LA Confidential?

AFT’s Randi Weingarten attempts to strike a middle ground in the LAT teacher value-added debate. Pretty reasonable and admirable she didn’t do the easy wrong thing there and just throw-in with the naysayers.   A lot of analysis based on the 6k teachers in this database would be valuable and a real service by the LAT, but what exactly is the benefit of naming all the teachers?  It would also be great to know in a year, two years, etc…what’s been done about the lowest performers – again, the district has some exposure here- but that, too, can be done absent a show trial.

But at the end of the story there is a headscratcher and yoga-like rhetorical stretch: Weingarten compares a teacher with low-value added, who is nonetheless beloved, to Shirley Sherrod the falsely-maligned former USDA official because both were allegedly victims of partial information.  That’s indisputably true in the Sherrod case, but illustrates the problem in this instance.   Beloved and effective are not axiomatically the same thing.  And Weingarten’s claim that this might be such a good teacher that it doesn’t show up on standardized tests is the sort of faux-wisdom that keeps this field so screwed-up.  I’m not saying the value-add scores indicate anything definitive about this particular teacher one way or the other but I am saying we should be more open to the possibility. And principals with experience with value-add will tell you the exact same thing:  It challenges some preconceptions and they learn from it and sometimes probe deeper.

What worries me about this whole exercise: If the LAT reporters/editors on this story didn’t have the chops to call BS on that one, do you really want them publicly impugning teachers with this data?  I don’t.

18 Responses to “LA Confidential?”

  1. Bronx Teacher Says:

    Seriously, really, does Weingarten ever know when to keep her mouth closed?

  2. Jokefest Says:

    Actually “effective” and “rising test scores” are not axiomaticallt the same thing either… How about this fact: most standardizedultiple choice style “reading” tests don’t require any reading.. Often, the best test takers no how to hunt an peck for answers… Many of best AP English students this year– who earned fives on the. AP Language and Comp exam and 30′s on the ACT admitted they never read the passages.. So reading teachers who teach their students how to be active, critical readers may actually be deemed less effective by the tests the ed reformers worship. Total jokefest.

  3. Chris Smyr Says:

    Can we get a cite for that claim of AP students not reading the passages, Jokefest?

  4. jokefest Says:

    Chris — Ask any AP student. I asked mine. Go to any ACT, SAT, AP test prep training session. Before I left my old school as it devolved into a corporate education reformer’s paradise with Cambridge test prep mandated in all junior classes throughout the second semester and with canned curriculum for the whole year for all lelvels right around the corner, I had to sit through hours of Cambridge’s test prep teacher training sessions. Our trainer told us it is best to get the kids to not “waste time” reading the entire passages– particulalry for the non-fiction pieces on the ACT.

    I teach AP juniors at a high achieving suburban district. Four of my students just got perfect 36′s on the ACT exam. Two of them told me they never read the passages on standardized tests. I honestly can’t recall definitively what strategies the other two told me they use. I will ask them when I see them next week.

    Timed reading tests with multiple choice questions are not designed to allow for thoughtful, critical reading. Thus, they are not really a good measure of whether someone is a good reading teacher.

    If you need a citation to prove this, then I think you are so distant from what is really going on in American classrooms–particularly during standardaized testing season– that you should investigate for yourself.

    All that said, I think the writing portions of the AP exams are excellent and I love teaching the course. It just always amazes me how much blind faith people put into standardized test scores. They can give us a snapshot of what is going on with a student or a school. But like photographs, the story they tell can be misleading in many ways and they can used to manipulate in ways that I believe are very damaging to the future of public education in this country. Moreover, they can obscure what it takes to know whether authentic learning is taking place in a teacher’s classroom.

  5. tim-10-ber Says:

    @jokefest — wish my son’s ACT test trainer knew this trick. he only took the test once and raised his test prep score 5 points. cannot help but wonder what would have happened if he took it a second time…

  6. Chris Smyr Says:

    Jokefest:

    So you provide no citation, give anecdotal evidence, and assert that I need to investigate to reproduce your conclusions. Hmm….

    There’s also a difference between tests that “don’t require any reading” (your initial argument) and tests that don’t require “reading the entire passages” (your second argument). AP English tests require students to quickly find meaning from text. That’s not so bad. When I need to read an academic paper, I do the same thing. I don’t see how the AP results are thus an invalid way to judge critical reading skills.

  7. jokefest Says:

    Chris: “My conclusions” are the reality. I also know of no scholarly research articles that one could cite to prove that kids do read the passages on standardized exams either. (And yes by ‘read’ I mean and meant read from start to finish– perhaps even annotating and thinking along the way). I will concede that it would be a worthwhile pursuit to get data on that issue. More than a decade of talking with students who take high-stakes standardized tests has me convinced that I would not be the one saying “Hmm..’ if such a survey was done and the results were released. You can dismiss this as anecdotal and just my hunch. Teachers know the truth on this one.

    If you are sincere about learning more about the topic, sources to investigate that highlight how shallow and limited multiple choice standardized reading tests are Alfie Kohn’s ‘The Case Against Standardized Testing’ and Richard Rothstein’s ‘Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right’.

    For a quick primer that is not book length but also loosely applicable you might also check out this article from this summer: http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=theres_no_such_thing_as_a_reading_test

    You are correct: speed reading, skimming for details, and “quickly [finding] meaning from text” are useful skills. But someone could be skilled at all three and not be very good at producing nuanced interpretations of text. Are they then “good readers”? Are the people who train them how to apply these skills necesarily “effective” reading teachers? I have serious reservations about the fact that the power has shifted to those who answer yes to both questions without at least acknowledging the problems and limitations inherent in standardized reading tests simply because they are convenient.

    It just is amazing to me that in nearly every article about education reform– pushing merit pay, value added measurements, doing away with tenure and basing dismissals on test scores– the validity of standardized tests is never questioned. If you dedicate your life to teaching, I would imagine this will come to irk you too.

    Good luck,
    Jokefest

  8. Chris Smyr Says:

    Jokefest:

    We tend to get a lot of these arguments around here, which are quick to reference small samples of educators’ own students to support far-reaching claims about the onerous agenda of ed reformers everywhere. Your conclusions “are the reality” just for you within your own community, as you really need to take the opinions of more than a few students to maintain some sense of validity.

    From what I’ve seen of the AP English test, the questions do require “producing nuanced interpretations of text” to answer them correctly. Of course, students should be able to obtain such interpretations without a strict word-by-word read, particularly if they know what it is the question is asking of them. I constantly have to do that myself, but the difference is that I’m the one designing the mental questions before I browse the literature. It’s not that different from what AP students are doing.

    Anyway, what initially brought me to this thread was you suggesting that “standardizedultiple [sic] choice style “reading” tests don’t require any reading”, but I see that’s not what you meant. Thanks for the links.

  9. Joubert Says:

    I am a professional soccer player in the country of Luxembourg and was directed to this site by my wife, who used to be an American schoolteacher. I think it all comes down to personal drive and ambition. Take me for example. I used to be the laughing stock of the Luxembourg soccer scene. My coaches (I luckily have two wonderful coaches…) were frustrated and I could see that my career was going nowhere fast. Recently however I have been playing wonderfully! My coaches’ faith is restored! If it weren’t for my team’s epic collapse in our most recent tournament I think we would have been national treasures and heroes! But I digress… today’s students need high quality, committed teachers so everyone can be smarter. I just wish I know how? I was once accused of making racially-insensitive remarks. I only wish better for the next generation.

    Yours,
    Joubert
    (Luxembourg)
    (Goalkeeper)

  10. Billy Bob Says:

    Chris loves to trot out the small sample size critique and no research findings critique when it suits him. He and the other corporate reformers are pushing reforms with a limited research base at best. Yet, they don;t ever seem to mention that. Strange, no?

    ANd Ive had my PhD for almost as long as you have been alive. You just didn’t read my post carefully enough. Perhaps you took a Cambridge course.

  11. Chris Smyr Says:

    Billy Bob:

    You can’t even argue with fallacies correctly, it’s embarrassing:

    1) If you want to use a tu quoque argument you should point to a legitimate example of where the opposing party has acted inconsistently in accordance with their position. I don’t think it’s at all straight-forward to say that the AP English multiple choice section is a poor metric for judging a student’s critical reading skills because of one teacher’s informal interactions with some of his/her students. You need to give an example of a strategy advanced by ed reform that is similarly tenuously supported, and moreover you need to show where I have ever defended that example strategy.

    2) The fallacy itself doesn’t justify why it would be foolish in this case to “trot out the small sample size critique and no research findings critique”. Words fail me for how ridiculous it is to see this snidely referenced.

    3) There are no comments I made in that thread you abandoned that are refuted because you are old rather than young, and quite honestly you probably would do better to hide behind youthful ignorance than to proudly assert you are this dense even after all these years.

  12. J. D. Salinger Says:

    Smyrna is Lane Coutrell without the charm.

  13. Billy Bob Says:

    Chris,

    You represent TFA quite well. Keep up the good work. I’m sure all your fellow TFAers are quite proud of the fact that you act like an 8th grader.

    And nice deflection–good job.

    When you are older, I am sure you will look back with regret on all that you had done as a youngster. Assuming you mature over time.

  14. Chris Smyr Says:

    Billy Bob:

    Let me make sure I understand. Instead of offering counterarguments, you instead choose to ignore and misrepresent my arguments, attempt a genetic fallacy, and toss in some ad hominem for good measure, yet *I’m* the immature one. Is that about right?

    Your projection is showing.

    I’d also like to know what it is you assume I will eventually regret. Is it not respecting my elders and self-professed anonymous authorities? Or is it some other imaginary quality you will conjure up and attribute to me?

  15. Observer Says:

    What’s with all the personal attacks on Chris Smyr? It’s pathetic and makes me think he must be (at least mostly) right.

  16. edlharris Says:

    but what exactly is the benefit of naming all the teachers?

    Parents will have the data to ensure their child is not taught by an ineffective teacher.
    What’s wrong with that?

  17. Billy Bob Says:

    edharris–because the value-added estimates are wrong for some percentage of the teachers. What if you were named as being a poor worker at your place of performance using some metric that was wrong 10-35% of the time? I think you would probably get a lawyer and sue.

  18. mark Says:

    your response to a performance evaluation would be to sue? Wow, remind me never to hire you.

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