February 2014 - Testing/Assessments and Learning Standards
February 03, 2014

Open letter to NY education officials

Author: By Richard Iannuzzi and Carol Burris
Source: NYSUT United

Since 2010, when states competed for billions of dollars in Race to the Top funding, New York law has called for 20 percent of a principal's and teacher's evaluation to be based on student growth on state standardized tests.

Although we may have different approaches regarding the value, use and purpose of standardized test scores as one of the multiple measures used in evaluation, we are in total agreement that the use of the new Common Core tests to evaluate principals and teachers in New York has failed.

The rapidly phased-in Common Core tests provide a flawed representation of how students are performing and an even worse measure of teacher and principal effectiveness.

Commissioner John King Jr. and the State Education Department are preoccupied by testing, test scores and the complicated algorithms that are supposed to make the data valuable in teacher and principal evaluations.

The evidence, however, is less than convincing.

Recently, a teacher in Washington, D.C., was unfairly fired when a mistake in the formula used for evaluation lowered her score. This same reliance on using tests to rank and label educators is wreaking havoc across the country.

Complex mathematical formulas, purporting to measure teacher and principal effectiveness, are unreliable, producing an average swing of 35 points in math and 53 points in ELA in New York City from 2008 to 2010.

The use of a similar mathematical model in Florida resulted in teachers receiving scores for students they never taught, and has also unfairly labeled educators "ineffective" in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Houston and elsewhere.

In addition, there is an increasing volume of academic research that suggests these formula-based growth and value-added measures (VAM) are flawed in identifying teacher influence on student achievement.

The already difficult task of putting together a valid, reliable and fair evaluation system in New York has been compounded by the Education Department's rush to give our students Common Core exams, likening the roll-out to "jumping into the deep end" of a pool.

For New York students, without swim lessons or life preservers, that meant sitting for excruciatingly long and often age- and developmentally inappropriate tests last spring.

The department ignored warnings and insisted on administering the exams even though it had not lived up to its Race to the Top promise to provide appropriate professional development or resources for principals or teachers. An "opt out" movement burgeoned among concerned parents and many children became so anxious and stressed they became physically ill.

When scores were finally mailed to parents in September, many learned the state no longer considered their children proficient in English and math. Both kids and teachers received undeserved labels, telling them they did not make the grade. The outcry has only been getting louder since.

Despite growing outrage from parents, principals and teachers, the commissioner still refuses to admit that the implementation of the Regents Reforms has failed. He refers, instead, to the genuine concerns of parents and educators as a "distraction."

Although we may differ on the details, we agree that teacher and principal evaluation should reflect both professional practice as well as evidence of student learning. We also agree that the rigidity and fixation on "scores," the current dictum of Commissioner King and NYSED, are certainly not going to produce the fair evaluations our profession needs to help us better serve New York's students.

The corrections that must be made all require time for development and implementation, as well as resources. Parents and educators alike must have their concerns addressed and be continuously engaged if New York state is to have a testing and evaluation system that is fair, credible and serves our communities and students well.

Richard C. Iannuzzi President, New York State United Teachers
Carol Burris, Ed.D. Principal, South Side High School, Rockville Centre

This letter was published in January in the Washington Post's Answer Sheet.