Category Archives: Measuring Student Success

How do we measure success with students and in the “real” world?

Wow – Where Did the Time Go! Or, Was I Procrastinating?

I meant to take a short break from writing… due to the busy time of the Holidays.  I reread my last post and, apparently, my student’s question about Thanksgiving and Christmas being the same break was a prophesy for me.   After I graded over Thanksgiving, I assigned another essay to be due before Christmas break.  I encouraged students to turn it in early for some extra credit, and five students did.  The rest, well, they validated the reason I do not give weeks to write an essay or create a project.  We work in class for 2-4 days and then it is due two days later.  This gives the kids a chance to turn it in early for some extra credit or ask me for help before the due date.  But I digress…

Of course, I have Romeo and Juliet essays to grade right now, but procrastinating by writing can be more fun.  See, I learn from the students every year.   The essays were due on Friday by 7:30 a.m.  and we did not have school.  The busses would not start due to the extremely cold weather we are experiencing.  Luckily for the students, our district began using Turnitin.com this year.

Little side story here: Eleven years ago several of us asked for the district to purchase a license to use the website.  However, we were told the money would have to come out of the English Department’s budget of $500.  Yes, you guessed it, the license cost more than that.  Evidently, none of the administrators saw a use for checking the originality of science, history, foreign language, and every other subject’s writing assignments.  Thus, while the English department was teaching proper citation of sources and how not to plagiarize, the rest of the school may have been fine with copying from Wikipedia, the bane of all researchers!  Never fear, we asked again around year six, and were told there was no money, which was true.  In fact, the district had to layoff dozens of teachers and two curriculum department administrators. Luckily, this year the Teaching and Learning Department, formally known as the Curriculum Department, has grown beyond pre-cuts days and saw the advantage to using Turnitin.com.  (I guess it makes one sound more intelligent or more powerful if the department has two names.)    

So far, only the English and Language Arts Department is using it, but I am sure the Math, Science, and the rest of the departments will learn how to use it during one of our weekly Professional Development meetings.  

Back to the main topic (Procrastination): My favorite feature of Turnitin.com is the time stamp.  I can have the submission deadline  be midnight or 7:30 a.m. or whenever.  I can then learn when the student turned it in.  I also do not have to deal with using instructional time to have students staple papers together (no one owns staplers), needing to print during class, and listening to excuses of forgotten folders containing essays at home.  Some students still have the excuses, “I couldn’t submit my essay” or “I do not have Internet” or “My printer was out of ink or broken, or “the dog urinated on my laptop.”  Therefore, I have instructed them to (A) email a copy to me or share it with me on Google Docs, (B) bring a typed or hand- written copy to class to give me as they explain the problem, (C)  print from our computer lab before school, or (D) take ownership of YOUR problem and solve it.  The reality is that 92.4%  of the excuses come about because of procrastination.  (I found that statistic on the Internet, so it must be true!)

Although, the company checks originality, it also enables teachers to grade the essays online.  There is an automatic grammar and punctuation checker; however, it is not always correct.  For example, it always indicates the title of the essay and the first sentence is a run-on-sentence.  Teachers are able to create their own comments; thus, no more writing the same comment over and over again.  We merely highlight the mistake and click the comment!  I am finding it an easier way to grade, as long as I have an Internet connection.

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Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Goals, Humor, Learning, Lessons from students, Measuring Student Success, Writing

Attack of the Shrimp – Having Fun with Narratives

I have taught the personal narrative and narrative for twenty-six years, and I have used this model story for about twenty years.  This is one of the weeks the students will be working on story telling.  We will revisit this assignment and others like it, since revising is part of the writing process.  Of course, this is the seventh revision of my story. 

Both prompts I am using involve humor and food for three reasons.  First, I want the kids to be able to laugh at themselves a little, before anyone else can laugh at them.  We all make mistakes or have embarrassing moments.  Second, food allows the writer to create sensory details to appeal to smell and taste, as well as sight, sound, and touch.  Third, a similar prompt has appeared on previous super-secret tests; therefore, after 26 years, I seem to be teaching toward the test. 

 Since this blog is about the freshmen experience, it is only fitting that I share from my freshman year as a teacher. 

It was a cool October day during my first year of teaching.  After a long day of “learning them kids real good”, I arrived home a hungry, tired teacher.  I threw my briefcase on the couch of my one bedroom apartment, and I entered my closet-sized kitchen.  I was a man on a mission to fry some shrimp.

frying pan

frying pan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being a cheap guy first year teacher with a salary of $16,500, I did not own a fryer.  Instead, I used oil in a frying pan.  Did I mention I was hungry?  I decided to put the burner on high, and I put a lid on it.  After all, water boils faster with a lid on, right?

While that was heating up, I relaxed in my brown, beat-up-hand-me-down-duct-taped recliner and watched my favorite

The TMNT logo of the 1987 animated series.

The TMNT logo of the 1987 animated series. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

cartoon of the week: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I also decided to read the evening newspaper.

Suddenly, I heard a metallic “pop,” like a fork hitting the floor.  I also saw a flash of light as if the paparazzi followed me home and began snapping pictures.  I hate when they do this. Immediately, I saw and smelled smoke.  Of course, I was also blasted out of my seat by the smoke alarm blaring its loud, obnoxious, panic-inducing “BEEEEP!!!”

A residential smoke detector is the most famil...

A residential smoke detector is the most familiar piece of nuclear technology for some people (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I leapt out of my seat, threw the newspaper down, stepped on it, and ran into the kitchen.  The oil was on fire!!  The lid was hanging precariously on the edge with flames shooting five feet into the air.  I thought to myself, “Oh feces!”  I knew I had to act quickly; I was worried about the safety of my neighbors: 80 year-old women.  I began to imagine them falling down the three flights of stairs, bouncing off each other, their walkers, and the steps until reaching the bottom in a crumpled heap of bone, blood, and bodies.

My first action was to knock that panic-inducing smoke alarm off of the ceiling. I simply could not think with the incessant beeping in my ears.  Next, I decided to put the lid back on the pan to smother the fire.  However, I was going to have to reach over the flames to grab the lid.  Not wanting to get burned, I quickly thought of a backup plan: I would put the flaming pan and lid in the sink and douse the oil fire with water.  OK, I forgot that oil and water do not mix.  Luckily for me, I was a bachelor and always kept dirty dishes in the sink.  There just wasn’t room for the burning pan.

Standing at the sink holding a pan that had flames scorching the ceiling, I realized I needed to think a little faster.  Suddenly, a college flashback lit up in my mind.  Phil, a smoker across the hall, threw a lit cigarette into his trash can.  To extinguish it, he carried it into the shower and turned on the water.  Viola!  No more fire.  Yes, I was still forgetting oil and water do not mix.

As I turned the corner from the kitchen to the bathroom, a mere two feet, the coordination that prevents me from playing basketball or even walking and chewing gum at the same time, shined through.   I ran into the wall.  The lid fell to the ground.  Boiling oil landed on my hand and the carpet.  The carpet melted instantly.  My hand turned red and blistered simultaneously.  I exclaimed vulgarities that would have made my mother proud, which is probably why I was rewarded with a nasty, putrid, and worse than a two-day-old-dead-skunk-on-the-side-of-the-road stench, as the smell of my burnt flesh wafted into my nose.

I  jumped over the pan lid with the flames shooting three feet into the air, and I threw the pan, which still held some burning oil, into the bathtub.  I remember thinking to myself when I watched the flames swirl down the drain, “This looks like a volcano toilet!”  Then, I remembered the burning pan lid.  I jumped over the flames again and went to the kitchen sink to get some wet towels.  I wrapped one towel around my hand to try to ease the pain and keep the swelling down.  I used the other towel to grab the pan lid.  For some mysterious reason, I thought the best way to get rid of this burning lid was to walk across the newspaper, crinkle, crinkle, crunch, that was strewn across the living room floor and place it on my wooden balcony.

As I did this, the fire burnt itself out.  I left the balcony door open to allow the smoke and stench of burnt hand and melted carpet escape.  I also checked on my neighbors.  They had heard nothing.  Turns out they were all deaf.  A younger neighbor, about sixty-years-old, took me to the emergency room.  For a month after, I visited the doctor every other day in order to have the dead skin picked off and get a new bandage wrapped around my hand.

Since that fateful October day, I have placed a fire extinguisher under the sink, and I have learned how to use it!

"Learn to use it NOW-Carbon Dioxide Hand ...

“Learn to use it NOW-Carbon Dioxide Hand Fire Extingusher” – NARA – 514853 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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September 23, 2013 · 4:39 pm

The Authentic Audience – Blogging

I am thinking Kidblog.com is working.  Currently, I do not have high expectations as far as writing skills are concerned.  I did not have the students write rough drafts.  I wanted them to write and post quickly.  Their peers did comment on the need for remediation in some areas, but this is not the forum I am using to evaluate writing skills.  (It will be later.)  For now, I am using it as one way to discuss literature, and the comments have been good.  They do have room for improvement, but without any modeling, the kids have done a good job.

Of course, I do have some students who are extremely anxious about sharing their thoughts with others.  In talking with the parents I have learned this is not shyness.  It is anxiety.  For now, I have allowed theses two kids to write their responses on notebook paper.  I hope to have them give me an alias.  As long as I know it, I can give them credit for commenting on other’s blogs.

As all of our computers are tied up with testing for the next two weeks, I will have the students complete one blog on their own.  By the end of the nine weeks, they will pick one response to revise and I will use a rubric I developed to evaluate their writing skills.

I have a good feeling about this.

Students' Apple iMac G5 computers at Faculty o...

Students’ Apple iMac G5 computers at Faculty of Informatics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  What I wish we had at school.

English: Students working in the Statistics Ma...

English: Students working in the Statistics Machine Room of the London School of Economics in 1964. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) What we currently have.

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Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Goals, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Writing

Staying Positive During Assessment Week

Last year, I really began to stress out.  I felt ill many times and became distracted by all of the noise.  I was taking it personally that “everyone” wanted to judge my ability as a teacher.  It is not that I doubt my abilities.  Am I the best teacher ever?  Hardly.  However, I work with them everyday.  Every day I have learned from my colleagues.  They do whatever it takes.

When I was in high school, the athletes around me motivated me also.  I swam with some of the best in the state.  Coach (for the first month I thought that was his name) made me swim in the sprinter’s lane.  These guys swam the 50 free in 23 seconds.  One day Coach gave us a set of 10 x 50 on 30 seconds.  If we swam the two laps in 25 seconds we would have 5 seconds rest before we swam the next one.  Only Coach, with his wisdom, experience, and sadism, told me to swim breaststroke, the slowest stroke, and my best time was 29.5 seconds!  How was I going to swim 10 of these in a row in 30 seconds with half a second rest? Coach had a T-shirt that with “Rule #1: Coach is always right.” On the front, and “Rule 2: If you think Coach is wrong, see Rule #1.”

"Retired" Coach being a commentator at the State Swim Meet.

“Retired” Coach being a commentator at the State Swim Meet.

Of course, I tried my best.  And, my teammates encouraged me to do my best.

Many say swimming is an individual sport, like a teacher alone in a classroom.  However, my teammates wanted all of us to swim fast.  All would succeed! And, my colleagues share this sentiment.  They have always shared and collaborated to have every child learn and improve.

Each day, I see the great things the teachers around me are doing and I marvel.  How can I keep up?  What can I do?  It is the kind of challenge that makes teaching fun!  (The students also create a challenge, which is fun most of the time.)

Luckily, I have realized that my teaching will survive the scrutiny made from assessments indifferent students take.   Survive?!  On the contrary. My teaching will improve as I tackle the challenges of devoting six – eight days for these tests and a shortened schedule for five days as other students take the graduation test!

images  Assessments?  They are nothing compared to Coach’s workouts.

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Filed under Education, Goals, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Teacher Evaluations

It’s Not Always a Bad Day

Today did not start well.  I was blamed for a bad grade.

 

The Question Is What Is the Question?

The Question Is What Is the Question? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

STUDENT: Why did I get a zero?

 

ME: You did not answer the question.  Your answer was off topic.

 

STUDENT: I didn’t know what the question was.

 

ME: It was in your Reader’s Notebook packet.  You were to respond to Ch. 9-11.  See, it says that right here on the rubric.

 

STUDENT: But, it doesn’t have the question there!

 

ME: The question is in the Reader’s Notebook that I gave you.

 

STUDENT: But, Sally stole it from me.

 

ME: You never told me you needed another one.  Plus, I wrote the topic on the board and explained to the class what was being asked.  You were here that day.  Why didn’t you copy it down?  Why didn’t you ask me if you didn’t understand?

 

STUDENT: But, Sally stole it from me.

 

I guess if you run out of excuses or blame, you just repeat yourself.

 

I walk away to get her a new copy of the Reader’s Notebook.  Fortunately, she did well on today’s writing assignment.

 

Later, I learned why one student struggles in class even though she sits right in front of the board where I write the homework assignments:

 

STUDENT: When did you get that large cupboard?

 

ME: It’s been there since the school was built 10 years ago.

 

STUDENT: No Way!  I have got to start paying attention, more.

 

Thinking of grades, I could only nod my head in agreement.

 

Then, she asked if she could go to her engineering class because she just noticed she forgot her books and binders there.

 

I could only nod my head in agreement again.  I wrote her a pass.  After all, I have had these moments, too.

 

However, my day continued to improve.  After writing creatively for a class period, I had this conversation with a student:

 

STUDENT: I think I got carried away.

 

ME: Why? What were you writing about?

 

STUDENT: I wrote 600 words on having a monkey as a pet.  I started with some background scientific information and then went into a story.  I will continue it tomorrow.

 

ME: Excellent!  Good luck with it.

 

And during the last class, a student shared the start of an amusing story that he began in class and continued at home.  So far, his first four pages (he only had to write two) describe a man waking up late and locking himself out of his house when he went to get the morning paper.  I look forward to reading more of it.

 

What kind of day did you have?

 

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The Third Annual Star Wars Party and Standardized Tests

The second Death Star under construction in Re...

The second Death Star under construction in Return of the Jedi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“May the fourth be with you,” stated my eight-year old son.

“And with you,” I replied.

Thus began our STAR WARS day, May 4th, 2013.

A month ago the invitations were mailed. The RSVPs had been given. At noon, my son’s fellow younglings would arrive for light saber duels, Jedi training, and good v. evil challenges. The Jedi were to depart at 3:15. Not 3:00 o’clock. Not 3:30. Three. fifteen.

This was my son’s third annual STAR WARS party. At the first party, someone thought it was a birthday party and brought him a gift. The mom couldn’t understand that our son would plan a party to celebrate STAR WARS! Really? I have seen Oscar parties, Kentucky Derby parties, and Super Bowl parties. Those parties do not even come close to my son’s STAR WARS parties for fun and excitement.

The best part is he does the planning. We ate Death Star grapes, StarWarsberries, and make your own pizzas. Every little Jedi would be happy.

My son informed me that I was not needed in organizing games or activities outside. In fact I was to do nothing except put the pizzas in the oven and take them out of the oven. Part of me was sad that he was growing up, and he didn’t need me. However, I quickly became happy when I realized I would not have to be hit with light sabers, or have those Ewoks jump all over me. I could relax.

Jar Jar Binks, a Gungan

Jar Jar Binks, a Gungan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, at every STAR WARS party we have a kid cry. Even if I remind them that no one ever cried in STAR WARS. This year, we had one accidental hit on the head with a light saber. A little Jar Jar Binks walked into a light saber being tossed in the air. And, we had a couple of boys try to sneak into the basement to play video games:

“It’s burning up outside,” they whined.

“It’s 73 degrees. There is a breeze. Get a glass of water and go play,” I ordered.

They drank some water, petted our little Chewbacas and ran outside to join the fun. There were no further problems or complaints.

The party was an excellent demonstration of skills my son learned in school and at home:

*Writing invitations

*Using time management

*Planning activities

*Leading small groups

*Creating a menu for kids with food allergies

*Compromising so everyone has fun

I can’t wait to see how the Department of Education will create a standardized test to assess these skills. I hope he does well, or he may not be college and career ready.

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Filed under Common Core, Humor, Learning, Measuring Student Success

Why Do Student’s Test Scores Drop? It’s Complicated…

My number one son is in seventh grade, and has had to take an on-line standardized test three times this year to measure his growth in learning.  His September test score had him reading at a college level.  His December test score had him reading at the 11th grade level.  His March test score had him reading at a 9th grade level.

I am Procrastinating by Taking a Procrastinati...

I am Procrastinating by Taking a Procrastination Test: I scored as an Above Average Procrastinator (Photo credit: Tricia Wang 王圣捷)

When I saw this, my mind reeled with thoughts… If he takes another test, will he be reading at grade level?  What if this trend continues?  Will he regress to the point that I have to read Dr. Seuss books to him at bedtime?

First, I called my local congressman.  He always has the answer.  I explained the situation and asked him what he thought.  He replied, “It’s obvious; the teacher is terrible.  She must not be doing her job.  The test scores prove this.”

“I can’t believe it, sir,” I replied.  “I have met her, seen the work she assigns, the passion in her eyes to help students become better.  She can’t be the problem.  Can she?”

“Constituent, she has fooled you into thinking she is doing a good job.  The test scores are the proof!  Your son’s learning was measured.  There is no other answer.  She is making your child less ready for college and career.  Teachers like her are the reason we have the new evaluation system.  Fifty percent of her evaluation will be based on your son and his classmates last test.   Now, thanks for calling.  I have to attend a fundraising dinner and discuss why evaluations based on economic growth for congressmen are not fair.”

“Um, OK.”

I hung up, more confused.  My daughter saw my confused look and asked me what was wrong?  I told her about her brother’s scores.  Of course, she came up with the answer.

“Duh, Dad.  He is 13.  He IS getting dumber!”

“Of course! I forgot what you were like at that age.  It’s not the teacher’s fault.  It is Number One Son’s fault.  He needs to take responsibility and ownership for his learning.  Thank you daughter!”

“No, Dad.  I meant that he takes after you and Mom.  Look at you.  Mom tells us you got good grades in school.  You even have a Master’s Degree.  But, you don’t know how to fix things, can’t find your keys, and think your own jokes are funny.  You get dumber every day! Plus, Mom calls orchards apple-tree farms, forest rangers bear catchers, and recently thought the air conditioner in the car was not working… then she pushed in the AC button.”  Face it, you two are not rocket surgeons!”

“Funny.  Real funny.  Go to your room!”

After all, what else could I say?  I begin to wonder if she is right.  I have been forgetful lately.  I forgot the wife’s birthday, Christmas, and our anniversary.  I couldn’t help Number Two son with his fourth grade math homework.  And, I didn’t win the NCAA March Madness tournament at work.  Number One’s regression is my fault. Do I tell my wife? No way!

I decide to ask Number One.  I show him the scores.  I ask him if he has any idea why the scores have dropped?

He laughs.  I wonder why he thinks that his getting dumber is so funny. 

He explained: “Dad, the first test day was the third week of school.  I was excited.  I was pumped up.  I tried my best to impress my teacher and make you and Mom proud.”

“Well, Number One, I am very proud of those scores.  You were awesome.  However, what happened for the next test?”

“It was in December, Dad. I was distracted with the thoughts of what I was going to buy you for Christmas.”

“Really?  You were thinking of my gift? You are so thoughtful… Wait a minute.  You didn’t get me anything!”

“Just kidding!  I was thinking of all of the gifts I would be getting.”

“OK, Number One, that makes more sense.  That explains test number two.  What about the third test in March?”

“Oh, I didn’t do my algebra homework and needed time to do it.”

“It was an English test.  I don’t understand, son.”

“As soon as I finished my test, I had free time.  I could do my Algebra homework.   You know me, Dad.  I was the kid who would color a picture in first grade in one minute in order to go outside and play.  I skip steps in Algebra because they take too much time, and I get the right answer.  It’s all about efficiency, Dad.  I play soccer the same way.  One touch passes.  No one ever out runs a pass.”

“Number One, let me see if I understand.  You scored low because you rushed through the test.  You had other priorities that day?”

“You know Dad, you aren’t as dumb as you look.  Want to go outside and kick the soccer ball?”

“Why not, Number One.  As long as I am not tested on it.”

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

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Filed under Education, Humor, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Teacher Evaluations

School Time Fun

Last week my fourth grader brought home a flier for a fund-raiser.  Let me go on the record: I loathe fund-raisers.  I would rather go to the dentist.  However, Sonny likes basketball and the fundraiser was to watch a game between teachers and the Harlem Wizards.   I saw the look in my son’s eyes and knew he was very excited.  This is the kind of event kids love.

We even talked the second grader into going.  (He prefers watching Star Wars and using his imagination instead of sports.)

Well, the evening was a success.  There were funny jokes, dancing with basketball stars, and the ever popular: teachers losing!  Sonny’s work during recess with his fourth grade teacher did pay off though; she scored two points!

I enjoyed seeing friends entertain the kids.  There was my son’s best friend’s mom pretend to use her Ninja skills to fight a wizard player who was a foot taller than she.  Luckily, it ended peacefully.  🙂  And, the community member (a former U.S. Professional Football Player) who was asked to try out for the Wizards during the game missed his one shot by a mile.  The kids did not know it was on purpose, but I know it was.  His shot was worse than my best attempt.  He could not be that bad.  Seriously.

The best part was the referee.  It was my boss, the principal of the high school.  Apparently, she played basketball in high school and college.  She followed the directions of the Wizards and called a “great” game.  She was a great actress and my sons believed everything she did, whether it was a bad call, putting up with disrespect, or even giving the benefit of the call to the teachers.  For her acting, Mrs. H. deserves an Oscar or at least an Oscar the Grouch.

Tonight reminded me why I teach.  It is not the tests scores.  It is not the novels, although I do love them.  It is the fun!  It is the connection with the kids.  It is the immeasurable that no test will ever show.

Think about it.  Do you remember a test score?  Or, do you remember a teacher?

I remember my third grade teacher, Mrs. Duda, who let me help her grade papers and get the films from the office.  I remember Mr. Collins, my eight grade English teacher, who saw my reading and writing ability enough to let me read the main part for a play in class.  I remember Mrs. Collins, my senior English teacher, who saw more potential than I was ready to admit to.

Next year, I will be evaluated on student growth, which is not a bad idea.  However, the growth is to be measured by one test.  The day of the test could be a “bad day” for the kid.  The student could be like my oldest, a “bad test taker.”   What about the impact or influence I have had on a student?  Unfortunately, this is not easily measurable.    Thus, my evaluation will not be accurate.  For now, if you want to know who are the good teachers, listen to the kids.  They will tell you, either directly or indirectly.

What I have learned in twenty-five years is that a good relationship with students creates success.   Now, I have to figure out how to turn the standardized test into a positive relationship.

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One Easy Way to Keep Geese Away

Just a short one today.

 

A softball.

A softball. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I was in a curriculum planning meeting the other day and another teacher shared a “funny” story with us.  Miss E. is a the varsity softball coach and informed us that they had been having problems with geese getting onto the fields.  Miss E.’s manager, a senior, commented, “Coach, I don’t understand how the geese are getting in; the gates are locked.”

 

Yes, we teachers will be evaluated on this type of logic…

 

 

 

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Florida Teacher: A Fruitless Pursuit of My VAM Rating

I have to wonder if Ohio’s Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) will be like Florida’s Evaluations…

Diane Ravitch's blog

Please read the link in this comment. Kafkateach has been trying, again and again, to find out what her VAM score for 2011-2012 was. No one will tell her. No one knows. It is being calculated. It is being recalculated.

If it takes two years to find out what your evaluation score is, what value does VAM add?

Will someone be sure to let Arne Duncan and Bill Gates know?

 

She writes:

 

The new and improved teacher evaluations in my district have proven to be nonexistent. It’s March 12th 2013 and we still have yet to receive evaluations and our VAMs for the 2011-12 school year. The state, the district, and the union have been tossing around the stinking pile of value added bogosity like a hot potato. Nobody wants to accept responsibility for the data. Millions of public school dollars have been wasted on designing an evaluation…

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