Riding the Bell Curve – By Dr. Michael Flanagan
Tuesday September 1st, 2015 at approximately 8 o’clock at night the New York City Department of Education released it’s finalized teacher evaluation rankings. I like to refer to the teacher rating process as “riding the Bell Curve”. Teachers in NYC are assessed under what is known as the HEDI scale, a cannibalized version of the Danielson Rubric. Our scores are compiled from an algorithm that is slightly less reliable than the science of alchemy. The NYC DOE has such faith in this process that they resort to using our students as widgets in a “schools as a business” model. If the HEDI system is good enough to force inappropriate tests on our children, and label our schools and teachers as failures based on junk science, who am I to question its validity? I will therefore embrace this meandering data point as fact and simply refer to myself from now on as “Dr. 77”. It was either that or call myself “Mr. Effective” but that sounded somewhat idiotic. Plus Dr. 77 sounds like a character from a James Bond film, so that is something.
For those of you unfamiliar with the HEDI Scale, it has nothing to do with Swedish mountain climbing. Although based on what has happened to my chosen profession, I would at this point pursue yodeling as a career move. Maybe there is a five-week course somewhere I can take? At least I would have some job security. No, HEDI is an acronym that stands for Highly Effective, Effective, Developing and Ineffective. My HEDI rating of 77 out of I believe 100, was derived from a combination of factors, and broken down into a 60-20-20 split. The 60% component involved four “pop in” observations of at least 15 minutes. The evaluators, were “normed” by consultants known as “talent coaches” to evaluate all teachers the same way, using a template of language and a rubric of eight domains. Added onto that, Our Governor felt that not enough teachers were rated as developing or ineffective so they were throwing those developing ratings around like it was going out of style. Cutting and pasting the language from the rubrics onto our observations definitely saved time. Not sure if it had anything to do with what we were actually teaching, but who wants to split hairs? It definitely filled up the paperwork. And isn’t that what teaching is all about?
The next 40% is what is known as our MOSL scores (Measure of Student Learning), broken down into 20% State standardized exam scores, and 20% local measures. Now unfortunately for the Governor, and his hedge fund owners, those pesky parents have been all up in arms about their children being used as test taking weapons against their own teachers. For that reason the schools have attempted to cut down on the number of useless, inappropriate tests children have to take. Many teachers, such as myself, are rated on scores students get on assessments, in classes that we do not even teach. For instance I was judged on scores students on my register took in their English classes. The same goes for music teachers, art teachers, counselors, physical education teachers and just about anyone else in the school building. Again, makes perfect sense, it is only our careers.
Now, this might seem completely reasonable to someone who has never stood in front of children and been responsible for not only their education, but their self esteem. Professionals are surprisingly sometimes offended at being labeled as a number. Teachers feel that the love, dedication and artistry of being a teacher cannot be quantified. They feel that to truly educate a child, they must tailor instruction to individual needs. Breaking down teachers to a score seems counterintuitive, and to be honest, pretty stupid. Yet here I am, staring at my evaluation on the screen, thinking about changing my name to Dr. 77. And honestly who can blame me? It has a better ring to it than Mr. Effective. ^0^