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Thompson: Reformers to Teachers - Please Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

Teachers have to think ahead. What questions do I ask, in what order? How do I pace instruction for seniors with 5th grade skills so they can master college readiness concepts? What classroom disruption should I ignore? What will happen if/when I make an issue of different sorts of misbehavior? 

I've long had great success in teaching students to plan their work and work their plans. I've failed consistently, however, in understanding why reformers never look before they leap. They seem to just dictate without anticipating the predictable results of their mandates.

Now, the anti-Opt Out soundbite is that teachers should relax, don't worry about what is in store for us in the near future. High stakes Common Core testing has barely begun to release its fury and, according to reformers, we should give it a chance because we might dodge a worst case scenario.   

The Hechinger Report Lillian Mongeau, Emmanuel Felton, and Sarah Butrymowiez, in Stakes for "High-Stakes" Tests Are Actually Pretty Low, report that few students are currently subject to high-stakes Common Core tests, and most teachers are not yet subject to the sanctions that have already been codified into law.  Their graphic shows that only 11 states are already using test scores for teacher evaluations. However, their interactive graphic shows that all but eight have plans to do so. 

Mongeau et. al report that the Council of Chief State School Officers' Chris Minnich hopes that teachers "can continue to be part of an ongoing conversation about the best way to use measures of student learning in evaluations." But, that gets the issue backwards. Why wasn't there a real discussion about whether it was good or bad policy to include test score growth estimates to sanction individual teachers? Why were teachers ignored when non-educators decided how we should be evaluated?

Understandably, no information on Oklahoma was provided by Hechinger. We delayed the retention of 3rd graders and outlawed high stakes Common Core End of Instruction tests, so no students have been hurt in the grand experiment that Arne Duncan coerced us into. But, as the Oklahoma Policy Institute's Gene Perry explains, in Will This Be Oklahoma's Next Education Controversy?, value-added teacher evaluations will prompt a high-stakes debate. Perry concludes:

As Oklahoma already struggles with a dire teacher shortage, we can’t afford to reduce teachers’ morale even more by evaluating their work using an arbitrary and unreliable formula. Test scores may be one piece of evidence used to evaluate educators, but over-reliance on the formula could drive even some of our best teachers away from the profession.    

When I initially supported Common Core, it never occurred to me that they would attach stakes to Common Core tests. I assumed that Common Core was an effort to get us out of the bubble-in test and punish disaster. Why would anyone attempt to deny high school diplomas or retain public school students because they couldn't pass a college readiness test?

This spring, only three states will subject students to high stakes Common Core tests. But, how many would have done so if it were not for the backlash by parents, students, and teachers?

And, don't get me started about the 90% drop in the numbers of GEDs earned since those tests became Common Core. 

Similarly, it would have never occurred to me that reformers would try to impose high-stakes Common Core tests while trying to implement value-added evaluations. Reformers must have known that they would have to defend their experiment in court. If they thought ahead at all, perhaps they took solace in legal advice which, correctly, predicted that they would mostly have to establish only that the guestimates of teacher effectiveness were not irrational. When the statistical models, that were tested (a little bit) in elementary and some middle schools with NCLB test scores, are used to guestimate student performance growth in all classes, combining scores from old and new tests, the bar for what would be considered irrational was lowered.

Then, when those methods were applied to high school teachers and to students who have only had a little Common Core instruction at the end of their public school careers, the idea that those evaluations would withstand legal scrutiny became even more dubious. And, now, the Opt Out movement in many states has undermined what little credibility those evaluations might have had.

Of course, the evaluating of teachers on the scores of students who they never met is even more unlikely to stand in court but, I guess, plaintiffs shouldn't bring that up ... 

Minnich calls himself a member of the "moderate middle." What would he want teachers to do? Should we not drive a stake through the heart of value-added evaluations while we have the advantage? Should we allow those high-stakes rubrics to get established before we counter-attack? Should we not think ahead and select cases where evaluations are most indefensible and chose legal venues where we have the best chances of victory?

Should we forfeit our power to demonstrate to reformers why, next time, they should study the best education evidence, listen to educators, and think through the chess game before they impose their hunches on most of the nation?-JT(@drjohnthompson)      


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Don't we assume that Minnich "wants" what Hechinger's funders want him to want? As usual, follow the money.

Thank you John! This is excellent! Teachers please think about this and let's get those VAMs ran out of town!

Reformers pay big bucks to keep all of their team singing from the same hymnal. We unite liberals and conservatives, and all types of stakeholders, in opposition to their test and punish.

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