Leo Casey “Sets the Record Straight” on the New Teacher Evaluations

Is the UFT selling us another bill of goods?

Over at Edwise today Leo Casey, Vice President of the United Federation of Teachers, addresses the criticisms of Diane Ravitch and Long Island principal Carol Burris of the new teacher evaluations here in New York State. Mr. Casey acknowledges the complexity of the new evaluation regime, then goes on to say:

“Unfortunately, complexity has provided a fertile ground for commentaries on the New York teacher evaluation framework that reach alarmist conclusions, with arguments built on a foundation of misinformation and groundless speculation. A widely circulated piece by Long Island Principal Carol Corbett Burris, published on the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog, is in the thrall of this alarmist alchemy. Burris decries the law and last week’s agreement as allowing “test scores… to trump all.” Under its scoring, a teacher could be “effective” in all components of the evaluation and yet still receive an overall rating of “ineffective.” The law, Burris concludes, is creating an evaluation system in which schools and students will “lose great teachers.” At the Bridging Differences blog, Diane Ravitch has now taken up Burris’ argument, repeating her main points as gospel.”

Casey then goes on to explain why their criticisms are unnecessarily alarmist.

“First, Burris incorrectly assumes that the entire 40 points in the measures of student learning will be derived from standardized state exams. But the use of value-added growth measures from state standardized exams need not take up more than 20% of the total teacher evaluation – and then only for a minority of teachers, those teaching English Language Arts and Mathematics, grades 4 through 8. Standardized state exams can only be used as the basis for the local measures of student learning if the union local agrees to their use in collective bargaining. I know of no significant New York district where the local union has agreed to the use of standardized state exams as the basis for the local measures of student learning. In New York City, the UFT has taken the position that under no circumstances would we agree to the use of standardized state exams for the local measures of student learning…”

Now, I still have some respect for Leo Casey. He has written some very good things at Edwise and has had moments of eloquence in defense of teachers. Unfortunately, his counter-argument here seems to be a matter of splitting hairs.

The key word throughout this entire post is state. 40 percent of the new evaluations will be based on “measures of student learning”. Only half of that (20 percent overall) can be based on state standardized exams. The other half will be local assessments which must be agreed to in collective bargaining. In fact, Casey consistently reminds us that most of the details of the new evaluation framework will be filled in by what local unions and school districts agree to in collective bargaining (more on that later).

First, what is a local assessment? Notice how he does not use the word exam. Also notice that he did not mention that any assessment agreed to in collective bargaining must be approved by the State Education Commissioner. In reality, these local assessments will be more tests. They might be different from the state exams but they will be exams nonetheless. And, remember, all local assessments must be approved by the State Education Commissioner.

Local standardized exams do not yet exist in New York City. Furthermore, many grades and subjects do not have established state exams either. What this amounts to for the children of New York City are two exams, one state and one local, for every grade and subject. This is a mouth-watering prospect for companies that make standardized exams; a stream of millions of dollars in state and municipal contracts.

This new testing regime has been the major criticism of Diane Ravitch. In her vision:

All such schemes rely on standardized tests as the ultimate measure of education. This is madness. The tests have some value in measuring basic skills and rote learning, but their overuse distorts education. No standardized test can accurately measure the quality of education. Students can be coached to guess the right answer, but learning this skill does not equate to acquiring facility in complex reasoning and analysis. It is possible to have higher test scores and worse education. The scores tell us nothing about how well students can think, how deeply they understand history or science or literature or philosophy, or how much they love to paint or dance or sing, or how well prepared they are to cast their votes carefully or to be wise jurors.

Leo Casey never really addresses these arguments. He only responds that half of those tests will be agreed to by the union in collective bargaining (but must be approved by the State Education Commissioner.) I do not see how this is supposed to allay Diane Ravitch’s “alarmist” fears.

What is collective bargaining worth anyway, if the State Education Commissioner can give a thumbs down to whatever was bargained?

And what about that other 60%, the one that deals with “teacher performance”?

According to Leo Casey, this entire 60% will be shaped by collective bargaining as well. 31 of those percentage points must be administrative observations based on a research-based framework (i.e. Danielson) that must be agreed to in collective bargaining. The other 29 percent can be anything from peer observations, lesson plans (wait, I thought the contract said that principals cannot judge us based upon lesson plans?) and “artifacts” such as student work (does this mean the bulletin board police will continue to be out in force?) Whatever this 29 percent ends up being for New York City, it must be agreed to in collective bargaining between our own UFT and the DOE.

Therefore, according to Leo Casey

“…80% of the total evaluation – the measures of teacher performance and the measures of student learning based on local assessments – are set through collective bargaining at the district level. This provides teacher union locals with an essential and necessary input into teacher evaluations, allowing us to ensure that they have educational integrity and are fair to teachers.”

That really does seem like a sweet deal for teachers, but it is misleading. We have already dealt with 20 of this 80 percent, so let us look at the remaining 60.

First, this is a disaster for administrators (where is their union, by the way?) They effectively have had all of the power to rate teachers taken out of their hands. The 31% that they are actually guaranteed to be a part of must use a “research-based” rubric to rate teachers. No longer can principals walk into a class, observe what is going on and know whether or not students are learning. Believe or not, there are still a few administrators in the system who have been veteran educators who know when a class is learning and when they are going through the motions. None of that matters anymore. All of them, from the 20-year pro to the Leadership Academy neophyte who would not know good teaching if it was standing in the front of the room conducting a lesson, must refer to some pre-packaged rubric.

Maybe the account of a principal from Tennessee, where they have already started using some of this research-based stuff, can give a clue to the problem with this:

But under Tennessee’s new teacher-evaluation system, which is similar to systems being adopted around the country, Mr. Ball said he had to give the teacher a one — the lowest rating on a five-point scale — in one of 12 categories: breaking students into groups. Even though Mr. Ball had seen the same teacher, a successful veteran he declined to identify, group students effectively on other occasions, he felt that he had no choice but to follow the strict guidelines of the state’s complicated rubric.

“It’s not an accurate reflection of her as a teacher,” Mr. Ball said.

Ever call for tech support for your computer only to end up talking to someone in another country reading from a script in which there is no place for your individual problem? That is what this 31% percent is. No matter what is agreed to in collective bargaining, the assumption will be that good teaching looks the same in every classroom every day. Maybe you forgot to write the date on the board, maybe the aim is not focused enough, maybe the class gets so into a discussion that the original lesson does not get completed, or maybe you just did not wear a tie (or female equivalent) to work that day. No matter what, it all counts. It can all be used against you if your classroom does not look like every other good classroom as determined by “research” done by people who have not been in a classroom since the term classroom was coined.

The other 29 percent is pretty much up in the air and, chances are, whatever is agreed to in collective bargaining will disaggregate that 29 percent into smaller percentages. However, it does not matter in the end because according to Leo Casey:

“At the behest of Governor Cuomo, the New York State Education Department set overall scoring bands for the teaching evaluation system which are quite stringent: very low scores in both the state and local components of measures of student learning (0, 1 or 2 out of a possible 20 in both components) will lead to an overall ineffective rating, regardless of how a teacher scored on the measures of teacher performance.”

So, as has been said on every blog and news column at this point, that 60 percent is irrelevant because the 40 percent can make or break a teacher’s entire rating.

Leo Casey goes on to make this murky point:

“If both components were based solely on standardized test scores, using unreliable value-added models with high margins of error, as Burris incorrectly claims, these scoring bands would have the potential of producing unfair ratings among outlier cases. But with at least one of these two components being a local assessment that, as it is collectively bargained, should be an authentic assessment of student learning, this objection does not hold. Teachers and their unions have always said that we wanted to be responsible for student learning – our objection was to the idea that standardized exams provided a true measure of that learning. With the inclusion of authentic assessments of student learning, student achievement must be a vital part of our evaluation.”

Wait a minute, what is an “authentic assessment of student learning?” Does this mean that me, Diane Ravitch and the rest of the teaching blogosphere who fear that 40 percent (the vital 40 percent) of our worth as teachers will be judged on test scores are wrong? Has Leo Casey put our fears to rest?

Unfortunately not. What I fear is happening in the paragraph quoted above is a bit of sleight of hand. The term standardized sticks out here. I take this to mean that Leo Casey believes that because each school district will decide on the other 20 percent (in conjunction with the union) on their own, whatever assessment they agree upon is not standardized. It will be an assessment that is tailor-made for that particular district instead of a “one size fits all” approach for children throughout the entire state or nation.

It is difficult to see what can be a district-wide assessment that is not a test. Can it be a portfolio? Are contractors from the DOE going to pour over millions of stacks of portfolios every year in order to assess each individual student? Will the State Education Commissioner approve this?

Not bloody likely.

The only thing that it can be is something that is digestible in numbers. That can mean either: a) a city-wide exam or b) semester grades. Knowing how Bloomberg loves to crow about the rising graduation rate in New York City, it is possible to imagine him pushing for teachers to be assessed by the grades their students receive, which would pretty much end up institutionalizing the “social promotion” to which he claims to be so opposed. After all, if teachers know they can be fired if enough kids do not pass their class, you can bet that kids will end up passing along to the next grade.

But most likely the other 20 percent will be a city-wide exam. Maybe Leo Casey is setting the stage early for the collective bargaining farce to come between the UFT and Bloomberg. Bloomberg wants a city-wide exam and the union puts up one of their fake oppositions. Mulgrew and Bloomberg exchange mutual recriminations in the media to sway the hearts and minds of New Yorkers. The State Education Commissioner signals his support for a city-wide exam, making the UFT look like a roadblock in getting the new evaluation system finalized. Mulgrew goes silent on the issue for a few weeks, and then emerges from a backroom deal with Bloomberg where he reveals he has conceded the point on the city-wide exams. There will be huzzas from education deformers across the country and the UFT will turn to us and say it was the best possible deal under the circumstances.

As much as I would like to believe Leo Casey’s characterization of the foremost historian on American education’s concerns as “alarmist”, I do not see anywhere in his post today where he silences those alarms. All I see is a dark time ahead for the children and teachers of New York City.

This does not even touch on how the new evaluation regime destroys tenure for teachers. According to Leo Casey, his next installment will address this concern. I can only say I hope it goes over better than his latest defense of this horrid new system.

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23 responses to “Leo Casey “Sets the Record Straight” on the New Teacher Evaluations

  1. Can you please link your post to Edwize.

  2. The time is just around the bend when all teachers will eventually leave the profession and find better things to do
    with their employment .social promotion is alive and well in some schools that constantly blame teachers forthe problems in the schools. I think that total distruction is the only solution. I think the problem lies in the fact that only a few teacher care about the issues at hand. They all sit down and wAit for the union to do the job. However they are not aware that the union is selling out the basic foundation of NYC public schools.. The only people that can change things are the teachers uniting againts the union. Teachers need a body that is not so politically saturated.. Teachers united for Education reforms.. Not UFT.. Last but not least, how will they evaluate the ATRs ? It’s all a joke to me . Make it up as we go. The union is primative. They need people to think of new ways to fight for workers.

    • I feel your anger Carol. I’ve seen apathetic teachers who got in trouble and, all of the sudden, they start to care. “There but for the grace of God, go I” should be the motto of union members towards each other.

    • I actually long for that day when today’s teachers get so frustrated they leave the profession. It happens in nursing all the time and that dynamic makes way for innovative nurses who can handle the stress and still provide quality care. The fact that teachers are a protected class and that their unions are characterized by constant hysteria that keep teachers excepted from routine administrative measures that everyone in the private work force has to deal with–evaluations being one example–is helping stir growing resentment even against good teachers. Maybe with a mass exodus, we can accomplish things like the realization that education degrees are not the only degrees that make good teachers, and help restore subject competency, which is sorely lacking with today’s “education” graduates.

      • Wow, is this a serious post?

        Rather than go into all of the misinformation in here, I will provide you with a simple fact.

        Here in NYC, the teaching work force is mostly new, meaning they started their careers after Mayor Michael Bloomberg started his tenure in 2002. As a matter of fact, it is somewhere in the range of 65% of the teaching workforce is new. That mass exodus you described has happened already and not only in NYC, but in urban school districts nationwide. How are those “administrative measures” you say teachers are not subject to working out?

        Guess what? Schools are not any better, not by any measure we use to judge schools.

        But you express the real goal of education reform, which is to deprive teachers of their livelihoods off of some prejudice against teachers in general.

      • It is very difficult for an outsider to understand the dynamics of NYC public school system. One can only speak because of their experience and not base on the negative propaganda that is being promoted by private individuals to fuel their capitalistic gains.. The media and others are constantly bashing teachers on a daily basis . No one knows the problems that teachers face in a daily basis.. Teachers are are faced with students that are abused by family members, faced with students that was raped multiple times by family members and strangers, teachers are faced with students who will just put their head on the desk fir several weeks until their medcaid insurance finalized for them to get the forth abortion in six months, teachers are faced with students who have migrated from various countries in the world and are expected to pass standardize examination in a few months of their arrival, teachers are faced with students that have various emotional needs and they were not addressed, teachers are faced with students that are gang related, teachers are faced with students that are not motivated, teachers are faced with students that are high on weed, alcohol and estacy pills, teachers are faced with students that are abandoned by their family.. There are so many issues that happens in a learning environment on a daily basis , and yet teachers try to do their best. Being a teacher is a profession from the heart . It’s not about money, it’s about developing the total child.. Numbers are important and the look very good on paper, however what teacher does on a regular basis it’s more than anyone can imagine..
        With this said it’s time to stop the teacher bashing and work together to develop ways to address the various issues that are present in our school system.. I would be an hyprocrite to think the system is perfect. It is quite obvious that the system needs reform. My problem is that we tend to leave out a major player in school reform.. Parents need to play their role as parents. I have spoken to medical doctors who had parents that could not read, however they had stability in their homes that made the difference .. Education the nation youth is very difficult because of the different variables that are involved.. Teacher bashing will not help. How would you feel if everyday you go to work and do your best , and give your soul to students and all you can hear is how bad you are? There is going to be a day if it does not stop where teachers will leave the profession , not because they are bad , but because they are tired to be crushed.. It’s like an abusive relationship. One day the person that is being abused will step.. Call it what you will . Teachers are wonderful people.. I have seen teachers having bad days . I have never witness a bad teacher.

      • 1.) I would like to see an example of on of the qotesiuns provided on the test to have an opinion of my own. I wonder how many students got those ridiculous qotesiuns wrong and how many got them right. I want to know what she means by tricky qotesiuns and if even adults were stumped then I think professionals should look more deeply into the situation.2.) Assessment is important to for many reasons. There are four basic purposes of assessment. It is important to inform teaching and promote learning. It is also used to help detect children with special needs or learning disabilities. Assessment is used to evaluate programs and to demonstrate accountability. By assessing students you can measure their progress in the classroom and make sure that all students are comprehending the material being presented. Assessment is effective to both teachers and the learners. Teachers know which students understand the lessons and which do not. For assessing students with special needs and learning disabilities, these children are assessed all of the time to measure progress and to determine in which areas they need more help.3.) In my classroom I would use assessment to follow the children’s progress. With children with a physical disability, they might answer qotesiuns verbally instead of writing it down. Accommodations need to be made in order for the students to reach their full capabilities. By assessing, I can help support them in taking the next step to become successful. I will also use a summative assessment at the end of my lessons to mark their progress in certain areas.4.) When I was in elementary school, we were required to take standardized tests and I was always so nervous and scared to take them because I was so afraid that I would not do well. I hated when the test time came but after reading the text I think that standardized tests are important to help identify and diagnose children with special needs, serve as a source of information for assessing children for instruction, and provide information for program evaluation and accountability. All standardized tests and given with the same content under the same conditions which makes it fair for everyone and that way it is easier to see in which sections students lack and which parts they excel in. I think that is it a good way to keep things fair and equal across the United States. If there were different tests in different states there would be arguments and debates about how it’s not fair. The one thing that I do not like about standardized tests is that it only covers three areas; math, reading, and writing. That means that the other subjects are ignored. I think that all subjects are important and that standardized tests should include other subjects. 5

  3. You present here a considered argument, which should be addressed. Let me simply take up one point of disagreement here which I think is a particularly telling one — your view that the local measure of student learning must necessarily take the form of a standardized exam, and that this is what I must mean when I talk of assessments. In fact, I chose the word assessment deliberately precisely because I wanted to make clear that it was entirely possible and desirable to use assessments that were not standardized exams. There is a strong tradition of authentic performance assessments in progressive education, with prominent educators such as LInda Darling-Hammond and Deborah Meier among its strongest advocates. There is a consortium of high schools in NYC which have a waiver from a number of the Regents exam to do performance assessments. At the point that the negotiations over the 33 Transformation and Restart Schools broke down, we were actually developing performance assessments for the local measures of student learning. I think it is would be a major mistake to assume that these the local measures must be standardized exams.

    Leo Casey

    • Thank you for taking the time to respond.

      I do realize that when you use the word “assessment” you are leaving things open to alternative, more “progressive” forms of assessment and not necessarily standardized exams.

      Now, for my part, I am working from a few assumptions. First, that these progressive forms of assessment tend to be less efficient from a grading standpoint, in that they take longer to grade than a fill-in-the blank exam. Second, that it is pretty clear that the DOE will not want teachers themselves to grade these assessments. This would mean that some outside agency will have to do it, or that a committee of educators will do it.

      If this is the case, how feasible is it to implement progressive forms of assessment for the largest school system in the country? It seems like a logistical nightmare.

      Therefore, it would seem that the only assessment that could feasibly be put in place is a bubble-in exam of the traditional type. It might not be what the UFT necessarily wants, but facts on the ground, so to speak, makes testing the default assessment for the remaining 20%.

      So, while I understand that you were not necessarily alluding to testing, I don’t really see other assessments being implemented citywide that has the type of broad-based approval politicians like Bloomberg look for other than testing. I can’t imagine Bloomberg unveiling with a straight face to the voters of NYC something like portfolio or other performance-based assessments that have never been used on a scale of NYC.

      In short, it seems like testing is the ONLY feasible option, politically, economically, logistically, that could possibly be instituted citywide.

      If there is any light you can shed on this matter, it would be appreciated.

  4. Pingback: NY’s Teacher Evaluations: The Mystery 20% | assailedteacher

  5. Awesome post. I just wanted to say that I like actually like that the observations will be worth only 31%. I’m working under the assumption that the other 29 will be some type of teacher portfolio (Danielson’s addresses things that are just not observable. It seems to me they’ll stick to Danielson, just require teachers to submit ‘proof’ that they have addressed that aspect of the rubric) and I may like that too (if teachers get to compile the portfolio and submit it. If the principal just requires us to hand things in (especially so that THEY can create the portfolio!) then it will defeat the purpose of multiple measures.

    Which is something I’m starting to rethink. While I don’t like the fact the kids get another standardized test from the city (which I think they will), I do like the fact that the appr ‘score’ will come from multiple sources. It seems like that will make it harder to get rid of good teachers. Principal hate you? That pop in can be only worth 15%. ap doesn’t trust your style? You have a portfolio to show you’re right -which can be brought into any appea ls hearing.
    Don’t get me wrong. I hate the idea of a portfolio, and Danielson’s narrow idea of teaching, and standardized exams. But taken in tandem, I think there are enough multiple measures that be actually helpful and even protective.
    Just my opinion (as of today, which is constantly changing as new facts about the deal are trickling out)

    • Thank you. You bring up some very interesting points. If they make that other 29% some sort of teacher portfolio that allows teachers to fill in the gaps, so to speak, of Danielson, then that certainly seems fair. As someone who has been under this regime to an extent, you would know better than I.

      I also like the fact that principals have less power to destroy teachers through U-ratings. However (and I might regret saying this later), I think there is still something to be said for principals being able to make their own judgements about teachers based upon their own experience and not some “research-based” framework.

      But your points are compelling. I have read a few of your things about Danielson and have been enlightened by much of what you say.

      My biggest fear is that we will be testing our kids up the wazoo and all of our class time will have to revolve around test prep.

      I am putting up your blog on my blogroll now. Maybe we can do a link exchange?

    • 1) After reading this arcilte my first question is; who benefits from standardized testing? If seasoned teachers and administrators can’t find the value in this form of assessment then I’m left wondering why such a policy exists in the first place. Children learn in a variety of ways, and using one medium to gauge the progress of an entire grade strikes me deeply flawed. Even so, if I’m to accept the argument (which I don’t) that standardized testing is a necessary measure, I would at least demand that the test be comprehensible for the students it’s meant to assess. Such a consideration would seem axiomatic to the whole notion of legitimate standardized testing, but based on this letter (and others similar to it) it’s obvious not all tests pass this basic requirement. I’m left to conclude that standardized testing does benefit some; test generating companies and their political allies, but certainly fails our children and does a disservice to educators across the country.2)I think assessing our students’ learning is crucial for a number of reasons. First, our goal is to encourage and enhance student’s social, emotional and cognitive development. In order to gauge our own effectiveness, we need to measure how well our students are responding to our methods. Additionally, students learn in different ways. Legitimate assessments reveal which methods work for each student, which allows us as educators to effectively teach all of our students. Finally, assessment is vital for self-reflection. Without assessment we would be unable to gauge our own effectiveness as educators.3) I think effective assessment can interwoven into any curriculum. I am a proponent of project based curricula that require students to utilize a variety of skills in producing significant, multi-faceted group work. In assessing these projects, we can effectively gauge our students progress in a number of different skill sets. For example, if a group of students produces a short story book about a topic of their choosing, as an educator I can assess these students visual/spatial abilities based on their artwork, their language arts skills based on their text, their organizational abilities based on how they divide labor among the group, their social/emotional development based on their interactions with fellow groups and group members, and their overall acumen regarding the subject or topic for their book.4)I STRONGLY oppose the practice of standardized testing not just in pre-k through 4th grade classrooms, but within public education as a whole. In my opinion standardized tests benefit testing companies and those who wish devalue educators as professionals capable of effectively assessing students. Proponents argue that we must have accountability in the classroom; that bad teachers pervade public education and must be ferreted out with universal assessments. Regrettably, bad teachers do exist, and no one more than I wishes to see them removed from the classroom. Standardized tests do not, however, effectively assess students content knowledge and therefore yield deeply flawed data that many choose to interpret as inerrant fact. I argue that teachers should have the leeway necessary as professionals to assess their own students’ progress. Standardized testing fails students, teachers and parents while lining the pockets of companies like Pearson and its ilk. 5

  6. Pingback: “No Student Left Untested,” by Diane Ravitch | QED Insight

  7. Pingback: Students for Education Reform and the War on Teachers | assailedteacher

  8. Thank you for this great response to Leo’s post – extremely useful.

    Check out

    http://socialistworker.org/2012/02/28/bitter-fruits-of-race-to-the-top

    for more analysis of the politics behind the union leaderships’ concessions on this.

  9. Pingback: Teacher Evaluations OUTRAGE! « Grassroots Education Movement

  10. Thanks for your post

  11. Pingback: Grassroots Education Movement

  12. Pingback: Teacher Evaluation Nightmare ! | Change the Stakes

  13. “Leo Casey Sets the Record Straight on the New Teacher Evaluations |
    assailedteacher” was in fact a pretty excellent blog post, .
    Keep creating and I’m going to continue browsing! Thanks for your time ,Whitney

  14. Pingback: How New York City Can Rid Themselves of the Race to the Top Evaluations | Assailed Teacher

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