Rhee Backpedals on Tests and Why it Matters in Florida

Karin Klein writes this from a stunning interview Michelle Rhee had with editorial board of the Los Angeles Times:

One of the things we ask of teachers — but just one thing — is to raise those scores. So they have some place in the evaluation. But how much? Easy. Get some good evidence and base the decisions on that, not on guessing. The quality of education is at stake, as well as people’s livelihoods.

Much to my surprise, at a meeting with the editorial board this week, Michelle Rhee agreed, more or less. As one of the more outspoken voices in the school-reform movement, Rhee is at least as polarizing as the topic of teacher evaluations, and her lobbying organization, Students First, takes the position that the standardized test scores of each teacher’s students should count for no less than 50% of that teacher’s rating on performance evaluations.

But asked where the evidence was to back up that or any other percentage figure, Rhee agreed quite openly that it’s lacking. The one robust study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and released in January, suggested that test scores should count for a third to half of the evaluation. It found that scores were most closely associated with teacher quality as measured by various factors — but they also were unreliable. In other words, the scores might go up or down in any given year, though they were quite useful over the long haul.

So now she tells us. And how do you even begin to wrap your hands around the Gates’ conclusions “that scores were most closely associated with teacher quality as measured by various factors — but they also were unreliable.” How can test scores serve in judgement of a teachers worth if the are “unreliable?”

Meanwhile in Florida, a lawsuit goes forward against the Rhee-inspired SB 736 which uses test data that even Rhee now questions. It shouldn’t be lost on lawmakers that the Gates’ had a pilot study underway in Hillsborough county which now finds test data to be unreliable. Rick Scott, who was said that SB736 was “going to be great” tasked new education commissioner Tony Bennett with making the law work. More evidence that test-based evaluation regimes are doomed to collapse comes from the inability of education reformers to defend them. More from the LA Times:

The problem is that Rhee slips in and out of her convictions on testing’s role. She concedes that other group think tests should count for 35% of the evaluation, and that the number might be anywhere between the two. She reasonably suggests that school districts try some different numbers as a sort of pilot program to see what seems to work best.

But what about trying less than 35%? At that point, Rhee refers back to the single study, saying it found problems if tests counted for less than a third. But that was minutes after she had agreed that a single study doesn’t give policymakers the evidence they need to determine what laws should be passed governing teacher evaluations.

The Bush Foundation has predictably come out with another Myth vs Fact sheet that sure  to be filed with some real howlers. Scott and Bennett got an ear full this week from district superintendents and Scott will hold a summit in June with the state’s Teachers of the Year where he will get the same.  How much longer can Bush, Bennett and Scott continue to impose their will with mounting opposition and evidence of real problems with their ideas?

Scott in particular is closely aligned with Rhee. Obviously enamored with her, he showed her propaganda film, Waiting for Superman to legislators during his transition. He named her co-chair, along with Bush’s top lieutenant Patricia Levesque, to his education transition team and he appeared her twice at charter school pep rallies. With revelations that Rhee was instrumental in the cover-up of cheating in DC  and she’s now backpedaling on testing, one can only wonder what Scott thinks now.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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2 Responses to Rhee Backpedals on Tests and Why it Matters in Florida

  1. How many studies link socioeconomic status and family stability to academic success? One…maybe? Done by Gates? Or do you think more? Understandably teachers don’t go to student homes with their magic wands of wealth, health, happiness and food-but maybe instead of trying to standardize them we could address their needs as individuals.

  2. Pingback: Rhee Backpedals on Tests and Why it Matters in Florida ← NPE News Briefs

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