I’ve never been shy about my contempt for standardized tests and the data derived from them.
If you’re in a hurry, I’ll save you time by saying that my opinion is not at all changed by the new way the New York City Department of Education is going to figure what all the numbers generated by their multitude of tests mean when it comes to measuring school effectiveness.
It seems that the NYCDOE has realized that their metrics for reflecting school effectiveness for the past couple of years were based on smoke, not that they’d ever admit that publicly.
The formulas used to determine whether or not a child or aggregate of children made or didn’t make a year of progress during a school year were, to put it gently, completely worthless at best, and thoroughly misleading.
All the pressure, sweat, hours, anguish and anxiety teachers, principals, parents and, students dedicated to that year of progress were all spent in pursuit of ephemera.
Nothing makes a person dedicated to a job like finding out that the back-office folk who wouldn’t know what to do in a classroom if they could find their way into one were all piling wool in front of our eyes.
We know this now because the NYCDOE is introducing a new way of measuring progress that is more complex, less comprehensible, most likely not any more reliable, yet – somehow – liberating.
Starting this year the progress of any student will only be measured against the progress of other students who scored the same as they did the previous year.
The annual progress of a student who scored a 1.75 on our four point scale in the ELA test last year will only be measured against the progress of other students across the city who also scored 1.75 on that same grade’s ELA test last year.
If there are ten other students who scored a 1.75 on that test, and this year our boy scores higher than six of the others, he will be in the 60th percentile and will be considered to have done well in relation to his peers.
If he scores higher than only one of his peers his teachers need to figure out why they’re not more effective.
This, roughly, is the brief explanation of the new system my principal gave my colleagues and I today.
He said it was the short version. He also said it was all he could give us because the rest is a bunch on statistical jargon explained in a thirty slide PowerPoint that not even he, a very smart man, understood completely.
But he also said that one side effect of the new system for figuring student progress is that it allowed us to stop worrying about annual progress for the school and each of its subgroups.
That liberates us to do more of what most of us became teachers to do, focus on the individual child.
That is an unintended consequence of this new system of mirrors reflecting back what we accomplish.
And this set of mirrors comes with much less smoke disguising what we see.
Is this what progress looks like?