Absurdity of Student Growth Scores Sees Light of Day! Woo-hoo!

That should be the headline of Teachers Unions’ newsletters all across Florida this month, but it won’t be. And I know I am in the minority here among teachers, but here comes my unpopular opinion: I am thrilled teachers’ Value Added Scores are being released.

The Florida Times-Union sued the State of Florida for the release of these scores. It seems ironic that the State of Florida was the defendant(!), meaning the State of Florida paid hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in an attempt to hide these scores. Why? Did the State all of a sudden develop concern for teachers’ dignity?

We should honestly think about why the State felt hiding these scores was in their interest. We don’t have to think very hard, because the Florida Department of Education told us themselves:

FLDOE officials “warned against using the data to judge teachers’ performance.” Even though this data was designed — and still is used — by the State specifically to “judge teachers’ performance.”

So the State is using the scores to measure teachers, while telling the rest of us not to do the same. It matters because it’s ruining people’s lives, and driving good people out of Education. This data has some great teachers fighting for their careers, and other great teachers switching careers in disgust rather than battling against poor evaluations based on a metric the State admits to be bogus.

I believe in our hearts every teacher already knew this: it’s going to be an embarrassment and a blow to those in the State who think these metrics are valid. I’m calling it now that it will not be embarrassing or harmful to teachers. No, not even to those of us who have low scores. The scores are going to be so laughable (way too many false “bad scores” when only 9% of teachers get “bad scores”), that no one will blame the low-scoring teachers.

Student Growth scores, invalid as they are (they imply teaching is nothing more than test prep) are, sadly, here to stay (I hope I’m wrong). The best we can hope for is that they will be improved by seeing the light of day. And if the public is paying attention (we can only hope), this will happen because everyone will wonder why it’s so half-baked.

With regard to the plaintiffs, do we really think the Times-Union sued so they could merely print a chart of teachers and their scores? Of course not, that would be boring; no one cares, and that wouldn’t sell newspapers. The Times-Union is (a.) seeking stories and (b.) fighting to preserve an open political process so they can have the option to perform investigative journalism.

And we as teachers should be thrilled at the kinds of stories that have been and will be written: Student Growth scores, especially as executed in Florida, are being exposed as the fraudulent metrics they are. It might become public knowledge that Teachers of the Year, respected teachers, teachers that the rest of us aspire to become more like, are getting “Needs Improvement” Student Growth scores.

All this is not to mention Elective teachers like me getting measured on the entire school’s Reading scores — which means I, an Information Technology teacher, am getting measured by students I’ve never met for a subject I don’t teach. Teachers’ livelihood and salary is based on complete nonsense that no one in the government has cared to fix in all the years of its existence.

Except now, they have no choice but to care.

Now, all of a sudden, we get the State admitting — actually, broadcasting to the press — that we “can’t use the data to judge teachers.” We get statements like this from the Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools:

I am convinced that the tools used to evaluate teachers should be consistent, fair, and reliable which they currently are not.

While releasing the data as a public record is not our chosen path to increase its usefulness, we will leverage this opportunity to improve communications and understanding about what these data can – and cannot – tell us

We can educate the public on the need for . . . inclusion of teachers in building quality and accurate statewide assessments.

The release of VAM data erodes the good faith and work of teachers throughout the state.

Aside: Why wasn’t anyone ever concerned about the good faith and work (not to mention morale) of teachers before the scores became public?

Now, let me be clear: time will tell regarding the sincerity of these statements, but I’ll give Dr. Vitti credit for making them, no matter how belated. I am not berating him for making these wonderful statements; quite the opposite, in fact. I’m pointing out that words like these are only being spoken because the scores are being released. And that is my point.

Officials are having to admit publicly that the experiment to measure teachers by student test scores is thus far a complete bust. This is not a surprise to those who have been in the classroom.

How the benefit of this decision to teachers is not obvious to the Union, I’m not sure. We should take advantage of this opportunity. I think teachers who have been wronged by this system should and will be highlighted to uncover the absurdity of systems like CAST, and ultimately, of SB736.

If it weren’t for this, the injustices never would have seen the light of day. I for one am glad they now might be.

Call me an optimist.

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