Monday, March 9, 2015

Three Questions For Cuomo: Part 1 (About Teacher Evals)

So I was all ready to go this anti-testing forum out on Long Island and my dog got sick. Like real sick. A last minute trip to the veterinarian (and $400 later!) and I'm left with a few empty hours. So while education policy is on my mind, and while I have the time, I'm sharing the first of a two part piece about Cuomo's education proposals for this year's NYS budget.

I'm not going to tow the union or the activist line here. Instead, I'm going to try to lay out as many facts as possible, then ask three genuine, legitimate questions.

My next post will focus on asking three questions about his plan for tenure. But this post is about his [planned change to the teacher evaluation system throughout the state. Particularly, I'm interested in the changes he is proposing to test scores.

Dispelling with our first myth ...

Cuomo's plan to change tests from 40% - 50% is just a negotiating tactic. I don't believe he truly wants the tests to count for half. My belief is that he wants the tests to count for 40% -just as they do now- but for the state exams to count for all 40% of that score. Currently, some schools offer different tests to count for the local portion of the evaluation (what's called the Measures of Student Learning) but the vast majority of schools have selected the method where state tests are simply analyzed a different way. Be it better or worse, the fact is that state tests already count for 40% of many our evaluations. They just examine the 'numbers' in a different way. Although this may be a surprise to many friends reading, the sad truth is that, if you accept that his "50%" position is just a negotiation ploy (and that he really wants to settle at a 40% number), his proposal really isn't anything new at all. It's just

Friday, March 6, 2015

"We'll Come Again Next Thursday Afternoon"

I must be the crazy one.

I was no fan of ARIS, the all-in-one stop for teacher training, school stats and student information or of the people who created it. I used to joke that it was $81 million of after school programs and PSAL sports spat out without a thought of how or even whether people would use it.

Well, no one used it.

No one except for me, that is! ARIS had information about my students that I could not find anywhere else. It had the most up to date telephone contacts. It had a record of how well my students performed in such skills as organizing and making predictions and using reasoning. It told me which of my students were Language Learners, which were not and which had been but were currently not. It told me which questions on the last Regents' exam each of my students answered correctly and which they did not. It not only told me what 'skill level' my student was, but it indicated the decile levels -far more accurate than measuring by levels I, II, III or IV for each student in my school.

It even told me which schools my students had attended. After a while, I came to know these schools well enough that I could safely presume that a 'Level III' who had made their way to my classroom from school x may not be quite as skilled in, say organized writing, as a "Level III" who had came to my school from school y. That's a nice level of understanding to be able to have on day one of a school year.

These bits of information can help a teacher draw a picture of about their class of students and that helps a teacher devise scaffolds and solutions to help those students succeed. It helped me, for instance, with grouping (I never sat 'school x' and 'school y' students near each other). It helped parental contacts. It helped me know which students I needed to scaffold for on a given assignment and which students I didn't. And all this information was one quiet moment and a login away -literally at my fingertips.

ARIS was shut down last year. The Chancellor sent out word that the contract with Klein & Co, was up and that it would be renewed and that ARIS was going a bye-bye.  Gone was the $81 million symbol of mayor Bloomberg and gone was the most prolific vestige of former lawyer Joel Klein in our public schools. As of December 31, the domain that hosted ARIS no longer worked. The DoE also announced that the system would be replaced with something very similar and built from inside the DoE.

Well that replacement never came. The promises to have a replacement up and running for teachers has yet to be kept.

It's been two months without a student information system and I can no longer quickly ascertain important data about the students who I teach.

Instead of looking up their phone number, I must ask for a blue card -just like I did 13 years ago. Instead of seeing the decile level of my students, I have to guess -just like I did 13 years ago. Instead of knowing whether my students have a need that requires a tad more attention, I have none until I figure it out -just like I did 13 years ago.

Am I crazy to miss a tool that allowed me to see background data about my students? I must be. To date, I  have seen not one complaint about the lack this tool that teachers once had at their disposal.

And now, while everyone seems happy about the demise of ARIS (honestly, saying something bad about ARIS wins you friends in some parts of the city) I am flying as blind in the middle of a school year as I ever had before ARIS came along.

Don't get me wrong. ARIS was an enormous pain in my behind. But it was a tool -and that tool is no longer there for me to use.

Promised, but not there.

Now some of the activists I speak with will tell you that ARIS was a bomb. They'll say that it was a waste of taxpayer's money and an insult to the schools, since it was so closely associated with Joel Klein. Some may even say that it was the epitome of big data in the city schools.

While I actually agree with reasoning around Klein, there is an important fact that these activists won't ever acknowledge: That was a tool that was utilized by regular classroom teachers across the city and it helped those teachers draw a more accurate picture about the students who walked into their classrooms each year.

They'll also decide not to acknowledge that no tool has arrived to replace it.