The New York State Legislature has passed a law prohibiting the publication of teachers’ test score ratings but allowing parents to view them.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg isn’t happy about this. He has decreed, therefore, that principals and assistant principals will call all of the parents to inform them of their right to see the scores.
Now, I am sure he has heard from many a reputable source about the problems with value-added ratings and the importance of regarding them skeptically. Yet he remains convinced that these ratings hold Truth.
But what makes him think principals agree with him? What makes him sure that they’ll say what he wants them to say on the phone? What does he hope they’ll say?
Perhaps he is hoping for a million conversations like this:
Principal: Hello, may I please speak with Leonora Thonge?
Ms. Thonge: Speaking.
Principal: Good morning, Ms. Thonge. This is Principal Eigenvalue of your son’s failing school P.S. 2345. I am calling to tell you that you may come to the school to view your teachers’ value-added ratings–that is, the ratings based on test score data.
Ms. Thonge: Oh, please tell me now! I have been desperate for the truth!
Principal: I would like to… but the ARIS database is down, and I am not allowed to give you the information over the phone. The union has my hands tied, you see. That’s one of many reasons why you should consider a charter school for Bernard.
Ms Thonge: I understand. I will be there shortly.
(Half an hour later, in the principal’s office.)
Ms. Thonge (weeping): His English and math teachers are both below average? And I thought they were so intelligent, so caring…
Principal (handing Ms. Thonge a box of tissues): There, now. It’s common for parents and students to think well of a teacher. That’s why we need the data to set the record straight.
Ms. Thonge: Are you sure these ratings are correct? I have heard that they are often wildly inaccurate.
Principal (in a confidential whisper): Don’t believe it. These are based on hard data and state-of-the-art formulas, and that’s as true as true can be.
Ms. Thonge: But what am I to do now? Where am I to take my Bernard, my poor little boy?
Principal: Well, as you may know, we’re a turnaround school. This means we will be firing half of the teachers soon. The ones we keep will be the ones with above-average ratings. I’m the Interim Turnaround Principal and won’t be here much longer myself. So you are welcome to wait it out. However, it’s a gorgeous day, and I suggest you go shopping!
Ms. Thonge: What do you take me for? Do you think I want to buy anything after hearing this shattering news?
Principal: No, no, I meant school-shopping! You can ask for their value-added scores and choose the school that promises the most growth for Bernard. I will recommend a few for you.
Ms. Thonge: Do they have a Shakespeare program, like this school does? Bernard loved the Shakespeare so much. He sometimes had the whole family act out scenes.
Principal: Shakespeare isn’t on the test. That’s part of what dragged our school down: tearching things that weren’t on the test. The schools I’m recommending are completely test-aligned–or will be, once they start. They’re all brand-new. This will be good for your son. There won’t be any history to hold him back.
Ms. Thonge: Oh, thank you, thank you for putting my son first!
Principal: Thank the data. Without the data, none of this would be possible. We would all be trapped in our human ways. In fact, I’m about to go to Data Mass, which starts at noon. You are most welcome to join me.
Ms. Thonge: Thank you! I will join you in adoring the data, from which all blessings derive, and then I will check out some schools. Oh, what a day of joy! Before we head over, do you mind if I ask you something off script?
Principal: Off script? I’m a figment of the mayor’s dream! I don’t know how to go off script.
Ms. Thonge: Let me put it this way. What do you really think about all this?
The principal flushes into life, and they end up talking for another hour. The mayor, still dreaming, waves his arms and shouts, “Cut! Cut!” but to no avail.