Carolina is going to subject students to tests early and often, not to measure student progress, but to measure how well the teacher is doing. This betrays an underlying, but mistaken belief that tests can be used to tell you how teachers and principals are doing. North Carolina has defined "effective teaching" and "effective school administration" as simply growth demonstrated (by whatever model they can create) by test score performance.

Ultimately, the meeting I attended was billed as an opportunity for educators like myself to provide "feedback" to North Carolina Department of Public Instruction personnel on this proposed teacher evaluation change. However, in practice, it seemed more of a here's-what-we're-going-to-do-to-you session, but we want to give the "appearance that we're listening to educators." (That's a tactic perfected by Arne Duncan.) During the session, when educators expressed concerns about what the state is planning to do, they were often cut off by DPI personnel who interrupted to defend the state's plans rather than sincerely allowing educators to voice their concerns and listening. They felt the need to stifle honest opinion by cutting off people while they were speaking. Instead of being an opportunity to express concerns, it was an opportunity for the state of North Carolina to try to summarily dismiss those concerns.

To this educator, there are two equally frightening things about this whole test-centered approach to teacher and principal evaluations that I and other educators at this meeting tried to bring up, but the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction representatives quickly let us know that we were wrong.

  • First of all, North Carolina is planning to evaluate teachers and administrators  by using test scores this spring even though they have not decided what growth model they are going to use, nor do they know exactly how this evaluation is going to take place. What's worse, they will not know at least until February of this year when the State Board has an opportunity to hear the first reading. In typical bureaucratic fashion, they are rolling out a program and implementing it even before it is finalized and clearly defined. Historically, I can recall two other examples of North Carolina Department of Public Instruction initiatives that were rolled out before they were defined well. These were when the state during the 1990's rolled out the ABC Accountability Model, and in the early 2000s, when the state rolled out the NC WISE student data system used throughout the state. Both of these were rolled out without any deep thought on its practical application in the districts. They were both rolled out bugs and all, and classroom teachers and educators had to suffer while the state got its act together. Now, it appears our State Department of Public Instruction is doing it yet again, except this time there are much higher stakes tied to it. North Carolina will be evaluating educators' careers based on something that isn't even clearly defined, and won't be until three-fourths of the year is completed.
  • Secondly, North Carolina is also planning to create tests for every single subject taught, administer these tests, and use the results, not to see how students are doing, but to see if teachers and principals are able to raise test scores. Recently, Charlotte-Mecklinburg proposed this "test-everything-that-moves" approach, and it blew up in the administration's face so bad, they had to take money from Bill Gates and the Broad foundation to hire public relations personnel to try to sell it. If something smells so bad that you have to repackage it to sell, then perhaps there's something fundamentally wrong with it. In spite of the fact that educators at this meeting expressed concern over how much more time we will spend testing under this proposal, and how problematic it will be to implement, the Department of Public Instruction personnel at this meeting dismissed these concerns outright repeatedly, and told us how wrong we were. 
As an administrator and educator, I understand the need for accountability. I understand the need for testing to see how our students are doing. I even cynically understand why our state is doing this. They are not doing it because it's what's best for our kids, because how could testing students' every move be beneficial? No, the state of North Carolina is doing this so that they can keep their Race to the Top money, plain and simple. As a 22 year veteran educator, I've seen education measures come and go. Most of those have been benign and simply were discontinued, and no one noticed their passing. However, this time I'm afraid it's going to be quite different. The state of North Carolina is using a program that is not fully defined yet, and a strategy that "tests-everything-with-a-pulse" that is going to destroy public education in this state. It is going to turn our schools into the test-prep factories that Diane Ravitch has spoken about so eloquently so many times.

Note: Here's the link to the presentation used if you would like to see it for yourself.

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