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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Politics or Pedagogy: Which One Wins?

By Peter DeWitt — January 25, 2015 3 min read
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In New York State, observation makes up 60% of the teacher and principal evaluation system, 20% is tied to locally developed measures, and 20% to high stakes testing. Unfortunately from the moment this went into legislation a few years ago many of us understood that this was just the beginning of a long slippery slope.

In New York State, politics seem to come before children.

There was uproar about having 20% of the evaluation tied to testing. It first began as a whisper behind closed doors...than a conversation in public...and it moved on to louder talk trying to convince others...and ended with shouting at rallies. When parents yelled out their voices went unheard and meetings were shut down and then cancelled.

It wasn’t that teachers, principals, parents and some students didn’t want to take tests to show what they knew. It was the fact that we all understood that assessment is supposed to be about guiding learning from one goal to another, and high stakes testing shouldn’t be tied to evaluation. It creates an unfair dynamic between students and teachers, and there are too many outside factors that contribute to how a student performs on one test in one part of the year.

We were assured that high stakes testing was only 20% of the evaluation. I knew that it was the only 20% that mattered.

Although most of us believe in the power of formative assessment, which happens every day in a formal and informal manner, we understood that summative assessment needs to happen as well. But summative assessment can happen numerous times throughout the year, and shouldn’t come with the weight of the world. That doesn’t do anything positive for a school or classroom climate, and certainly doesn’t inspire kids to take risks. It should be about the learning involved and not the score.

Unfortunately, when playing politics, good pedagogy isn’t as important as flawed accountability.

Like a self-fulfilling prophecy in NY, Governor Cuomo turned up the heat and took another step toward unleashing his latest effort to destroy what public education looks like. It stinks of politics, and doesn’t seem to have our children in mind at all.

In this NY Times article it was stated that,

In speeches, interviews and a letter over the past few weeks, the governor has said that he thinks the state's teacher grading system, only in its third year, is too easy to pass, making it too difficult to fire underperforming educators. He has suggested that the limit on the number of charter schools needs to be raised or eliminated. He has also expressed support for a tax credit for people and companies donating money to public schools and private school scholarships."

It’s interesting because he was involved in the teacher evaluation process that he now calls “baloney.” According to the NY Times less than 1% of teachers were rated ineffective, so in an effort to make sure he fulfills his own self-fulfilling prophecy, Cuomo plans on revamping his evaluation process.

In a post by Diane Ravitch that has gone viral, she writes,

According to a book outlining Cuomo's policy and budget speech on Wednesday, the governor will propose a "simplified and standardized" evaluation system that rates teachers 50 percent on state test scores (or a comparable measure of student growth for teachers in subjects that are not tested) and 50 percent on observations."

Cuomo always likes to stand up behind his podium to tout that all of this has to do with children. It doesn’t. If this had anything to do with children he would understand that there are many students who can’t sit for 90 minutes a day 3 days one week and 80 or 90 minutes a day for three days the next week to take a test.

As abusive as making students sit for the test, that is only one part of the dysfunction in New York State education politics.

Tying 50% of an evaluation to high stakes testing has nothing to with learning. Focusing on dialogue, effective feedback and locally developed methods of assessment has everything to do with learning. But Cuomo likes grades and doesn’t seem to care about feedback. Locally developed measures can’t be trusted by the Governor and Chancellor of the Board of Regents, almost as much as public educations seems to not be able to trust the Governor and Chancellor.

If Governor Cuomo really understood learning he would realize that there are multiple ways to assess the learning going on in classrooms. If he really cared about the children he would not only make sure public schools were adequately and equally funded, he would also spend his time working with the state education department to make sure they were actually working with schools to provide professional development that focused on learning and not on accountability and mandates.

It’s sad that we have an example where a governor of a state works so hard against the public school system instead of with them. Unfortunately as we move into yet another year where we find ourselves in the same vicious cycle that shows education is not on a pedagogical cycle, but a political one.

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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.