Diane Ravitch’s Blog: New Mexico: Where Data Count More Than Children
This is a comment by an educator in New Mexico:
My name is Tine Hayes. I have been teaching high school in Gallup NM for 14 years. I am dual certified in Fine Arts and Social Studies, and I am level three and National Board certified. This year more than ever in the past I am disheartened and distressed by the actions of the PED [state education department] and the attitude toward students and teachers offered by this department. Students are tested into total submission and teachers are disregarded and disrespected at every turn.
Our current educational climate in New Mexico is predicated on assumptions held by our governor and our secretary of education.
First, the success of a school and its students can be summed up by test scores. Second, a Value Added Model of teacher evaluation meaningfully provides a measure of teacher effectiveness. I take issue with both of these assumptions. The issue of assessment has been at the core of the public education policy since the advent of NCLB. This law requires the use of decontextualized assessments to evaluate school performance. This test based evaluation system was and is a windfall for the test developers and resulted in massive bureaucracies whose job it is to evaluate, analyze and regurgitate test results.
Each year more and more focus has been given to testing, and each year less focus is given to the child being tested. I have sincere doubts about the value of high stakes testing, but I could see how it might provide some meaningful information.
Under Skandera the PED attaches value only to test scores. Although some other areas are given lip service in the school grading system, it is clear the PED only cares about the test scores. The PED claims to be interested in student success, but what they really mean is they want better test scores.
An examination of the Value Added Model indicates that it is a justification of test scores as the sole expression of the quality of teacher student interaction. Hopefully we live in a world where the success of a child is more multifaceted than a test score and the human experience of teaching is about more than performance on the NMSBA. The data from test scores is specious. Millions of dollars every year are spent on the test itself, and then thousands of man hours are spent interacting with the data. New Mexico has changed tests and test vendors many times since the establishment of NCLB. The State assessment is modified and reworked almost every year since its inception, making it nearly impossible to gather meaningful data.
Next year it will again change to the PARCC assessment. At my high school it has been very difficult to collect and compare relevant data due to both these changes, and the limited number of students who are tested. With the new budget restraints placed on states and districts resulting from the economic downturn these costs are an increasing burden.
For example, the NMSBA now is 80% multiple choice and 20% writing. The reason is not pedagogical. It is financial. It costs too much to grade writing. At this juncture in GMCS only selected grades are given the NMSBA, because it is too expensive to test everyone. While financial restraints have made the tests questionably meaningful the PED continues to double down on the importance of the scores.
Meanwhile budgets get smaller every year, and students have to raise money to go on field trips or participate in extracurricular activities. We do not have the money to pay for gas to go on field trips or to offer vocational programs, but The PED signs contracts with private companies in the name of improving the tax payer’s return on investment in education.
Testing has, despite its questionable effectiveness, become the holy grail of our educational system, at the expense of student experience. This hypocritical misuse of tax payer dollars is intolerable. Students in my wife’s third grade class have to sell pickles and candy to pay for the gas and the bus driver to go on their field trips, yet the PED signed a two year contract with Teachscape, a California based company, for 3.6 million dollars.
Is sending millions of New Mexico dollars to private contractors out of state putting student’s first? How are New Mexico tax payers getting a good return on their investment?
The Value Added Model and the new system for teacher evaluation misses the point. Let me first say I believe the quality of the teacher is the main indicator of the quality of the student’s school experience. I am also keenly aware teacher quality needs to be improved. But once again the myopic PED turns to test scores.
Even the portion of the teacher evaluation based on the principles observation is really based on test scores. The principle is judged on how well their evaluations match the teacher’s scores. The value added model is essentially an academic justification for using test scores to judge the quality of a teacher. It tells us nothing we did not already know. Good teachers impact student’s lives. Good teachers improve test scores.
What the Value Added Model does not tell us is what makes a teacher good. And what it does not allow for is that good teachers were having a positive impact on student’s lives long before NCLB. The PED has embraced this model because it justifies their investment in test scores. The problem for them is that not all subjects are tested. Because they insist on using test scores to evaluate teachers the PED has to come up with tests in each content area.
Thus in order to judge the quality of a Physical Education teacher or an Art teacher, for example, the PED has developed a high stakes assessments in those content areas. The PED is wasting time and energy on a way of thinking disconnected from the student’s experience. I wonder how these tests make the experience of a student in Art or PE more meaningful.
At my school we do not have funds to support sending chorus to regional competition, but the state has the funds to develop an End of Course Exam for chorus. The decision to develop EoCs in electives is not student centered. It is anti-teacher. Skandera will tell you she is dedicated to giving teachers and principals the tools to improve. The tool she provides is apparently Teachscape. This tool serves no function except as a data warehouse for the teacher evaluation system. New Mexico just bought a 3.6 million dollar filing cabinet.
Law suits are being brought against the PED with regard to overstepping its authority, but legal arguments are narrow and specific in focus, and my concern is general. Skandera’s vision of Education in New Mexico is disassociated from the children. Data is currently more important than children and that is wrong and must change.
Please use your position in the New Mexico legislature to return the focus of education to students. Stand up for the children of this state and demand that decisions made by the PED reflect a truly student first approach.
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The views expressed by the blogger are not necessarily those of NEPC.