And, last year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which helped fund the Common Core standards’ development, called on states to hold off on tying teacher performance to the tests. Education secretary Arne Duncan announced something similar later that summer.
It’s no surprise that teachers’ support for the standards has quickly waned. Among 1,600 teachers polled from around the country, the percentage of those who are enthusiastic about the Common Core has rapidly dropped—from 73 to 68 percent in the last year alone, according to a study commissioned by Scholastic.
Many educators in New York are wary things can be salvaged, including Adam Urbanski, the longtime president of the Rochester Teachers Association. "I do not have confidence this can be fixed," he said, noting that the state’s new reforms are "poisoning the well."
Last year, labeling the rankings "junk science," the union filed a pending lawsuit against the state, citing a discrepancy in how urban teachers are ranked versus their suburban counterparts. Moreover, while only 2 percent of Rochester’s 3,400 teachers received "highly effective" ratings during the 2012-13 year, that figure suddenly jumped to 46 percent the year after.
"Unless you believe in miracles, I predict that next year, we’ll see another incredible swing," said Urbanski, a retired social studies teacher who used to support the standards. "Huge variations are part and parcel of unreliable systems. If it weren’t so sad, it would be laughable."
Urbanski also said the new metrics unfairly penalize teachers who work with disadvantaged students, noting that an unprecedented number of educators have voluntarily resigned or retired early in the last two years. More concerning, he sees tenured teachers unwilling to work with student teachers for fear of disrupting their students’ test scores. As a result, Rochester-based private and charter schools have used their exemption from the Common Core to recruit faculty and lure students.
Meanwhile, while teachers in other states that have adopted the changes more gradually seem to be benefitting, many are still confused. One such teacher is Arizona’s Lauren D'Amico, who’s experienced the sudden jolt of the new system. Two years ago, D’Amico’s district launched test-based evaluations, with scores accounting for 25 percent of teachers’ ratings. That ratio shot up to 40 percent the following year. For the 2012-13 school year, D’Amico was labeled as "developing." This past September, her score shot up two levels—to "highly effective"—as part of a rating system that mirrors that in New York.
But Williams, of Democrats for Education Reform, cautions against reverting back to the old evaluation system, which he described as unfair to good teachers. In New York, teachers previously received two ratings: "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory." And, despite mediocre student test scores, 94 percent of teachers across New York State received "highly effective" or "effective ratings" this past fall; in some districts, not a single teacher received an ineffective rating.