Teaching Profession

Putting Weingarten’s Comments on Test Scores in Context

By Stephen Sawchuk — January 12, 2010 2 min read
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The worst thing about being a blogger is having to feed the beast every day. But the best thing is knowing that there’s always space to follow up on a story that deserves more time, attention, or nuance than there is room in the paper.

Such is the case today with Randi Weingarten’s Big Speech, which is quickly becoming something of an annual tradition for the American Federation of Teachers.

• A lot of the coverage in the general press focused on Weingarten’s remarks about incorporating test scores into teacher evaluations. Perhaps this is just representative of the difference between writing for a specialty publication and writing for a mainstream newspaper, but this is hardly news. Randi has been making the point for months. Her union’s initial reaction to the Race to the Top guidelines, from August of last year, emphatically states that “obviously” student achievement should be considered when judging teachers, although assessments shouldn’t be the sole factor. And her union has funded examples of this through its Innovation Fund.

• Weingarten made the point that test scores, if they are to be used in teacher evaluations, should be a measure of student growth over the course of the year rather than an “apples to oranges” comparison of cohorts of students. But most state tests are not given multiple times a year. There are exceptions, but many value-added methodologies project a student’s performance based on prior academic achievement—when (s)he was being taught by other teachers.

• A few people have written me to say that they don’t put much faith in all the talk of due-process reform,—which to me was the real story—since it would have to be coupled with an AFT-approved evaluation system. On the other hand, what Weingarten outlined today seems entirely consistent with, for instance, the Gates Foundation’s intensive partnerships and measures of effective teachingwork. Don’t write off this effort just yet.

• Eduwonk gives us some food for thought by implying in a one-sentence aside that the focus on due process may have partly been born out of the political pressure to do something about the “rubber room” situation in New York City, after Steven Brill’s critical story in The New Yorker appeared last year. Too bad no one thought of putting rubber-roomed teachers onto a trashy reality-T.V. program.

• EdSec Arne Duncan was supposed to attend the speech, but ended up not being able to make it. He was attending the funeral of Vice President Joe Biden’s mother. But there was plenty of Education Department representation there this morning, including communications head Peter Cunningham and senior Duncan adviser Jo Anderson.

• The National Education Association has been strangely silent on all of this, though the union is definitely paying attention (a high-level communications fellow from the NEA was among the staffers in attendance). Surely NEA chief Dennis Van Roekel has an opinion!

Photo: Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, confers with John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, left, before speaking at the National Press Club on Jan. 12. Hartina Flournoy, the assistant to the AFT president, stands in the foreground.
Photo Credit: Andrew Councill for Education Week

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.