It is what it is. But what if it’s WRONG?

Last night I attended my local school board meeting to use my three minutes of public comment time to address the board.  I was there to continue my comments from last school year on teacher evaluations and why the board should at least think about the consequences when our teachers and principals will be forced to have 50% of their evaluation determined by the invalid high stakes test scores of the children taking these invalid measurements.

Here’s what I said last year.  This year I went in without a formal speech.  I took my seat and once the meeting started I was immediately called on to address the board (Public comment is always first).

I reminded the board of the points I made last year concerning Value Added Measures (VAMs) and teacher evaluation and then casually transitioned into why I was addressing the board again.

Simply, I was there to give just two examples of real world issues that have occurred where invalid tests scores are being used in teacher evaluations.  I first commented that early observations show that some of the most vulnerable children will probably be the first casualties in this idiotic war on blaming teachers.  As Carol Burris pointed out over the weekend in the Washington Post,

“The “no excuses” philosophy which seeks to blame teachers for the burden our entire society must bear is a cold and shameful response to our most disadvantaged students.”

Why?  It’s simple, really. Students from challenging home settings and special education students score lower on high stakes tests.  Again according to Burris,

“Some principals stated that they would change their teacher’s assignment next year and assign them less needy students so that they could protect these excellent teachers from the ineffective rating. The unintended consequences to students are beginning.”

The second reason I wanted to address the board was to inform them that because of VAMs’ exceedingly high error rates, teachers in DC that had been fired based on test scores were now being hired back. Why? They were falsely identified as ineffective teachers.

Therefore, when our school district is forced by the state to evaluate teachers using invalid test score data, some of our best teachers will be labeled ineffective and the state will sanction the school and the board will be forced to fire these teachers. Once fired, some of these teachers will sue the school district and the school will be will be forced to either re-hire the teacher or pay damages or both.

I used my three minutes. The board president asked if any of the board members had questions. The dead silence permitted the board president to proceed with the official board meeting.

What? You thought they would actually ask questions?  I had already taken three extra minutes of their time.  The real business needed to be taken care of—finishing the meeting as quickly as possible.

At this time, the public—me— was allowed to leave.  Knowing that 30 minutes was considered a long meeting I decided to stay.  The meeting flowed flawlessly.  The board president called items 1- 6. “Second.” “Motion passes.”  Items 7 – 15. “Second.” “Motion passes.” I think this went on for about 10 minutes and then the meeting transitioned to reports from the principals.

The first principal to report was from the high school. She also has the honor of being the assessment coordinator.  She reported that although the district met AYP some grade levels and special populations fell short.  However, according to the principal, her team would go through the assessment data (high stakes test scores) and identify where they would target instruction.  This is when she uttered the words “it is what it is” for the first time.

This comment caught my attention.  What the hell does that mean? “It is what it is.” I tried to ask a question but for some reason I wasn’t recognized (maybe they didn’t see me sitting alone right in front of them). The principal continued her assessment report.  She talked about the fact that NCLB cut scores were going to be elevated next year and that they would work hard to meet the unreachable expectation of having certain grades and special education students score “proficient” and that by “shooting for the stars” maybe things will turn out differently.  At any rate she repeated, “It is what it is.”

Huh? Again? What-the-hell-does-that-mean?

I tried to speak again but my raised hand must not have been visible in the room occupied by the board and me.  The principal continued.  She went on to announce that the state DOE announced that it had changed an assessment policy for this academic year.  Instead of field testing NEW standardized high stakes tests for high school students the state was going to use the new tests and scores to determine AYP.

Now I wanted to scream.  In my head I shouted,

“You can’t use brand new standardized tests to reward and punish students.  These tests must go through rigorous field testing to determine if the tests are valid and reliable.  This takes at least a few years!”

No one heard me. But this time the principal finally acknowledged that the state had put the high school students and the teachers at a disadvantage and that there were sure to be problems.  But in the end, “It is what it is.”

Since the board president was having a problem locating me I just waited for the meeting to end.  I approached the principal (assessment coordinator) and asked her a simple question.

“Have you thought about fighting the state on the grounds that the new high school standardized tests have not been normed. Issues concerning validity and reliability need to worked out before any type of consequence can be attached to the results of the new tests (something anybody with any knowledge of standardized tests knows)?”

“No Tim. It what it is.”

Feeling defeated, I simply responded, “But what if it’s wrong?”

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  1. Edy Chamness says:

    “It iswhat it is”…just as bad as “Our hands are tied”.

  2. I have attended school board meetings where I live and where I teach. I have had similar experiences as well. I believe that this is the case everywhere. School board members are volunteers and most do not have a background in education. This leads the members to rely on information from “above”, you know state ed and school board associations. Those groups are pretty much in lock step with the privatization movement.

  3. John Young says:

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

  4. Thanks for speaking out about the dangers of VAM. I hate the expression “It is what it is.” My department chair used this on me every time I expressed a complaint over class size and our new Race to the Top evaluation system. It is basically an expression designed to shut people up with no discussion. My principal prefers the expression, “Control what you can control.” Which as a teacher in this new evaluation system is basically nothing.

  5. Tim- We are going to have to go after the boards with numbers of people. One person is easy to ignore, 10 not so easy, and 100+ would make headlines. If we could generate that kind of energy in several cities around the country, the ball might start rolling the other direction.

  6. Everyday, I read the pro-public education blogs. You win best blog post of the day, in fact, let’s just give you the week and month award as well.

    My blog is called wait, what? But if I had to do it all over again I’d borrow the “but what if it’s wrong” phrase for a blog name….

    Pretty much says it all in these dark times!


  1. [...] reminds him that “the train has left the station.” At that point the passenger gets it—it is what is is—and takes his seat and prepares for [...]

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