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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Don’t Worry About Those Growth Scores...

By Peter DeWitt — September 03, 2014 3 min read
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Tony Sinanis is an award winning principal. He was nominated by his peers, and then won, the Bammy Award for Elementary Principal of the year in 2013. In 2014 he was awarded the Elementary Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS), where he was once again nominated by his peers and then the committee unanimously approved the nomination.

Tony is the Principal of Cantiague Elementary School in New York, which is a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School. Being a National Blue Ribbon School is no easy feat to accomplish. As you can imagine very few schools in the United States get the honor of being awarded the National Blue Ribbon.

Today, Tony is being honored for another reason. One that very few of his administrative colleagues would want to share with him. Despite his awards, as well as the awards of his school, the New York State Education Department rated Tony as an 11 out of 20. In NY State, teachers and school leaders receive a rating out of 20 which makes up 20% of their overall growth score, and Tony received an 11. I guess he should be happy, last year he was a 9.

In a powerful blog, Tony wrote,

Truthfully, I was fine with the nine and I had moved on... until last week when I found out I am now an ELEVEN! I should be jumping for joy, right? I moved up two points! Now I am closer to being in the middle of the effective range (albeit still closer to barely effective). Now I am more than half (11 out of 20). Now I am double digits. That's right folks, this year I have been rated an 11!"

Of course, this is not easy news for any educator to receive, especially those who give their heart and soul to their profession. Tony is not only an outstanding leader for his students and staff, but he is also finishing his doctoral work in educational leadership at the University of Pennsylvania. Apparently his rating does not take into account his constant strive to become a better educator.

In his spare time, besides being an outstanding principal and leader, Tony co-authored a book about Branding Your School for the Corwin Press Connected Educators Series. As the series editor, I sought Tony out because of his great work in that area. The videos he has created with his students, which you can view here, have been used by school leaders and presenters around the globe as a model for how leaders can engage stakeholders in more authentic ways.

Unfortunately, in the opinion of the NY State Education Department, Tony is barely effective. In this era of transparency it would be wonderful if Commissioner John King and the New York State Education Department could provide more detail about these growth scores. Tony asks the same question. Sinanis wrote,

How did NYS come up with this number? What work did I do to be rated an 11? The truth is, I have no idea how my rating was determined but I do know that I will wear my 11 with my pride!"

Yes, it is true. In an effort to “improve” education in New York State, teachers and leaders are slapped with a growth score without much of an explanation, and are expected to move forward in a positive way for their students.

In a memo to leaders across New York State, John King wrote,

Educators across New York State now have more critical assessment information that can be used to improve instruction and student learning through collaborative conversations, individual learning, and professional development."

Apparently King is not talking about growth scores.

King continued by writing,

As you know, frustrations around testing and test prep, along with questions and concerns about educator accountability, generated considerable public dialogue last year, some of it productive and some of it counter-productive. It falls to teachers and leaders like you to help separate fact from fiction, to ensure that all voices are heard and, most important, to help the families and children we serve understand why our efforts are necessary to improve our schools and raise student achievement."

In the same memo King wrote,

Importantly, we must remember that assessments are only one measure of our progress. They help all of the adults in a child's life know the extent to which he/she is headed for success in college or in a career and, if there are reasons for concern, assessments can provide a critical flag for intervention. Moreover, while state law specifies that test scores must be one factor in a teacher's evaluation, they are never the only one. Please work to inform the choices made in your community so that assessments are always functioning as tools to inform our improvement rather than as one-dimensional indicators of teacher quality."

It’s interesting that Commissioner King would like educators to deliver his message, at the same time that leaders and teachers like Tony get hit with growth scores the week before the school year begins without much of an explanation. So much for effective feedback!

If King does not want educators to harp on growth scores, perhaps he should not tie them to that one measure, or at least provide the proper feedback to someone like Tony who needs to understand why they received the score that they did.

In the End

Tony is not only a leader that I learn from through our interactions on Twitter, Voxer and in person. He is more than just a principal I nominated for Elementary Principal of the Year from SAANYS. Tony is a friend and an outstanding human being who works tirelessly to engage with his students, staff and parents.

In the end, it’s not test scores that matter. It’s the fact that teachers and leaders walk into their classrooms and schools every day working hard to meet the needs of their students and parents although they are not properly supported from the top. True leaders are the ones who continue to do this despite a growth score that seems to come out of nowhere.

At a time when we should be moving away from point values in an effort to provide all of our students, teachers and leaders effective feedback so they can grow as students or professionals, the State Education Department sends out growth scores that really only focus on achievement. Sadly, no one at the leadership level for the state seem to receive their own growth score, and if they did, they would never be as strong as Tony and share what they got.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.