2010-11-05 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

No Nice Way To Put It – Joel Klein Is A Liar, And The Value Added Report Cards Are A Joke
Commentary By Howard Schwach

There is just no nice way to put it. No way around the truth. School Chancellor Joel Klein is a liar and Mayor Michael Bloomberg is his enabler, allowing him to continue telling lies that are so transparent that even parents and students are beginning to realize what a fabricator he is.

First, he and the mayor lied about the amazing gains New York City schoolchildren were making in reading and mathematics.

When it became clear to all and embarrassing to the state education department that those gains were all illusionary, fueled by lowering the cut scores on the test to make it seem that more students were passing, Klein and Bloomberg spun the story to make it look like they were the good guys in the story and that the collapse of the scores were really a good thing.

Then, the two liars said that they had to release highly-suspect teacher report cards because the parents needed them and it was important that the parents be involved in all factors of education.

That from the two men who took away community control of the school boards and turned that control over to rubber-stamp community education councils with no power but to use their “approved” stamp on DOE decisions.

They are the same two men who so destroyed parental involvement that they could not even get people to run for most of the rubber-stamp panels because parents know what a job they actually are.

Writing in New York Magazine, the two men say that the most important thing taught in the schools is skills, and that their program of school report cards and teacher report cards “help focus on a clear set of expectations and form a way to make schools and teachers accountable.”

What a joke. One year, a school gets an A and 96 points because eighty percent of the students are proficient. The next year, the same school gets a C and 39 points because only 19 percent of the students are proficient. Same school, same teachers, same administration, basically the same students.

Tell me how that focuses on anything, except what a farce are the report card grades and the standardized test scores that drive those grades.

Last year, 11 Rockaway schools got an A grade. This year, three Rockaway schools got an A grade, and one of those is a magnet school that draws only level 4 students.

A full 750 schools in the city dropped either one or two letter grades in one year.

If I were still teaching and 84 percent of my kids passed one year and only 19 percent passed the following year, administrators would be taking a long look at what I have been doing. Nobody, however, is looking at Klein and Bloomberg for their failures.

And their talk of “skills,” is hilarious, because the only skills taught in the public school at the present time is how to take a standardized test.

Everything else, besides test prep, reading and mathematics has largely gone by the board.

Now, the same two men who brought you the testing fiasco want to sell you a bill of goods that teachers can be fairly evaluated and receive a letter grade through a convoluted system called “value added.”

Klein explained the system in a recent New York Post (we hate all unions and all union members).

“It starts with the idea of fairness,” Klein wrote. “Statisticians look that the factors that have historically affected student achievement, such as high levels of poverty, and create a picture of each child’s background that enables them to predict how well that child is likely to do. They then see whether the child – or the whole class – did better or worse than was predicted. The point is to remove all of the factors teachers can’t control.

For example, let’s say Adam is a first year, seventh grade math teacher. His students are predicted to score on the average 3.22 on the state math test. But instead, his students score 3.3, meaning he added .08.”

In the city plan, Adam’s score is compared to other first year math teachers and Adam’s score comes up in the 85th percentile.

That means Adam gets an 85.

For Adam, that means he might get a raise and probably will earn tenure.

Leslie is another first-year math teacher. Her kids are expected to score 3.22 on the tests, but instead, they score 3.17. That means she took away .05, meaning she is in the 33 percentile and fails. She will be fired and never get tenure.

Now, if you believe a teacher’s career should rely on a statistical anomaly, then raise your hand and go to the back of the class.

Remember the old saw, “There are three kinds of liars – plain liars, damn liars and statistics. That happens to be true.

Diane Ravitch, one of the most respected education experts in the nation and the author of several books on the subject, wrote an op-ed piece for the Daily News.

She wrote, “On the surface [value added] may sound like a good idea. If students make great gains on tests between one year and the next, doesn’t it prove that their teacher is effective? If their scores stagnate or decline, isn’t that the teacher’s fault?

“Proponents of the value added assessment insist that external factors make no difference once a child is sitting in front of a given teacher. At that point, they say, a teacher’s input makes all the difference. But research does not support this claim. Children who don’t speak English and live in poverty face many challenges. They have many hills to climb and it is harder for them to climb the hills than more privileged children. Teachers cannot choose who sits in front of them. One year, on the basis of value added, they may be average. The following year, however, with all new students, they might be below average depending on who is assigned to their classroom.”

With test scores sending mixed messages and value added under attack, it is unfair to make public scores based on those components. In fact, releasing incorrect or misleading teacher report cards might well be a crime, a form of defamation, and the city might well be paying millions of dollars to teachers they tagged as unsatisfactory and then fired by utilizing a discredited methodology to do so. In late October, the New York Teacher, the UFT’s house organ, published a front page story stating that the DOE had backed off the plan to release the teacher data in the face of a lawsuit it knew it could not win. The headline tells the story.

“The Data is Too Damn Wrong.”

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