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Leadership and Activism, School Stories

A Teacher Responds to Her Teacher Data Report

The following letter from New York City teacher, Lynda Costagliola, first appeared on the NYCoRE listserv.  The urgent tone of Lynda’s plea to be recognized as other than the sum of her students’ test scores caught my attention.  I wrote to Lynda and asked her permission to publish it here; she graciously consented and had this to say:  “Hopefully, this letter will get people to realize teachers are not the enemy, charter schools are not the answer and that our children are being caught in the middle”.  
Lynda said she wrote to UFT President, Michael Mulgrew, “because, as the president of my union, I felt it necessary to alert him to what was going on with real teachers.  He has not responded.  The union originally agreed to the TDR’s (Teacher Data Reports) as an evaluative tool when Randi Weingarten was union president. At no point did the union agree to the release of these reports. The city, at that time, agreed nothing would ever be released to the public.  I think it was former chancellor Joel Klein who went back on that agreement.”  
   
Dear Mr. Mulgrew,
    I am a veteran public school teacher of 33 years and have taught a variety of subject areas and grades during my tenure. I began as a middle school special education teacher and am currently a licensed teacher for the Gifted and Talented Program, grade 5.  I have an exemplary record and have contributed in a positive way to many, many students most of whom I still keep in contact via that technological wonder, Facebook!
    I received my Teacher Data Report on Wednesday, April 13 and was demoralized beyond words. I was rated an “average” teacher in both E.L.A. and Math and “below average” in one area of the math. I sat and stared at the computer screen reading through tears of frustration insisting that someone made a terrible mistake. I am NOT “an average/below average” teacher!
    In June of each school year, parents line up outside my principal’s office begging to have their children in my class. If I was such an “average/below average” teacher, why would parents do that? Over the years many of my fifth grade students have been accepted into such prestigious middle schools as DeLaSalle Academy, Medgar Evers Prep School, Mark Twain Middle School for the Gifted and Talented, Philippa Schulyer Middle School and the Prep for Prep Program. I prepare all my students to take these entrance exams as well as introduce them to the interview process. I don’t think an “average/below average” teacher’s students would be able to pass such rigorous entrance exams.
    My principal told me to rip up my Teacher Data Report as she does not give it any merit, especially in my case. As a teacher of the Gifted and Talented, many of my students enter my class with perfect E.L.A. and Math scores. Where can I move them? What if my principal leaves and I am at the mercy of some Tweed Operative who only deals with statistics?
    I hope my Union, one that I have supported and believed in since the days of Albert Shanker, will alert the public to the offensive nature and inaccuracies of these Reports. Fight their release and get rid of them! My livelihood is being challenged on the basis of two exams, which are administered over four days. Three hours of testing can measure a teacher’s worth?     
    My evenings and weekends are consumed with paperwork. My preps? My lunch periods? I coach the Oratory Team and am the coordinating teacher for The Stock Market Game. I also coordinate many of the senior activities at my school. Should I give this all up and focus on test-taking? Teaching in Brooklyn certainly has it advantages. I have taken my class on many school trips to concerts, plays, museums and art galleries, all related to various areas of the curriculum. Should I stop and just focus on test-taking activities? Should I stop molding my students into becoming well-rounded young men and women and just focus on test-taking skills? If the answer is yes, then I fear I may have to retire.
    Please Mr. Mulgrew. Get the word out that Teacher Data Reports are flawed, inaccurate and do not measure the worth of a competent, motivated teacher. These Teacher Data Reports do not take into account students who have to overcome incredible obstacles just to make it to class every day. What about students who. through no fault of their own, arrive at school late, hungry and unprepared? A teacher can only do such much in the course of a day, a week, a month and a school year.
    Many of my colleagues are reconsidering teaching the testing grades and are applying for lower grade positions or out of classroom positions.  
    I do not deserve such abuse. I have dedicated my life to the children who have passed through my classroom door. Please help me.
Lynda Costagliola
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About Elisa Waingort

I am currently teaching ESL to middle school students at an International School in Quito, Ecuador. I have been teaching for close to 25 years in South and North America. I love working with kids and every day I look forward to the challenge of learning to be a teacher.

Discussion

12 thoughts on “A Teacher Responds to Her Teacher Data Report

  1. What action can we take? Clearly, unfortunate as it is, the NYC DOE is not going to be convinced by this one letter. What I remember from my time in NYC was thinking that the main office was a pretty heartless place, not easily swayed by teachers.

    I would say that more than ever before, it is time to have good relationships with the parents of your students. They have much more influence than you do as a teacher. I know this is already true of you Lynda, but every teacher in NYC needs to develop a positive relationship with all of the parents of their students, since that will amplify the effect of any messages you need the DOE to hear.

    Posted by David Wees | May 3, 2011, 9:51 am
    • Hi David,
      I think you are absolutely right that one letter is not going to sway the DOE in NY or anywhere else but it is a start. My post tomorrow is going to address the issue of teacher activism and the use of social networks to get the word out and to mobilize a critical mass of teachers. I think that then we will have an impact. I also agree that the participation of families is critical. If you haven’t read the statement (Valerie Strauss calls it a blueprint) of Parents Across America then it’s a must read. Go here to read it http://wapo.st/hvKXQY And if you are interested in becoming more active please visit the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action webpage at http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org

      Posted by Elisa Waingort | May 3, 2011, 9:25 pm
  2. There are a few symptomatic issues here:

    • The use of data to punish teachers.
    • The inequities of depending on data too heavily in teacher evaluation brought on by teacher and student grouping.
    • The disjunct between members of educational organizations who understand classroom context (the principal) and those who don’t.
    • The absence of dependable context specific assessments for students AND teachers and the absence of systems to vet or audit them for fair teacher accountability and professional development.

    The cause of these problems has to do with our collective inability to imagine and create a system of education that privileges authentic education, community, and feedback over standardized schooling, social stratification, and opaque grades.

    For the United States, perhaps our community could organize here or via the Google group and other social media to work with Fairtest.org and local and state school boards with the goal of including and/or allowing alternative assessment models for LEAs (local educational agencies – divisions) and SEAs (state education agencies – DOEs) in the ESEA reauthorization.

    It would be important to get language in the bill that would let LEAs make assessment choices independent of SEAs – or from a menu of SEA-approved options – with school board consent so that states can’t mandate one form of assessment or another for all divisions. That’s a stretch goal, but I would wager that state-level assessment choice is a reachable goal with hustle and the right blend of campaigning and F2F work with politicians.

    Teacher evaluation shouldn’t disappear, but it’s in need of as much revision as student assessment. We need to present a compelling alternative system that addresses the interconnectedness of how we’re measuring students, teachers, and divisions for the goals we want them to have.

    Optimistically yours,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | May 3, 2011, 7:59 pm
  3. I’ve also been re-reading this post and looking at what I’ve done to realize its suggestions.

    Best,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | May 3, 2011, 9:10 pm
    • Hi Chad,
      I went back to read your post and the following phrases stood out for me:

      “Ask teachers to use time spent grading on giving feedback instead” – we know that giving timely and specific feedback is more effective and more intrinsically motivating than giving a grade. Why don’t we use what research shows works??

      “Allow students and parents to opt out of high stakes testing” – this is already happening in many places though kids whose parents opt them out of testing are reporting that their children are being treated as second class citizens by being kept out of all-school events or simply by being forced to do nothing during the time other kids are taking tests.

      “replace high-stakes testing with scaled-up portfolio assessments” – YES!

      “we should practice moral assessment. Assessment should serve students and their learning instead of adults and their notions of control” – and much of what is happening in education today is about control and serving the needs/whims/desires of so-called reformers and billionaire philanthropists. That’s why it’s critical that we speak out loud and clear about what matters in assessment, teaching and learning. Our students are counting on us.

      Posted by Elisa Waingort | May 3, 2011, 11:35 pm
  4. Although I do feel your pain, I am particularly interested in this from the statistical angle.

    Any teacher working with 99th percentile students (as measured the previous year) cannot possibly be rated above average from a value-added perspective, while any teacher working with all 1st percentile students (even if they just sat there twiddling their thumbs all day) could never be rated below average. This is a serious objection to the idea of judging teachers based on students’ year-over-year standardized test score increases or decreases.

    Posted by Mark | May 3, 2011, 9:21 pm
  5. I’m assuming the ‘performance bonuses’ they want to bring in to my (public education) system will be determined in in a similar way .. how incredibly absurd: students decide to be lazy / are ill and cannot perform to potential / have a bad day or rebel and it’s the teacher who suffers the consequence?! I do not agree with this measure of a teacher’s value. Student abilities change from year to year and any number of environmental and emotional occurrences can adversely affect their success: why should the teacher be penalized for things which are beyond their control?

    Posted by NR | May 4, 2011, 7:07 am
  6. The Innovative Educator has been posting on re-visioning school and assessment a lot lately – check out this post, for example.

    Best,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | May 4, 2011, 8:11 am
  7. That’s precisely why I believe that there are no metrics that will ever do justice to the teaching profession. It is guided by social rather than market norms. Yet, even at an economic level, we are “employed” locally, by the parents whom we serve. If they see you as a quality teacher, why isn’t there voice included in the dialogue about whether or not you are a quality teacher.

    Posted by johntspencer | May 4, 2011, 7:12 pm
  8. I use the analogy that I read recently that compares education to the military. If a military mission fails, do we blame the soldiers? Do we deduct from their pay? Do we reprimand them and publish their data? Do we continue to do what we have always done but put the soldier on an “improvement plan”? Of course we don’t. That would be absurd. Instead, we rethink the plan. We provide them with newer and more effective weapons. We bring in new leadership, with new, proven strategies. We arm our soldiers with everthing we can get our hands on, including additional training and a new plan so that they may be successful the next time.

    I am increasingly disheartened by the empahsis on testing. In my district, the powers-that-be even wrote a test to prepare for the test! We now take a “benchmark” test each quarter, which was originally designed “for teachers to determine the areas that need more attention” prior to the state test each spring. Sounds great, huh? Finally, feedback that gives me an idea where I went wrong so that I can fix it before testing time. The only problem is, now THOSE scores are published and that test has become a measure of the quality of a teacher, or at least that is what it is being used for. This is insanity! I say, forget the Fed’s money. Refuse it, states. Go back to equipping teachers with everything they need and supporting their efforts. States have sold their souls for the money from the federal government, and I think it has been the downfall of public education and of the teaching profession.

    Posted by moranka64 | May 7, 2011, 8:08 pm

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