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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

Why Point Scales Are Offensive To Educators

By Peter DeWitt — September 14, 2012 6 min read
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“What started here as a traditional labor fight over pay, benefits and working conditions has exploded into a dramatic illustration of the national debate over how public school districts should rate teachers” (Rich. N.Y. Times).

High stakes testing does not accurately measure a child’s progress. Let me restate that...they accurately measure some children’s progress but there are other students who will not do well on high stakes tests. That is not because there is something wrong with them or their teacher. It just means that there are children who are not test takers. Unfortunately, we are at risk of treating these students as though their test score is a Scarlet Letter they must wear when they walk into schools and teachers are at the same risk when it comes to point scales because these tests count for 20% to 40% of their final evaluation.

Imagine that. Imagine that your yearly evaluation falls upon how a group of people do on a test given one moment in time. What if the test was something you didn’t see until the morning that it was given and you didn’t see it again after people took it? Add in the fact that you didn’t get a chance to score it or see the test after it was scored. The only thing you received was the score that those people under your watch received. Would you still feel confident?

Although many schools are offering innovative ways to meet the needs of their students, they are still being bogged down by mandates that have to be completed by certain dates, which is a part of life. However, it has changed the way we all begin the school year. In the past, the first few days were spent getting to know students. Most teachers did some sort of benchmark assessments to see where a child was at the beginning of the year. Now, teachers are mandated to benchmark their students and it feels different. It feels more constrained and the tests are much more inappropriately rigorous than when we had more control over them because they are ultimately tied to points.

Every day teachers enter a school they are being bombarded with conversations that focus on points. Sure, they should just not let it get them down. Chin up, ignore the outside world and the media, the negative comments from people who never step foot in a classroom, and they should just make it all about the kids. They should ignore it and focus on the greater good but how can they when state education departments are responsible for these distractions? Educators lives have come down to begging for points to prove they are effective teachers. This has become ridiculous!

Point Scales
Many states are beginning to use point scales to grade teachers for their annual professional performance review (APPR). In Chicago, one of the many reasons for the teacher strike is that educators want to protest against the use of such point scales (NY Times). Point scales are really a ridiculous way of using numbers to score teachers when they join committees or do community service. There is no better way to make professionals feel like an un-trusted amateur than assign numbers to things teachers have been doing all along.

Once, while sitting at a regional education meeting a teacher raised her hand and asked how many lessons she had to teach about diversity to meet the mandate of the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) in New York State. Sadly, I sat and thought that this is the point we have come to. We have come to a point where we are collecting points for the good things we do. This is such a disingenuous way to look at the education profession.

• How many points do we get for community service?
• I fed the poor, do I get points for that?
• I stopped to help a community member with a flat tire! Do I get points for that?
• If we write a reflection, how many points can we receive?
• Working with a colleague? Do we get points for sharing resources?
• Do we get extra points for communicating twice a week with parents rather than once a week?

In what other profession do employees have to vie for points for the good work they have always done?

What Can We Learn From Rating Scores?
Chicago’s teachers say they would accept a rating where 25 percent was based on student achievement on tests, but balk at the increase to 40 percent, higher than the state standard” (Rich. N.Y.Times).

Educators need to understand the implications of tying high stakes testing to 20 or 25% of a teacher’s evaluation (High Stakes Testing is ONLY 20%). I will use New York State as an example. In New York State highly effective, effective, developing and independent (HEDI) are based on a Bell Curve. A teacher with a ranking of 0-4 is ineffective, 5-8 is developing, 9-17 is effective and 18-20 is highly effective. Teacher’s ranking are not based on a students achievement (1,2,3 or 4) on the high stakes test, but how much they grew from last year’s test to this year. One of the issues is that the tests are not accurately aligned because the two measures were not the same length. In addition, students are not being compared to their own growth but compared to the growth of their cohort as well.

Therefore, when some students went from a 3 last year to a 3 this past school year, they may not have shown growth on the test because the cut scores changed and the length of the test did as well. Those scores, although within the 3 or 4 range, counted against the teacher even though these same schools made Annual Yearly Progress (AYP). Unfortunately, these teachers received ineffective or developing rankings for that 20% of their evaluation, which means that these teachers may have received anywhere from 0 points to 8 points. This automatically makes them start their APPR with a deficit that they would have to make up in the 60 points with their administrator and the 20 points for their locally developed measures.

Some would argue that maybe those teachers aren’t as good as we thought they were. I challenge that maybe the methods being used for APPR aren’t as good as policymakers think. We are learning some valuable lessons. These teachers who are in the ineffective and developing range now understand what it feels like to be a 1 or a 2 on a state exam and we should learn from that. We need to understand that our students, just like our teachers, deserve better.

In The End
There are many ways that our former evaluations do work. School systems use goal setting and observations and they have been done with integrity. One of the most important jobs for an administrator is to make sure they are effectively evaluating their staff. If they are not, they should be held accountable.

In addition, teachers need to collect evidence to show what they are doing in the classroom is working for their students. There is no sense in teaching things that are not working. However, instead of scrambling to keep up with mandates that many state education departments won’t be able to handle because they lack the infrastructure, we should be spending our time providing professional development opportunities so teachers can fully understand what collecting evidence means. Making it punitive creates a philosophy that evidence based observations are negative when we know they are beneficial.

We shouldn’t be made to do things because we will get points for it, and neither should our students. We should be doing some of these things because they are important to our profession and provide important learning experiences for our students. The mandates need to end because they are counterproductive to the very thing we should be doing, which is creating an outstanding learning environment for our students.

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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.