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The Filter – Must We Humilate Teachers to Talk about Merit-based Evaluations?

September 16th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Here’s the video of Wednesday’s segment
of The Filter. We ended up talking about the LA Times Grading the Teacher series and the fact that teachers and the teacher’s union both continue to feel deeply angered that the Times published their ratings of thousands of individual teachers in the paper—labeling elementary school instructors as MOST EFFECTIVE and LEAST EFFECTIVE, all based on a single metric—whether their students’ scores on standardized tests improved enough from one year to the next.

Teachers rightly argue that many of the qualities that make for great educators are a bit more complicated and subtle than anything standardized test scores can possibly measure.

As you’ll see, I read portions on air of an emailed comment I got here from one of those teachers who was rated.

It was from an elementary school teacher who describes herself as deeply dedicated but who was one of those who was listed as: LEAST EFFECTIVE by the LA Times.

This teacher doesn’t subscribe to the LA Times, so she only found out about her rating when some TV news reporter got her home phone number and called her to ask how she felt about the label.

I have no idea whether or not she is a brilliant teacher or a mediocre one. But her shock and grief at the one dimensional public judgment—and invalidation really— of her years of teaching work, really affected me.

Here’s what she wrote:

I give 150%. I teach in south central. I love my students. I motivate. I question them. I make them question themselves. I love my job. I teach. I learn. I take the kids no one else wants and I love them.
I was rated least effective.

I am heart-broken, devastated, invalidated, and completely feel like my hard work was taken away in one moment.

Least effective. The label is over my head. I feel like everyone now thinks I’m a bad teacher– when all I’ve ever done is teach my children.

They do make progress…but when they come to me at 2nd grade level, it is difficult to test them at 5th grade level. They raise about 30% in a year, but that’s not good enough.

I am embarrassed to go back to work. I am mortified that friends and colleagues looked up my name and saw my ‘grade’.

I just want to crawl into a hole. And die.

As a parent who sent her kid to public schools, I want our state’s teachers to be rewarded based on merit, not seniority. I want the best and the brightest to be retained, and those who are phoning it in, or are burned out, or who actively dislike kids—and we’ve all met some of those—to be weeded out.

But, I can’t believe that publicly humiliating hardworking elementary school teachers is the best path to the kind of merit-based standards that we need and desire.

What do you think?

Posted in LAUSD, The Filter | 17 Comments »

17 Responses

  1. WTF Says:

    “I give 150%”


    Let’s hope she is not teaching math, everybody knows you can’t give more than 110%.

  2. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Thanks for the late night laugh, WTF.

  3. Randy Paul Says:

    Maybe she meant she’s giving 150% more of her time than the previous teacher.

  4. SNS Says:

    Well, this would be the “liberal”, “left wing”, “union controlled” LA Times, evidently humiliating the very people who control them!

  5. clark elliott Says:

    Last week’s LA Times presented an article indicating that the federal government is granting money to 38 (or so) states, including California, to implement a new testing procedure that would avoid the problems mentioned above. I was very impressed with its description. This is a very well conceived, well researched instrument that is designed to cover a full spectrum of a student’s knowledge in a more-or-less organic fashion.

  6. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Cool, Clark. Thanks for the heads up. Don’t know how I missed that part of it. I’ll go and find that reference. It sounds extremely intriguing.

    I’m very grateful to the Times for pushing the discussion. (I just feel that the very public labeling was a bit… problematic.)

  7. Mavis Beacon Says:

    I am very sympathetic to teachers who are upset about seeing their own name or the names of coworkers dragged through the mud. It sucks and is wrong.

    However, if the goal is to get standardized evaluations into the conversation, nothing could have been more effective. The city is buzzing about this topic like it never would have if they only listed the data by school.

    I’m glad I didn’t have to make that kind of decision myself.

  8. Mavis Beacon Says:

    As an aside, the teacher writes, “They do make progress…but when they come to me at 2nd grade level, it is difficult to test them at 5th grade level. They raise about 30% in a year, but that’s not good enough.”

    I believe the value-add analysis is designed to account for the kind of improvement the teacher describes as taking place.

  9. SNS Says:

    Who are these standards according to? Just what is it we’re trying to teach children today? How to succeed in the corporate world? Why not let Bernie Madoff out of jail, he can teach them.

    Are we teaching them to become civil servants? A self proclaimed cop who frequently comments here has said himself that educated police are no more effective than uneducated police.

    Are we just teaching them to be good people? Conscious citizens? Environmentally friendly? To share with those who have less? Oh….yikes. Scratch the last part. This ain’t Cuba, comrade.

    Are we teaching our kids to treat gay kids just as they would the captain of the football team? If two boys get off the bus holding hands, should everyone cheer like they scored the winning touchdown in a football game? Is this part of the standards? Does tolerance factor into this scoring system in any way?

    What are we teaching our kids to be?

    What are these standards, who sets them, and what is the desired result? What do we want these kids to become and how do these so called standards help achieve this?

  10. Sure Fire Says:

    Call it what it was, a hatchet job done by the Times with little criteria. Where they have done a great job with their investigation into Bell, this rating they put out was a year in the making and still was so lacking in the substance needed to rate a teacher in a legit manner.

    I agree with Mavis that it has people talikng but this was journalism at its lowest level.

  11. SNS Says:

    A fart usually gets people talking, too.

  12. SNS Says:

    Part of the plan to create a police state is to let the middle class rot to the ground, with an influx of known criminals, thugs, gangsters and drug dealers given houses in the suburbs via sub prime loans. The whites who can’t afford to leave will panic and vote for more police, while the banks that gave the sub prime loans will get their money back through bailouts. Police get what they want, more police, bigger budget, more control over its citizens, while Wall Street gets what they want. I’ll let you expand on that, Sure Fire. Take it from here.

  13. Sure Fire Says:

    Well you can tell Rob’s posting again with the insane comments about what I’ve said before. I love how he tries to pull the police into ever post he makes. Does it get you all excited Rob? Reggie didn’t like football and his lame offspring that still roams this blog doesn’t either, who cares.

    Mine name is Rob and real men scare the shit out of me, thank God for computers.

  14. Sean Leys Says:

    The piece lacking from this discussion is the fundamental mismatch between the goals of standardized testing and the goals of teachers and parents.

    Parents and teachers want young people to find their talents, develop them, and use them to become successful at the goals they set for themselves. That, and they don’t want their kids to be unemployed and poverty stricken when they graduate.

    Standardized testing advocates want to create a narrow set of procedures (solving math problems disassociated from real world experience and paraphrasing culturally irrelevant reading passages) that can be used to rank students, teachers, and schools. This data is then used to rank demographics of kids, teachers and schools in the exact same order that they have always been to justify corporate, political, and bureaucratic agendas.

    Two thought experiments to help make my point:

    First, imagine that the new CST scores came out and every student was proficient or better. Would we celebrate or say that the test was flawed? I suspect the latter. If the goal of testing is to improve schools it is the wrong tool because it’s essential function is to label some kids, teachers and schools as failing no matter how good they are doing. And you would have to have your head in the sand not to notice that is consistently poor communities and communities of color that are ranked as failing by these tests.

    The second thought experiment only works if you watched a lot of tv back in the day. Imagine Mr. Kotter from the show Welcome Back Kotter. Mr. Kotter taught an inner city class of struggling students. Every week he helped them through some problem, often relating to the struggles of being an adolescent in general or being a poor adolescent in particular. He did it with humor and love and the kids responded to it. He was, for many, the archetype of what we wanted in a teacher. But at the same time, do you remember how every time he tried to teach the kids the date of some war or something that might make a good multiple choice question, he was interrupted and was never able to teach it? Now imagine looking him up in the Times database. I think he would unquestionably be labelled an ineffective teacher.

    In one generation, we have completely reversed our idea of what a teacher should be from a humanizing mentor to someone who coaches kids through their first bureaucracy. While I’m sure it’s embarrassing for teachers to have their ex-boyfriends and girlfriends looking up their employee evaluations, it is even worse that the LA Times consistently fights to dehumanize and bureaucratize our communities’ children. That’s what we should be fighting mad over.

  15. WTF Says:

    “Standardized testing advocates want to create a narrow set of procedures (solving math problems disassociated from real world experience and paraphrasing culturally irrelevant reading passages)”


    Oh yes we don’t want any students to develop irrelevant math skills, which they might use to design complex mechanical or electronic systems, who would pay for that skill.

  16. Belinda Gomez Says:

    How are the teachers “dragged through the mud”? Not every teacher, no matter how caring or well-intentioned, is effective. It’s more of a shame that good teachers have been ignored by LAUSD.

    Students who can’t read English, write English, or do math are at a serious disadvantage in the world. They’ll get more “humiliation” than seeing their names in the LAT.

    I hope the Times follows up with a similar series on the administrators of LAUSD.

  17. Martha Infante Says:

    What is of concern is what the LA Times is pushing: the idea that they have a way to solidly classify teachers as effective or ineffective, based on test scores.

    What they have offered is a list of scores, but not how those scores were produced. Was the teacher a maestro, a Jaime Escalante, adding rigor, complexity, and innovation to the curriculum at such high levels that students had no choice but to score high?

    Or did the teacher eliminate Science, Social Studies, and the Arts (which they are required to teach, but for which there are no tests) and focus solely on English and Math instruction all year?

    Did they drill and kill?

    Or something else?

    The LA Times reporting tells us nothing of what makes an “effective” teacher, it only tells us scores, and those who don’t know enough about education trust this newspaper enough to believe it.

    Yeah, we are now talking about test scores and tying them to evaluation. So what? This does not improve teacher evaluations because those scores are waaaay too easy to manipulate with lazy, uninspired teaching. The very slacker teachers people want to get rid of will easily slip through the cracks if value-added measure becomes a significant part of teacher evaluations. And in the process, we have killed the spirit of the very people who have worked with the children nobody else wanted. For shame.

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