Friday, May 14, 2010

Teacher Evaluation Deal Sparks Ire (Wall Street Journal)


The deal this week to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations is making some instructors nervous and illustrates the tightrope that the United Federation of Teachers must walk.

"When I first heard of the agreement, it just made me sick," said John Elfrank-Dana, UFT chapter leader at Murry Bergtraum High School in Manhattan.

"I know it's going to put a straitjacket on me as a creative educator," he said. The reason, he said, is that he will have to worry more about preparing students for tests than providing a well-rounded curriculum.

Under the deal, 40% of a teacher's evaluation will be based on student achievement.

At the UFT's delegates' assembly Wednesday night, Mr. Elfrank-Dana, who teaches government, economics and U.S. history, said the atmosphere was "tense" as teachers worried about being evaluated based on factors they can't control and that would affect student scores. He said one outspoken teacher at the event called out the system as "merit pay in drag," because it offers opportunities for some high-scoring teachers to get additional pay.

"It's going to create rampant teaching to the test," said Arthur Goldstein, a UFT chapter leader at Francis Lewis High School in Queens who teaches English as a second language. "Rank and file was not consulted," he said.

Tuesday's agreement between the UFT, the New York State United Teachers and the state Department of Education came ahead of a June 1 deadline for the state to apply for up to $700 million from the federal government in the Race to the Top competition's final round.

Some of the UFT's descriptions to its members about the evaluation system could be seen as weakening the state's application. While the New York teacher evaluation system is billed as a way to take ineffective teachers out of the classroom more quickly, the UFT's message to members sounds different. Take this question and answer on the UFT's website: "Does the new agreement make it easier for schools to fire teachers deemed ineffective? Absolutely not."

The UFT site also downplays the weight of student test scores in evaluations: "At a time when other states have agreed to base 50% of teacher evaluations on student growth measures, this agreement caps the number at 25%." It notes that the city's education department "had wanted a much higher percentage."

Also Thursday, Alan Krams, a lawyer for the city, argued in an appeals court that the city should be allowed to begin shutting down 19 schools the city says are failing, saying the public had ample opportunity to discuss the closures earlier this year.

Charles Moerdler, an attorney for the United Federation of Teachers, argued that the city did not give enough notice of meetings and did not fully inform the public of the impact of the closures, as required by the mayoral-control law.

Mr. Moerdler also questioned whether many of the schools on the closure list were in fact failing.

Write to Barbara Martinez at

1 comment:

A said...

Are they over-the-year assessments or grade-level assessments? I understand illustrating student improvement during the year. But being docked for an underperforming student doesn't seem fair. What of the teacher who brings a fourth-grader from first-grade level to third-grade level in a year?