Credit the Department of Education for its imaginative new acronyms: EES, SGP and SLO. These stand for strange and mysterious things that seem to defy description.
Take the Educator Evaluation System that the wizards of Oz have conjured to make $75 million in federal money magically appear. To keep the money, principals are ordered to use EES to rate teachers. If their rating is low, the teachers may be denied raises. Lower yet, and hit the road, Jack.
Yeah, well, welcome to the real world, some might say. Why should teachers not be evaluated? Most workers are. What is new about that?
Teachers are not opposed to being evaluated. Who invented tests, anyway? However, consider the EES. At its airy heart is the Student Growth Percentile, mysterious ratings that are based on significantly different high-stakes tests the same student took over different years. Then compare that student with students from other schools. Huh? How's that work? So our EES wizards compare students at new schools that have lots of resources (computers, media center, etc.) with old schools with few resources and a disadvantaged student population?
There is no comparison, and that will cause a problem: Who will want to teach at Title I schools, where a majority of students are on free or reduced-cost school lunches because their families are living at poverty levels? Where some students are raised by their grandparents because their parents are in prison? Perhaps home life means being abused, molested, drugged or subjected to scenes of violence between friends and relatives. Perhaps they have no home for their homework. Perhaps the parents or guardians are never sober. The point is, things happen that negatively affect a child's ability to learn. Those things happen with more frequency when parents don't have two nickels to rub together. Should teachers be held accountable for environmental factors that inhibit learning that they cannot control?
How is this for magical? Fourth- and 5th-grade teachers were stunned at the news that they would be the only elementary teachers rated on student growth percentile, and that accounts for 25 percent of their evaluations. So, the DOE has a new spin on fair and equitable. Should anyone want to teach those grades now?
Something else from behind the emerald curtain: Bell curves. Really? Teachers can't get away with that in grading their students anymore because education reform deemed bell curves unfair and inequitable a long time ago. Poof. Our DOE magicians have resurrected this, too. That means that if all the teachers in a school's grade level score high enough to be considered highly effective, the schmuck with the lowest high score still loses.
Now, take Student Learning Objectives. Please. This mandate is SLO, all right. Teachers are blithely told to rate their students via performance testing and subjective scoring. Then they are to project how much their students' performances will improve. Just takes an hour, DOE superiors insist. Many teachers, thinking that their professional lives might depend on it, spent eight hours or more fretting about their crystal balls.
Back to the heart of this, the high-stakes testing. To top it all off next year is the vaunted Common Core, which at its core makes commoners of us all. Trouble is, Common Core scores are coming in uncommonly low. In trial runs, test scores have been running 30 percent down from the previous tests. As a result, students are boycotting. Parents are opting out. Teachers evaluated by all this are wigging out.
Such imagination. Such wizardry. EES and GSPs and SLOs? Oh my. DOE pedants and bureaucrats followed the yellow brick road? Click your heels, Dorothy. Click your heels.
* Alan Isbell is a 4th-grade teacher at Wailuku Elementary School and the school's head faculty representative for the Hawaii State Teachers Association.