From Valerie Strauss' blog.
This is big news. I am so glad to read about this victory in New York by master teacher Sheri Lederman and her attorney husband together with expert witnesses to demonstrate just how arbitrary and capricious the "value-added measurement [VAM]" test score numbers are to the point that they "require the suspension of common sense." We should all be troubled by the fact that these scores have been used on students and teachers in a high-stakes manner for at least two decades to determine children's and teachers' fates.
I spoke yesterday with a master teacher in the Austin Independent School District (AISD) who shared in reference to bilingual/dual language teachers that she has never seen so many such teachers that they have invested so much in leave the profession. "Three years and they're gone!" She indicated that teachers are overwhelmed. There is so much coming at them that they can't absorb so they just leave not only teaching but the profession. So our conversation was very much about how we as a community can be supportive, particularly through meaningful teacher professional development that is ongoing and teacher led. We also need to work more to bring them into our community so that they can feel a part of something bigger than themselves that connects to, but extends beyond their classrooms. Teachers that are isolated and that feel isolated are at great risk of leaving the profession and we hope to counteract that. We've already made important strides in AISD. More must be done.
It's clear that we also need more court cases like these that expose—to use Cal State San Bernardino Professor Barbara Flores' words, "the Ridiculum" that the uses of these tests expose. The abuses and perils of VAM, as well as with high-stakes testing generally, should have been put to rest a long time ago. Monied interests, the not-so-covert agenda to discredit public education to promote privatization, marketization, corporatization, and charterization of things education, together with the stubborn, social Darwinist thinking (despite the obvious flaws and limits of these tests) held by many, keep this agenda alive.
We need to take these systems to court and then to our state legislatures to pave the way to next-generation assessment—a system that is optimally informed by teachers, teaching, and all the research that exists that shows the faultiness of the current system.
Hats off to Sheri Lederman for taking on the system and winning for us all.
This post was written by Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education, a nonprofit advocacy group. Burris was an award-winning principal at a New York high school, and she is the author of numerous articles, books and blog posts about the botched school reform efforts in her state, including about the teacher evaluation system at the center of this case.
By Carol Burris
Sheri Lederman, the beloved fourth-grade teacher from Great Neck, New York, was victorious in her battle to have her 2013-14 VAM score of “ineffective” rating vacated and set aside by the Supreme Court of New York State. Justice Roger D. McDonough, who heard the case, recognized that score for what it was — “arbitrary” and “capricious.”
Answer Sheet readers will remember that her husband argued the irrationality of VAM scores before the court in August of 2015, laying out a careful, systematic argument that you can read about here. During the trial, Bruce Lederman, Sheri’s lawyer and husband, described the production of the score as a “black box” system that spit out predictions comparing his wife’s students to “avatar students.” He noted that “the magic of numbers brings a suspension of common sense.”
In his ruling, McDonough cited affidavits submitted by Linda Darling Hammond of Stamford University, Aaron Pallas of Columbia University, Audrey Amrien-Beardsley of Arizona State University, Sean Corcoran of New York University, Jesse Rothstein of University of California at Berkeley, clinical school psychologist Brad Lindell, and me. Each of us used research and data to demonstrate that the VAM system was indeed arbitrary and capricious, and therefore an abuse of discretion by the New York State Education Department. In his ruling, the judge characterized that evidence as “overwhelming.”
The defendant was John B. King, the former New York State education commissioner and present U.S. Department of Education Secretary, who did not appear in court to defend the system he commissioned and defended as valid, reliable and fair when he was working in New York. Instead, an affidavit was submitted by Assistant Commissioner Ira Schwartz, who claimed that the New York VAM system (which is actually considered one of the better VAM systems) to be a rational and fair system to measure student growth.
McDonough was not convinced. He based his decision on the following five factors:
- the convincing and detailed evidence of VAM bias against teachers at both ends of the spectrum (e.g. those with high-performing students or those with low-performing students);
- the disproportionate effect of petitioner’s small class size and relatively large percentage of high-performing students;
- the functional inability of high-performing students to demonstrate growth akin to lower-performing students;
- the wholly unexplained swing in petitioner’s growth score from 14 to 1 despite the presence of statistically similar scoring students in her respective classes;
- the strict imposition of rating constraints in the form of a “bell curve” that places teachers in four categories via pre-determined percentages regardless of whether the performance of students dramatically rose or dramatically fell from the previous
The Ledermans knew they were fighting against the testocracy that is destroying the schools that they love. Across the country, students are laboring over unfair tests that are too long in order to produce enough “data” for a teacher score. News agencies have printed these invalid scores, humiliating teachers across the nation. Politicians, such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have raised the weight of those ludicrous scores to 50 percent of a teacher’s and principal’s evaluation, and Brian Davison of Loudon County Schools petitioned the court (and won), to turn this nonsensical data with teacher names over to him so he can have the power to publish it on his Facebook page.
It is time for the madness to stop. It is time for other teachers to stand up and legally challenge their scores. And it is past time for taxpayers to stop these silly measures that cost them millions while enriching test companies and the research firms that produce the teacher scores.
Let’s hope that this judge’s decision has unmasked VAM and other growth scores for what they are—arbitrary and capricious numbers that require the suspension of common sense.
You can read the entire decision here and watch and listen to Bruce Lederman explain the case during a legal panel at the recent Network for Public Education Conference here.