Doubts About High-Stakes Tests and Their Effect on Teachers

By Anna M. Phillips

Posted March 20, 2012 at The New York Times School Book

The chief academic officer of New York City’s public schools said on Monday night that principals were not alone in being concerned about the state’s new teacher evaluation system: He also has qualms.

At a panel discussion on high-stakes testing held at the Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies, Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer for the city’s Education Department, told a packed auditorium that the new law contained “real risks,” for teachers and principals alike.

Quietly passed into law by the State Legislature last week, the evaluation system calls for 60 percent of a teacher’s annual review to be based on subjective measures, like classroom observations and feedback from students. The remaining 40 percent is drawn from student achievement — 20 percent from growth on the state math and English exams, and 20 percent from assessments that districts can select and design.

Teachers who score below 65 points out of 100 will be rated ineffective, creating the potential for a principal to give a teacher a perfect score of 60 points on the subjective portion, only to have the teacher labeled ineffective if her score on the achievement portion is very low.

“A principal should not ever be in a situation where ultimately their judgment gets trumped by a mechanistic formula,” Mr. Polakow-Suransky said, adding that while he objected to such a scenario, he expected it to be a rare occurrence. “Ultimately there needs to be enough flexibility for the principal and the teacher to have a conversation about the work that’s happening” inside of the school, he said.

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