MEIDA WATCH: One of Chicago's most respected education researchers notes that 'merit pay' based on test scores can't work -- ever. As others have noted VAM is 'junk science'

When the Chicago Tribune published an understated but scathing letter to the editor from former Chicago Public Schools citywide testing chief Carole Perlman, it was actually missing a big and important story. That story would place into stark context the hypocrisy of the past 20 years of CPS testing policy. The year 1994 was when mayoral control began. The department of research and evaluation -- and its citywide testing program -- slowly stopped using serious research and research-based ways of helping educate the children of Chicago's public schools, added "accountability" to its corrupted name, and every few years announced that latest way of measuring schools, teachers and children using standardized testings, not matter how flawed and invalid were the programs, or their uses by Chicago.

The corruption of Chicago research and testing began with the administration of Chicago's first political "Chief Executive Officer" (Paul Vallas) hired a political functionary -- rather than a research scientist -- to head the "accountability" department. And Chicago began a two-decade era of corruption behind a dizzying array of "metrics" in order to rank and sort schools, first at the local level and since the 2008 election of Barack Obama, as a national policy called "Race to the Top."

The letter came from Carole Perlman, former director of citywide testing for CPS, and, for her, lambasted the corruption behind the corporate claim that test scores could be used as a scientific way to evaluate teachers.

While the corruption of the corporate "accountability" juggernaut has been exposed by a large number of researchers, even as Chicago Public Schools continues to tout questionable research (for example, much of that which has come from the University of Chicago Consortium), many local voices have remained silent. Perlman was basically purged by Arne Duncan from the "accountability" department in 2003 but has continued to follow the news. Others who have been critical of so-called "merit pay" include researchers for the Chicago Teachers Union, education historian Diane Ravitch (who regularly publishes the latest research on "merit pay" and so-called "Value-Added Metrics", VAM), and in several books, including "The Mismeasure of Education" by Jim Horn and Denise Wilborn.

But Junk Science has long been the norm for those in the corporate world who want to reduce all human reality to the most simplistic and simple-minded measures. And so a powerful local voice has been added to the critics of the current (and recent) "accountability" policies of Chicago Public Schools. The current CPS "Chief Officer for Accountability", John Barker, was imported to Chicago by Barbara Byrd Bennett from Memphis after he helped develop so-called "accountability" systems in the most corrupt state testing program of all, Tennessee. Like most of his predecessors in that department since mayoral control and corporate school reform began in Chicago 20 years ago, Barker is not a respected education researcher, but one who can produce on call Power Point materials to justify any policy for the school system he serves.


LETTER TO THE EDITOR (Chicago Tribune)

Using test scores to evaluate teachers creates problems

1:09 p.m. CDT, May 27, 2014. Published in the print edition May 28, 2014

I was director of Chicago Public Schools testing programs for nearly 20 years. Im all for accountability; I got a great education at CPS and feel strongly that the current students deserve the same. Using test scores to evaluate teachers seems like a great idea on the face of it, but it does not stand up to scrutiny. There are several basic problems, most having to do with the fact that relatively few teachers will have any test data at all and that there arent enough students in most classes to yield reliable growth estimates. This has been the case in other school systems such as New York City, where a teacher may have an outstanding rating one year and be in danger of being fired the next for teaching exactly the same way.

State assessments are generally given in grades 3-8 and two years worth of scores are necessary to generate the growth data thats used for teacher evaluations. That means that teachers of grades K-3 wont have the requisite pretest and post-test scores the small kids because they dont take the state assessments and the third graders because they didnt take the test the year before. That also leaves out teachers of non-tested subjects (foreign languages, physical education, social studies, the arts), as well as counselors and librarians. At the high school level, the problem is even worse, with only one or two grades being tested in reading and math, and lots of teachers teaching non-tested subjects.

The second and more serious problem is that even when growth estimates can be calculated, theyre wildly imprecise, as they arent based on enough students to yield a reliable measure (think of an opinion poll thats based on only 15-20 people). A typical class will have 25-28 students, many of whom transferred into the school mid-year (CPS kids are a mobile lot). Some will have pretest scores, but many wont. Others coming in from other states or countries and those who newly left bilingual programs wont have taken the test the previous year, so if youre lucky, maybe there exists matching pretest and post-test data for 20. This is a recipe for drawing very wrong conclusions about teacher effectiveness.

Though superficially appealing, using test scores to evaluate teachers will create more problems than it will solve. Excellent teachers will be erroneously labeled as incompetent, while poor teachers may get a pass. Students will not benefit.

Carole L. Perlman, Chicago


May 29, 2014 at 11:40 AM

By: Rod Estvan

Ms Perlman's letter

Thanks to Substance for reproducing Dr. Perlman's letter to the Tribune. Her points while limited in their scope are none the less valid.

Rod Estvan

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