In a lengthy essay for the Washington Post New York State Regent Roger Tilles provides more evidence for why the Empire State has slipped so badly educationally in the last couple of decades: the tendency to fiddle while Rome burns. Tilles was one of three members of the state’s Board of Regents to vote no on proposed principal and teacher evaluation regulations. (See here.) Luckily, he was in the minority (14 Regents voted Yes), but his dissent is worth noting as it illustrates some of what perpetuates the institutional aversion to improvement.
“I support a rigorous system of evaluation,” writes Tilles, who has great credentials, including service on two state Boards of Education, teaching at education schools of three universities, and being on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. “It is imperative that we develop a system that is effective and fair and that will lead to better student learning. Unfortunately, the regulations — which link 20-40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on the results of student standardized test scores — don’t have some of the elements necessary to make them either fair or effective.”
Tilles raises legitimate concerns about the use of these tests – the quality of the tests, their snapshot nature, the unintended consequences of their being high stakes — but seems to forget that 20% of the teacher score comes from “locally-selected measures of student achievement” and that 60% of evaluation is based on “other measures.” (See Regents summary of the new regulations here; or the 70 pages of the regulations themselves here.) Tilles colleagues Kathleen Cashin, a retired New York City school administrator, and Betty Rosa, who also has an extensive list of education credentials, also voted against the new evaluation regulations, for many of the same reasons Tilles enumerated.
So, though an evaluation system is “imperative,” says Tilles, “student learning is complex.” So complex, he implies, that we really can’t have a system that is “effective and fair and that will lead to better student learning.” And, throwing up his arms, he quotes a task force of the National Board for Professional Teaching: “Much of what is tested does count, but much of what counts cannot be tested.”
Which means what? No tests? No evaluation that includes student achievement? The curious logic of the anti-testers, hiding behind a curtain of perfection, prevent us from fixing our schools. Tilles calls the “high-stakes nature of student achievement tests” “crushing” and “corrupting,” with the horrible consequence of “teachers losing their jobs.”
And what about the consequences of students not learning? The high stakes of doing nothing?