Garbage In, Garbage Out
By Jane Weinkrantz
I have fond memories of P.S. 156 in Laurelton, I have never been back to visit
then, I thought about the saying “Garbage in, garbage out.” The
Whether a single number could ever measure teacher efficacy ---even with no margin for error---is doubtful. When combined with out-of-date numbers and data from tests the city has admitted are flawed, the rankings become a pointless exercise in numbers-crunching and heart-wrenching.
of gifted students are particularly harmed by the data-driven rankings because
their students only have so much room for improvement. According to The
New York Times which chose to publish the rankings in spite of their
inaccuracies but invited teachers to comment on their individual rankings, “In one extreme case, the formula
assigned an eighth-grade math teacher at the prestigious Anderson School on the
Upper West Side the lowest possible rating, a zero, even though her students
posted test scores 1.22 standard deviations above the mean — normally good
enough to rank in the 89th percentile. Her problem? The formula expected her
high-achieving students to be 1.84 standard deviations higher than the average
— roughly the 97th percentile.”
what the results might be for teachers who were on maternity or medical leave,
who switched grades or content areas or schools during the three year look -back
period or who went from part-time to full-time.
Any variation in a teacher’s career would be sure to make terribly
unreliable figures downright absurd. Rebecca Joseph, a teacher trainer,
associate professor at California State University and writer for The
Huffington Post looks back on her teaching career: “If you had looked at my test scores my first
year, you would have not have seen how weak I was, because my sixth graders had
another amazing reading teacher on the team whose skills almost counteracted my
lack of teaching knowledge and experience. During my sixth year of teaching,
when I was much better trained and competent, my test scores were lower, because
my students' skills were far below grade level.” To paraphrase, numbers do
“’What people don’t understand is
that they are just not accurate,’ Elizabeth Phillips, the principal of P.S.
321 told The New York Times. ‘We are
talking about minute differences in test scores that cause a teacher to score in
the lowest percentiles,’ like a teacher whom she finds great and who scored in
the sixth percentile because her students went to a 3.92 average test score from
a 3.97, out of a possible 4. And that is not to mention one teacher who had test
scores listed for a year she was out on childcare leave, Ms. Phillips said.
“The only way this will
have any kind of a positive impact,” she said, “would be if people see how
ridiculous this is and it gives
Even Alison Epstein, a second grade
gifted-and-talented teacher whose top rating was featured in The
New York Times is quick to point out that test scores are an inadequate
method of evaluating students and educators. She told reporters,
“Unfortunately, the schools have become incredibly data-driven, which at times
detracts from the overall curriculum…The pressure for teachers and children to
perform for tests that do not really show how intelligent a student is, or how
amazing a teacher might be is substantial.”
Ms. Epstein’s words reminded me of my beloved
trig teacher, Mr. Edmund Miles and a test that did not show how amazing he was.
Mr. Miles was a gifted and enthusiastic teacher whose lessons were creative,
engaging and clear. I understood every topic he taught---the day after the test
that I invariably failed. As
he went over each test, the topic would finally click in my brain. It was too
little and too late. I was failing trigonometry. I always did my homework and
got extra help outside of school. Mr. Miles understood that I had other talents
in English, social studies and foreign language, so he never made me feel bad
about my lack of success in his class. In fact, Mr. Miles praised my achievement
in my other classes, but privately he must have thought I would definitely fail
trig. for the year. Calamity struck when Mr. Miles had a heart attack about six
weeks before the Regents. Another teacher covered his classes, but it wasn’t
the same. My chances of passing were decreasing every day. So committed to our
class was Mr. Miles that he left the hospital against medical advice and
returned for some last-ditch review sessions.
He was still obviously weak but determined.
day of the Regents came and the test was harder than any sample test we’d
taken in class. (We later heard it was the hardest in a decade.) I did my best
and tried to concentrate, calculating, showing all work and then crossing out
and erasing until my eraser had worn holes in my paper. “Never do the
logarithm on the Regents,” Mr. Miles had cautioned us. With a shudder, I
realized the logarithm was my only shot at partial credit. I knew how to set it
up at least. To make matters worse,
the test was administered in a room adjacent to the school handball courts.
Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” blared from the boombox of a handballer
outside----“Bad girls! Talking bout bad, bad girls! Beep! Beep!”--- making
concentration even more difficult. Ultimately, I didn’t really finish my
Regents paper so much as I abandoned
it. I went home assuming that I had failed and hoping that colleges might have
some compassion for an English major who stunk at math.
Well, I got a 67 on that Regents, a grade I am
prouder of than many much higher grades I received in high school and college.
Mr. Miles was proud, too. “Janie Bird! You passed! 67!” he shouted, smiling.
I was particularly proud of the two points over 65; they proved that my grade
wasn’t made only of mercy. Mr. Miles died several weeks later after giving his
trig class of 1979 everything he had---literally.
If Mr. Miles were alive and evaluated by
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