As many of us have been saying over and over again, it’s not an “achievement gap”, it’s an “economic gap”, it is income disparity that has created the chasm between students who are able to succeed in school and their counterparts who are not. When folks decide to ignore that basic issue, you have crazy talk like charter schools, merit pay and teacher evaluations based on test scores as the way to eliminate the difference in success rates in our schools. Have any of these policies made a difference? No.  Which gets us back to having to actually face the problem and understand that we need to take care of the least of us for all of us to succeed. In other words, we will only go as far as the slowest runner in our society. If you look at cultures such as Native Americans in the United States, they understood that concept. They could only go as far as the slowest person could walk. It’s a simple analogy but holds true today. Everyone must be able to walk.

To walk means to be fed and healthy. It means to be clean and clothed properly. It means to be psychologically strong enough to take on the day. How many of our children, when they arrive at school are ready to take that walk? According to the most recent statistics about 22%, that’s almost 1 out of 4 of our children, are in poverty and not able to make that walk so how do we expect them to succeed? A teacher receives the raw material of that child and can only do so much as hard as they might try. Will that child be ready to take that test and succeed?

First up for this week is an article in the New York Times titled Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say. To follow is an excerpt:

Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.

The remaining articles that I am featuring this week are on the subject of teacher evaluations based on test scores. This issue is before the state legislature in Washington. It’s interesting that this has been the way to make an end run around educators and parents, just go directly to the politicians to make up the rules regarding education. That’s how the ed reform movement has evolved up to this point. It has been an attack not only on the democratic process but also on the neighborhood level, grass-roots approach which is far more responsive to the needs and goals of that community.  With the use of a lot of money to lobby and fund organizations to do their bidding, the wealthy few are dictating what they think is best for the rest of us.

I will begin with this article about a principal who has decided to retire at the end of this year to fight for her students. This person understands education, she has experienced it first hand for many years and is ready to do battle. To follow is an excerpt from the article New York Principal’s Heroic Stand in Schools Matter:

RYE, N.Y. – Osborn School Principal Clarita Zeppie announced in a letter to schools Superintendent Ed Shine and the Osborn School staff that she would be retiring as principal at the end of the 2011-12 school year.

For most people, retirement signals an exit from the spotlight, but for Zeppie it’s the exact opposite.

“It was a difficult decision because I really do love what I do, and I do love Osborn,” Zeppie said. “But the actual reason I’m retiring is because I’m very disappointed in the direction of education, and I want to dedicate myself to fighting education reform.”

Zeppie said Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent implementation of standardized testing reviews is unhealthy and wrong.

“I don’t believe in stressing kids out so that they have no childhood,” Zeppie said. “Sooner or later it will trickle down and lead to more suicides in children.”

According to Zeppie, the increased emphasis on standardized testing for third, fourth, and fifth graders has forced the Osborn School to cut interesting and valuable programs.

“These children are going from nursery school to a rigorous academic program that allows for no growth,” Zeppie said. “It’s taking away the main purpose of education, which is learning.”

You go!

Several hundred principals in New York signed a letter protesting the use of student test scores as a means of evaluating teachers and principals. Since that time, there is an organization that has formed called the New York Principals that has grown to over a thousand principals around the country and counting who are pushing back on tying student test scores to the evaluation of teachers and principals. A good introductory article to this organization is Principals Protest Role of Testing in Evaluations that was published in the New York Times in November of last year. To follow are two excerpts:

Mr. Kaplan, who runs one of the highest-achieving schools in the state, has been evaluating teachers since the education commissioner was a teenager. No matter. He is required by Nassau County officials to attend 10 training sessions, as is Carol Burris, the principal of South Side High School here, who was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State.

“It’s education by humiliation,” Mr. Kaplan said. “I’ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.”

The trainers at these sessions, which are paid for by state and federal grants, have explained that they’re figuring out the new evaluation system as they go. To make the point, they’ve been showing a YouTube video with a fictional crew of mechanics who are having the time of their lives building an airplane in midair.

“It was supposed to be funny, but the room went silent,” Ms. Burris said. “These are people’s livelihoods we’re talking about.”

Last year New York was awarded $700 million as one of 11 states, along with the District of Columbia, to win a Race to the Top grant. The application process was chaotic, with Dr. King’s office making the deadline by just a few hours. To win a grant, states had to pledge to follow policy priorities of the Obama administration, like evaluating teachers by student test scores, even though there were no implementation plans yet.

New York committed to an evaluation process that is based 60 percent on principal observations and other subjective measures, and from 20 to 40 percent on state tests, depending on the local district.

Further on in the article:

It is hard to overstate how angry the principals who signed are. Mario Fernandez, principal of Stillwater High School near Saratoga, called the evaluation process a product of “ludicrous, shallow thinking.”

“My gosh, it seems to be slapped together,” he said. “They’re expecting a tornado to go through a junkyard and have a brand new Mercedes pop up.”

Katie Zahedi, principal of Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook in Dutchess County. said the training session she attended was “two days of total nonsense.”

“I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations,” she said. “It takes your breath away it’s so awful.”

She said one good thing about the new evaluation system was that it had united teachers, principals and administrators in their contempt for the state education department.

This article is a must read. Check it out in the New York Times Education section.

Here is the open letter from the New York Principals and their position paper.

And from Valerie Strauss’ column in the Washington Post, there is this article written by a veteran teacher titled The complete list of problems with high-stakes standardized tests. To follow is one of those problems:

Teachers (at least the ones the public should hope their taxes are supporting) oppose the tests because they focus so narrowly on reading and math that the young are learning to hate reading, math, and school; because they measure only “low level” thinking processes; because they put the wrong people — test manufacturers — in charge of American education; because they allow pass-fail rates to be manipulated by officials for political purposes; because test items simplify and trivialize learning.

Another article in the Washington Post that I think needs to see the light of day, particularly in the state of Washington at the moment, is Study blasts popular teacher evaluation method.

Student standardized test scores are not reliable indicators of how effective any teacher is in the classroom, not even with the addition of new “value-added” methods, according to a study released today. It calls on policymakers and educators to stop using test scores as a central factor in holding teachers accountable.

“Value-added modeling” is indeed all the rage in teacher evaluation: The Obama administration supports it, and the Los Angeles Times used it to grade more than 6,000 California teachers in a controversial project. States are changing laws in order to make standardized tests an important part of teacher evaluation.

Unfortunately, this rush is being done without evidence that it works well. The study, by the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit think tank based in Washington, concludes that heavy reliance on VAM methods should not dominate high-stakes decisions about teacher evaluation and pay.

Value-added measures use test scores to track the growth of individual students as they progress through the grades and see how much “value” a teacher has added. They do not include other factors that affect students, and can skew results by giving better scores to teachers who “teach to the test” and lesser scores to teachers who are assigned students with the greatest educational needs.

Additional articles and letters on the subject that I would recommend in terms of evaluating a teacher’s performance based on test scores are:

The NEPC Policy Memo, Letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Concerning Evaluation of Teachers and Principals, Kozol: Schools’ test obsession robs kids of joy, and The test score witch-hunt in LA.

I will leave you with this comment made by Jonathan Kozol who is a writer, educator and activist:

“Children of the privileged are being educated to interrogate reality. Children of poverty are being educated to spit up regurgitated answers.”

Dora