Well, last week I received my Principal Growth Score as a result of our performance on the 2012-13 New York State Common Core Tests. I am a nine. A nine out of twenty. Less than half. Barely in the effective range. I am a nine. Although I was initially frustrated by the score, I have accepted my nine. Nine isn't the worst number. I loved my ninth birthday. My son is going to be nine this year. I have been a building administrator for nine years. Maybe nine suits me pretty perfectly - better than I initially realized.
Unfortunately, there is another side to this nine - the not so nice side. You see, because of this nine, no matter how many points I get out of the other 80 possible points I can earn, I cannot be rated highly effective. That's it - no matter what else I may have done this year to push our building forward (our staff did INCREDIBLE things last year), advocate for the needs of our children (our staff worked tirelessly to meet the needs of each child), or support various community efforts (we flattened the walls to our school and made things even more transparent for the community), I will only be effective, at best. Don't get me wrong - I am not driven by a label - throwing the word HIGHLY in front of EFFECTIVE doesn't mean very much to me. I am fine with being effective because it means there is room for growth; room for risk taking; room to be better for our community.
So, in the spirit of being better... and looking to learn and grow, I would like to share nine things that I think the NYS Department of Education and our esteemed Commissioner of Education, Dr. John King, should consider when planning for the future...
1) Our children, staff and communities are much more than a number. Instead of trying to reduce us all to a number (evaluative scores, test results, rankings, etc.) please take the time to get to know us and know what we are doing well because we are more than a number.
2) Figure out what schools are doing well and try and emulate those practices instead of trying to make us all fit into the same box. I understand it's difficult to know what's going on in each school because there are thousands of schools in NYS, but a more robust understanding of the current landscape throughout the state would be greatly appreciated. Are there issues throughout the state? Yes! Are there schools and districts that need to improve significantly because the children deserve better? Yes! But, why must educational reform in NYS be rooted in what's wrong in our schools instead of what's right in our schools? Instead of feeling pressured to get our test scores up, I would much rather spend time sharing and collaborating with colleagues from around the state about best practices - these practices are what make a difference in the daily lives of children.
3) Give us time to shift, implement and take risks with our practices! We just adopted and implemented the Common Core State Standards all within the last year (many districts are still working on the implementation) and yet already, we are all being assessed against these standards. How is that fair? Just because a teenager passes his/her permit test and takes a few driving lessons, doesn't mean he/she are ready to race at the Daytona 500! Instead, we need time to experiment, fail and problem solve without being judged. Give us time!
4) Take feedback from the people working in schools, with children, to help enhance, modify and improve various mandates and policies. We are living APPR each day - let us tell you what should change! We administered the Common Core NYS Tests to actual children - let us tell you what happened and what could be changed. We are struggling to "fit it all in" - let us tell you what could possibly change. Instead of implementing all these sweeping large scale changes across the entire state, things should have been piloted or tested in pockets so State Ed could have worked out the kinks before imposing it all on every child and educator in the state.
5) Evaluating a teacher based on how students perform on high stakes testing is not a reliable measure (check out this article about the issues with value added models). The scores for individual educators will go up and down each year with little ability to predict where they will end up. So, what's the point? For example, I know of an educator who received a 2 out of 20 last year but this year received a 13 out of 20. My guess is that next year the same educator will have a totally different score because of the student population. The number fluctuates dramatically each year and that is because there are too many variables to control for when evaluating an educator against how their students perform on high stakes testing. Eliminate this part of the APPR plan - let's implement something more robust and thorough (maybe a digital portfolio) and less quick and dirty (ratings that are based on high stakes tests that rely heavily on multiple choice questions).
6) Change the NYS Tests! Instead of letting them be so one dimensional with an over abundance of multiple choice questions, give our children an opportunity to show you what THEY know and can do in the areas of literacy and mathematics. Instead of trying to trick them with multiple choice questions that many adults cannot answer and trying to exhaust them with days of testing, give them a chance to evaluate, synthesize, think critically and apply the skills they have to solve real life problems and situations. This way, we can have a true understanding of what our children know and can do. Instead, currently, all we can really figure out is if they bubbled in the right answer - not WHY they bubbled it in just if they did. The current testing situation, where the results are used to evaluate educators, does NOT work. Furthermore, it seems that NYS is saying that we can assess college and career readiness with how students perform on multiple choice tests - REALLY?!? We need to consider multiple data points - not just the results of one test! By considering multiple data points we do not have to rely on annual standardized state testing to evaluate our students or educators. For example, our students could be tested independently every three years, starting in third grade, using a standardized test. This way, we will have data points that span from elementary to high school graduation. Additionally, there should be group task oriented assessments during the years between standardized tests where the students must collaborate to solve a set of real life problems. Furthermore, our students should be expected to maintain a digital portfolio that will feature work from all content areas that will be scored against rubrics generated collaboratively between teachers and students. By integrating all these assessments we can use multiple data points to determine student growth over an extended period of time and across all content areas, not just in Mathematics and English Language Arts. Multiple data points mean that we do not have to rely on summative assessments for evaluation purposes and instead we will have access to formative assessment data that can help us meet the needs of our students in real time and give every student an entry point to learning.
7) Give us data we can use to inform instruction and help our children learn and grow! Our children spend hours taking these tests, which we are never allowed to see again, and we receive the results just in time for the next school! What's the point? We cannot do anything with this information because we don't have all the pieces in a timely fashion. As educators, many of us dedicate our lives to using as many assessment points as possible to help us plan and guide future instructional decisions to best meet the needs of our children. The data from NYS seems to be used for one purpose, and one purpose only, to judge.
8) Implement policies and mandates that foster and expect the use of 21st century skills and innovation in our schools! Challenge us to make technology a regular part of instruction- not an add on. Ask us to encourage our children to collaborate for the purposes of thinking critically and creating - that is the root of innovation. Innovative thinkers who are willing to keep failing until they perfect their vision are the ones changing the world and affecting the global economic landscape - not the people who can pick the correct answer on a multiple choice test.
9) Don't use our children and educators as pawns in some massive money making scheme. Let Pearson figure out other ways to make money. Don't try and privatize public education and turn it into a business. Our children should be the focus - each and every day we should be driven by doing what is best for our children; not what is going to put more money into the already fat pockets of different individuals and corporations.
Although this list can go on and on (please leave a comment below and add to this list - let's help NYS get better) because there are always things we can be doing better, I am only a nine. I am a nine who will not this nine define me, our students, staff or community. In the end, I am happy to share that name is Tony and I am a nine!