NY’s Teacher Evaluations: The Mystery 20%

Yesterday, Leo Casey was gracious enough to respond to my critique of his defense of the new teacher evaluations here in New York.

What he addressed above all was this part of my critique:

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?

To which he responded:

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.\

And then my response:

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.

This all stems from the mysterious local student assessments that have yet to be worked out between the UFT and DOE. This 20 percent is part of that overall 40 percent that will determine whether or not teachers are found “ineffective”.

Leo Casey asserts that there is a long tradition of student assessments that are not standardized exams. A “consortium of high schools in NYC” have already been using them.


Have any of these assessments been used on the scale of the NYC public school system, the largest school system in the United States?


Let us assume non-test-based assessments are out there for every grade and subject. How are teachers going to be rated on the basis of these assessments? Who will grade these assessments in a way that can be worked into the teacher ratings? The teachers themselves? A committee of educators? An outside contractor?

These are the details that must be worked out in collective bargaining.

Can we really imagine Mayor Bloomberg jeopardizing his legacy as the “education mayor” by agreeing to a battery of “progressive” assessments that have not been implemented on this scale before? Will Commissioner King approve of this?

Mayor Mike and Commissioner King are going to push for the sure thing: testing.

Testing is the only performance assessment that has been used on a NYC scale. It is logistically simple and easily translatable into data. There is the added factor of testing being the cash cow that corporations with big lobbyists like Pearson stand to benefit from.

All of the political facts as they stand now point to King Test as the thing that will fill that remaining 20%.

What Leo Casey is proposing runs counter to every political fact surrounding education reform here in NYC and around the country.

While Leo Casey and the UFT might push for progressive assessments that are better for students, we all know what is best for students does not shape education policy anywhere in this country.

Education policy is shaped by Realpolitik.

The only reform feasible in the world of education Realpolitik is testing.

9 responses to “NY’s Teacher Evaluations: The Mystery 20%

  1. Let me start with a little bit of an intellectual diversion — those of you who do not enjoy such things should go straight to the second paragraph. When you wrote your post on Foucault, which I found interesting, I thought you failed to address what I think is the most telling criticism of him: that because he was not able to ground resistance to power in anything but the power relationship itself, resistance became hopeless, an empty gesture which simply reinforces power. Thus, the LGBT liberation movement was, in the Foucaultian paradigm, trapped within the discourses of sexuality developed by those in power. I raise that point because I think you are taking just such a pessimistic Foucaultian position here, on the impossibility of doing performance assessments in this system of power. You might take a look at how Poulantzas appropriated Foucault in his last book, because I think that despite his political pessimism, he manages to break out of this Foucaultian ‘power straight jacket,’ while still using his insights.

    So, yes, performance assessments are less efficient, if you take as your sole measure the amount of time and energy which is invested in their successful completion as opposed to running bubble sheets through a Scantron. But the same sort of logic says that smaller class sizes are less efficient, because the cost of the teacher remains constant, no matter how many students s/he has in front of them. Call that the Bloomberg principle of how education works. The issue in both cases is that this is a rather thin notion of efficiency for education, where the quality of the product must be as much a factor as the time, capital and energy invested in it. That having been said, I don’t think there is a reason why performance assessments couldn’t be done on the scale of NYC public schools, provided that the necessary time and resources were shifted to support it. I know this makes my friend in the Performance Standards Consortium a little nervous, since they are worried about the dangers of cooptation that could undermine the quality of their assessments, but no grass roots movement from below is ever successful if its main worry is that it might be co-opted. Rather, our slogan should be: “steal our ideas.”

    Indeed, there is a very strong case to be made that if we want students to graduate NYC high schools ready for post-secondary work and a career in a knowledge economy workplace, performance assessments which require them to actually write a persuasive essay that marshals a logical argument and compelling evidence in support of a thesis statement, to actually do independent research, to actually solve a real life problem using mathematical calculations, and to actually do scientific research are precisely what we need.

    And, here is the evidence for my position: when we were negotiating the teacher evaluation system for the 33 Transformation and Restart schools, the DoE agreed to the use of performance assessments, and we had teams which included a couple of prominent teacher bloggers that were working on developing them when the issue of the appeals process broke up the negotiations. Why? Well in part, our particular team in the negotiations was negotiating with educators, not lawyers, and in part, because the argument I made above about graduating students capable of doing post-secondary work is an issue they are having to address.

    The times are generally dark and bleak, but there are always surprising windows of possibility and change that open up, sometimes in the most unexpected places. We need to jump through those windows whenever we see them.

    • To indulge the intellectual diversion, I think Foucault would respond with “how else would you fight the power structure without unmasking all the ways that structure exercises power?” Anything less runs the risk of fighting the power structure with tools unwittingly borrowed from that structure, which will only serve to replicate the power structure within the struggle. As a general rule, revolution happens when one group of people are rising but cannot break through a certain plateau established by the power elite. Therefore, the group that is rising seeks to break through the plateau. When they do so, they end up inheriting the apparatuses from the previous power structure and replicating that structure albeit in another form. It is a strange dialogue between Foucault and his detractors, each accusing the other of being unwitting tools of the power structure.

      However, I do not think this really touches upon the performance assessment issue here in NYC. I totally agree with you that it would be preferable, even ideal, for students to be evaluated on things like how to construct and justify an argument, how to think inductively, how to solve problems and other things valuable for college and life in general. I think any educator who knows anything would believe this is way preferable to a regime of constant testing on bubble exams. The fact that it is not efficient should not be an argument against it.

      But, in the real world, specifically the world of Bloomberg’s DOE, I do not see where the time and resources you mentioned to make this possible are coming from. I do not see Bloomberg, nor so I see the State Education Commissioner, pushing for the type of infrastructure that would make these so-called progressive performance a viable reality.

      This is not only because they are not efficient from a logistical standpoint, but because they are untested on a NYC scale. Bloomberg is not going to risk his hide as the education mayor on an unproven, untested evaluation system that will require loads of time and money to implement. Not only this, but these progressive types of assessments are much harder to boil down into numbers and, even by the parameters of what has already been agreed to, whatever this is has to be translatable into hard data, into cold numbers.

      Leo, I think what you are suggesting is fine. I also think it is not in step with the reality of our age. You said yourself that the UFT goes to the bargaining table from a weak position. So what is the likelihood of this very noble idea that you are proposing winning out over the mindless drive to test children that define self-styled reformers like Bloomberg? Even more, what is the likelihood that the UFT will even bring this idea to the bargaining table and stick by it at all costs, even to the point of forcing the issue?

      You speak eloquently about this matter. Is the UFT willing to test the Taylor Law in the name of preventing our schools from becoming nothing but testing factories? Is the union leadership willing to do what you consider the decidedly un-Foucaultian thing and, power structure be damned, fight like hell for a more just regime for our children?

      I am not talking about on the scale of 33 transformation schools. It is easier for you guys to take stands on that level. I am talking about the citywide, systemwide, unionwide level.

      Time will tell I suppose.

  2. A sad and disturbing prediction.
    They are just going to use the Acuity ITA tests or the Eperformance tests. Everyone knows that these ITA tests are not a good measure of what students are learning but that will not matter to the UFT or the DOE. These interim tests were designed as a diagnostic assessment to help teachers target students’ weaknesses. They don’t even do a good job of that. In fact, they are useless and a waste of our students’ time. These tests never tell us anything we don’t already know and many times they mischaracterize what the students know or do not know because of poorly written questions.
    Now they will use these tests to be the local 20 percent. Why not use a test that was poorly designed to assess students’ progress and use this poor instrument to evaluate teachers? Remember when they said the teacher data reports were only going to be used as a tool for teachers and principals to use to plan for professional development. And they would be strictly private. And the UFT and DOE agreed that yes, these reports would be used in private discussions in a spirit of collaboration to improve teacher practice. Remember that? This is very bad news to all the teachers and students in NYC.

  3. “And, here is the evidence for my position: when we were negotiating the teacher evaluation system for the 33 Transformation and Restart schools, the DoE agreed to the use of performance assessments”

    Almost laughable given what the DOE “agreed to.”
    I’ve heard a number of UFT officials wail: But they PROMISED.

    The program citywide and nationwide is to close down as many schools as possible as part of the political privatization agenda. To pretend anything else is to mislead. To not try to organize all 33 schools into a block to fight back together which has not been happening is going to be another tale of too little too late. Even if Bloomberg exacts a price for not closing them that price will still be a losing proposition.
    If the union leadership is willing to recognize that teachers should be held accountable for even 20 or 40 or whatever % based on student outcomes, that same leadership has to be held accountable for the outcomes over the past decade in working conditions for most teachers, whether massive useless paperwork or being forced to cheat for higher scores. All that did not happen in a vacuum. Why would people trust the leadership now?
    That is the evidence for my position — every piece of “evidence” doesn’t and hasn’t held water.

  4. Pingback: The Next Teacher Strike | assailedteacher

  5. Check out


    for a political analysis of what is behind Leo’s position…

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