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The NY Opt Out and “Invalidated” Scores

August 13, 2015

In April 2015, approximately 20 percent of students in New York State opted out of the state’s tests in grades 3 through 8.

An August 12, 2015, article opens as follows:

A large number of students opting out of New York state exams – about 220,000 or 20 percent – raises doubt about the validity of the results and may make them unsuitable to evaluate teachers or schools, according to a Syracuse University professor.

The problem with such a statement is that under no conditions is it a valid use of student test scores to evaluate teachers or schools.

The students are the test takers; these tests purportedly measure their achievement. There is no way to account for all of the possible variables that would enable the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to accurately evaluate teachers and schools using student test scores.

If NYSED could do so– if that $2.7 million it paid to American Institutes for Research (AIR) for the state’s value-added modeling (VAM) teacher evaluation system yielded a product that were really so accurate– then surely NYSED would publicize the details of its VAM calculations.

As it is, New York teachers are kept in the dark about those AIR-created, $2.7 million VAM calculation details– and apparent VAM capriciousness has resulted in a critical lawsuit from teacher Sheri Lederman– who was rated a 14 out of 20 on her “student growth” VAM component in 2012-13 and then 1 out of 20 via VAM in 2013-14.

The VAM stakes are higher for New York teachers in 2015-16, raised from 20 percent of the total teacher evaluation to 50 percent.

Again, this nonsense of grading teachers and schools using student scores was never a valid use of student tests.

Meanwhile, student opt outs in New York are only likely to increase in 2015-16 as parents seek to have their discontent with test-centric education– dare I write– validated by state legislators and education officials.

But it will be a fight: New York education officials confuse student learning with test score gains and apparently cannot comprehend any means of determining student learning absent cutting a multi-million-dollar testing company check.

Take NY education commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who is in “conversations” with the US Department of Education (USDOE) over possibly sanctioning NY districts that had high opt-out numbers. NY is at USDOE mercy via its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver.

And yet, a revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is in the works, with the Senate version having a rule of construction on opting out in which the feds basically toss opt-out decisions back to the states, and the House version including a blanket opt-out provision that is not dependent upon the state’s position on the matter.

So, NY’s NCLB waiver promising that “all students” will test is travelling ever closer to moot.

Then there is NY Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch. Indeed, in keeping with her unwillingness to forsake test scores as the ultimate measure of student achievement, Tisch vows to try to talk the public into “the value of the tests”:

Without an annual testing program, the progress of our neediest students may be ignored or forgotten….

Tisch holds New York teachers in high esteem. Without annual testing, those imbecilic New York teachers whose careers aren’t iced by an erratic VAM score will purposely ignore “the neediest students”– or simply suffer some sort of short-term memory loss and neglect to teach them.

It must be a special form of memory loss honed in on only “the neediest students.”

What is ironic is that the NYSED press release still includes details on the testing outcomes for student subgroups who chose to opt in.

New York’s public school Class of 2022 is supposed to pass Regents exams that are Common-Core-aligned.

That’s seven more years for parents to register their *valid* discontent with the NYSED/Regents plan.

school buses


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

  1. I am still having difficulties understanding how a teacher of science (or art, or history) can be evaluated on the basis of the kids’ scores in Math and English. Time for a lawsuit on this one.

    • As a music teacher, this has been my biggest point of anger so far. We have a curriculum to teach and it can support those other 2 subjects but we should be be evaluated on the scores students receive on those tests. How about if the math and English teachers are evaluated on how their students read and write music? Or, what if we gave each kid a tool that was a. different b. made noise c. read different passages d. required specific training and e. expect them to work together at the same time with 100% proficiency? Hmmmm Think about that the next time you attend a school concert of ANY level. ( This is my partner’s, the band teacher favorite to the point question)

      • And, by the way, SLO’s are a farce.

      • 2old2tch permalink

        How about just scrapping evaluation on the basis of student test scores and SLOs? Both methods are invalid. We all need to stick together; ELA and math teachers are not lucky to be evaluated by student performance on ELA and math standardized tests, and teachers of non tested subjects are not lucky to have SLOs or high stakes tests in ELA or math. We don’t need a discussion about who is more unfairly evaluated. It’s all unfair.

      • Laura H. Chapman permalink

        SLOs have been marketed by William Slotnick since 1999 when they were introduced in Denver as a tool for leveraging pay for performance. I have reviewed the research and examined this fraud in a paper tiiled the “The Marketing of SLOs: 1999-2014.” I work in arts education and have documented the total absence of any studies to support the use of this scheme, including five studies funded by USDE. Let me know if you would like a pdf. Ohio has dropped district wide SLO tests. In most districts, teachers in so-called “non-tested subjects” will probably be assigned the school-wide VAM in reading or math or some combo– called a “distributed score.” Farce with high stakes attached.

    • Laura H. Chapman permalink

      Case in Florida brough by teachers who were evaluated based on scores of students they did not teach and subjects they were not hired to teach went all the way to the appeals court there and the practice was unheld. An prior ruling had said that the system may be “unfair” but that it was consistent with Florida. Upshot, once eleected state officals set this nonsense into law, teachers are unlikely to win. Similar issues in Ohio.

      Another point that has been made about the misuse of student scores to evaluate teachers: These tests are not “instructionally sensitive.” That means theey are not designed to assess instruction. They have by-passed the rules for test use by selling the idea that educational activities should only be based on “outcomes.” In another this mind-set was considered dangerous. It says in effect, we do not care how you produce this result, or hit this target, just do it. Educational policies have been toxic precisely because this philosoply of “the ends justify the means” has taken root. Example. Almost all test prep invalidates a test. So who is marketing test prep during the time regular instruction should be offered? Almost everyone who is aware that the scores on tests matter more than how they are produced….obvious cheating the only exception.

  2. Excellent but probably futile exercise in pointing to the first order sham of using VAM for teacher evaluation…futile unless a lawyer can do the work and that work becomes the basis for a class action lawsuit, preferably including Ohio and other states where these calculations are imbedded in state legislation.

  3. Nimbus permalink

    In NYS, teachers of subjects other than English and math, grades 3-8, or, at the high school level, teachers whose courses end in a Regents exam (English 11, algebra, global history, U.S. history, earth science, biology, chemistry, physics, geometry, trigonometry) are evaluated on student scores on those tests. All other teachers have locally designed SLO tests. Some schools may have chosen to apply English and math scores to all teachers (in what used to be a locally determined 20 percent of overall evaluation) in order to establish a more equitable scaling. A grade 2 teacher has a growth score generated by an SLO. A grade 3 teacher has a state-determined growth score on a Pearson-designed, super secret test. That teacher will never see how students did on specific items. Indeed these teachers may not even discuss these tests, and the state only releases partial,questions. parents NEVER see the tests or know which questions their students miss. On the other hand, an algebra teacher is evaluated by student test scores on the CC algebra regents exam, which teachers get to see and grade as long as they don’t grade their own students. These tests and answer keys are all available on the state website once they are administered. A pre-Calc teacher is evaluated on results of a locally designed test s/he can’t grade but can see in its entirety after it’s given. Arbitrary and capricious? You bet. It’s a mess.

  4. 2old2tch permalink

    Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t using test scores intended to measure student achievement to evaluate teachers and schools a misuse of the data? Even if we accepted that these scores were a valid measure of student learning, it is more than a stretch to rate teachers and schools on this basis.

  5. Jill Reifschneider permalink

    20%! I love it! There is hope!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: New York’s Test Scores Are Misused | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Ed News, Tuesday, August 18, 2015 Edition | tigersteach

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