New Gaffe, NY—In its rush to get all teachers measured, the New Gaffe School District has ordered its schools to use any standardized measures at all, even if they bear no relation to the subject being taught.
“The point is to launch the new system and fire the bottom five percent of teachers,” said district chancellor Mark Islip. “We can’t waste time here. If we wait, the status quo will come sliding back down on us, like… a landslide. We’ve got to get the reform rolling. We can tinker with it later.”
According to the new directives, teachers of untested subjects may choose from an array of approved measures. One option is to take the students’ temperatures at the beginning and end of the year. “The September temperature, that’s your baseline,” said Islip. Then your June temperature may be higher, or lower, or the same. If it’s higher, it may mean there’s higher engagement in the class, or it may mean there’s a flu going around. We’ll take it as growth, in any case.”
Another option for such teachers is to use the English language arts test as a baseline and the mathematics test as a final exam. “Hey, you never know,” said Sandy Sullivan, a Reform Implementation Consultant (RIC). “The progress from ELA to math may be substantial. Music teachers might even get a boost.” When asked what “progress” from ELA to math would mean, Sullivan shrugged her shoulders. “We have to stay open-minded,” she said. “It could mean something.”
Not only teachers of untested subjects, but teachers of subjects such as chemistry and physics (which aren’t typically taught over multiple years) must use a baseline outside of the subject. “How can you have a baseline in physics, when the students don’t know any physics yet?” asked George Metropoulos, a physics teacher who, by virtue of being a teacher, clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about. “This whole thing needs reconsideration.” Metropoulos was given three options for a baseline: the previous year’s social studies test, the third-grade reading test, or the number of sit-ups each students could complete per minute, timed under officially approved conditions.
“We’re dealing with a lot of nitpickiness and frustration,” replied Toby Winnow, an instructional coach who reportedly had “worked with” Metropoulos until the latter balked. “Clearly the baseline is going to make more sense for some teachers than for others, but in the end it makes sense for everyone. Think of it this way. The kids come in with knowledge of something. You add knowledge of something else. Subtract that something from the something else, and there’s your value-added, after it’s gone through a state-of-the-art formula. Simple as that.”
What if the new measurement system results in the firing of good teachers? “Oh, please,” said Islip. “At this point, we could fire teachers blindly and end up much better off than we are now. Research has shown that if you fire any five percent of the teachers, you will raise achievement by half of a standard deviation, and increase students’ lifetime earnings by precisely $124,932.56.”
Which research has shown this? “It was on a slideshow at the last superintendents’ meeting,” Islip replied. “Those slides are top-notch, prepared by the best in the field.”
“I don’t see how any of this makes sense,” said Ariane Tort, a tenth grader. “First of all, I don’t want any of my teachers fired. Second, I’m really good at sit-ups, so that means less ‘growth’ for my teachers. Should I slow down my sit-ups so they get more growth points?”
“Do whatever feels right for you,” said Winnow. “Remember, this has nothing to do with you. It’s all about the teachers. I know it’s painful to see them fired, especially if you like them, but change is always painful, if you know what I mean.” He paused for a minute. “It’s painful even if you don’t know what I mean. Even if I myself don’t know what I mean, or no one knows what anyone means. In fact, that last scenario might be the most painful scenario of all, or the least painful. Wow, I’ve gotten philosophical,” he mused. “I wonder how philosophy would be measured. The possibilities are endless. That’s the wonder of the new system. So much room for innovation here. We could even give the kids a typing test.”