A "Cowardly and Appalling Act": One Teacher Responds to the Release of Controversial Data

Ronit Wrubel, who currently teaches 4th grade, was one of the 18,000 New York City teachers whose Teacher Data Reports were released to the public in late February. Though her own TDR came out far above average, Wrubel was deeply distressed by the release and publication of these arguably flawed scores. She posted the following remarks on the New York Times website, next to the copy of her TDR the newspaper published. We reprint them here with the author's  permission.

I truly don't have the words to express the enormity of how this small act, this one 'report', this blip that's been added to the overwhelming archive that is the world wide web, encapsulates all that is wrong with how the public views the science and the art of the educator.  In my 24 years as a NYC public school teacher I have never been so disheartened, so demoralized, so utterly disappointed and felt so completely hopeless.

The release of the Teacher Data Reports on February 24 makes no sense to me. When information has been proven to be inaccurate, when sample sizes are statistically insignificant, and when 18,000 out of 75,000 teachers are singled out, yet the data is still released, the precedent that is being set undermines what tens of thousands of teachers have dedicated their lives to doing. The Value-added model also almost ignores student performance, focusing mostly on progress. If a student scores well on the third grade test, they and their teacher are penalized if they get even one less question correct on the fourth grade test, which, by the way, is significantly harder than the third grade test. Now if I’ve helped my students grow a year’s worth, why would I be penalized for that?

Most educators I know, and I know quite a few, are exceptional, dedicated, intelligent, diligent, caring and honest people. NYC public school teachers have been working under an expired contract, for wages that do not match neighboring school districts, at rates that do not even begin to approach inflation in these harsh economic times, and do so with a smile on their faces as their students enter their classrooms on a daily basis.

This cowardly and appalling act was my proverbial straw. We teachers put enough pressure on ourselves as we strive to do better for our students every, every, every single day. I know many of my colleagues feel the same way as I do. For all of us to be demoralized yet again, and so publicly, is utterly heartbreaking. We know 'what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas', but what happens on the Internet lives forever.

I often feel frustrated as a teacher because I can never do enough, be enough or give enough to my students, although I try. I spend hours and hours beyond the school day and every weekend doing everything I can to help my students grow as independent, responsible, inquisitive learners. I am always preparing lessons, corresponding with parents, making charts, hanging bulletin boards, developing and refining curriculum, reading and responding to the work of my students, and I do it all because it’s what I believe my students deserve. I commute over three hours a day to work with the exceptional teachers, staff and administrators in my school because I want to always learn and think and grow myself.

Why is no one talking about class size anymore? If I had fewer students in my class, I promise you that I could give them more attention, and help them move forward in their skills much more easily. Blaming teachers for the failings of the education system, the testing and scoring process, and the economic climate will not in any way help children!

Unless you live the life of an educator, even the most well-informed and well-meaning individuals just don't get it. We put our heart and souls into teaching the whole child, and yet are judged so arbitrarily, unfairly and now, publicly. I have no problem being evaluated by my administrators. And if any of them wanted to reveal what they think of me as a teacher to families, good or bad, I would welcome it. They know me, and they know my students, and they see the whole picture, and they know the effort I put into reflecting upon and refining my pedagogy every hour of every day. I wish there were more people out there advocating for teachers who really understood and could express the realities of what education and educators can and cannot be.

I am shocked that many of the media outlets and all of the politicians are ignoring the current super-sized testing that will be taking place in New York state in April of 2012 in favor of giving credence to the release of outdated and relatively meaningless data. While my fourth grade students are taking the ELA test, for example, they will be reading 13 passages (including the listening selection which requires note-taking), answering 57 multiple-choice questions, writing answers to 7 short-response questions and composing 2 extended-response essays over the course of three days of testing.

That testing will last approximately 175 minutes. While they are taking the State Math tests they will be asked to solve 62 multiple choice questions, solve and explain their thinking for 5 short response questions and carefully solve 4 extended, multi-step response questions, all covering multiple strands of mathematics. They will have 180 minutes, exactly three hours, to do so over the course of three days. Just thinking about all of that work in such a short amount of time makes me tired! The stamina involved is almost impossible for a nine or ten year old child to muster. I might fade under the same circumstances.

Not only that, but these scores will determine what middle school a child gets into. Now they will also determine whether or not a teacher is considered effective as well. There are approximately 59,000 minutes in a school year, not including lunch and recess. These tests cover 350 minutes in the life of a student. This is what determines the value of a child’s skills and now a teacher’s skills. The flaws are in the testing system and in the evaluation of that testing, not in the work of dedicated teachers.

I want students to learn and I want educators and education to get better for all students. Why can’t we find real solutions to real problems, instead of placing blame, instigating panic, and scoring political points on the backs of those who care the most and work the hardest?  I am still confused about how releasing this data, that was intended for internal use and meant to inform instruction, holds any value to parents. The information does not give a true picture of an educator; the inaccuracies actually perpetuate false information. How will that help a parent to support their child’s learning development? Parents also do not and should not choose who their child’s teacher is. With this made up ammunition, parents will be trying to have their child’s class changed, all for no particular reason.

The philosophical underpinnings of how I teach are antithetical to what has happened with this data being released to the public. I believe in child-centered, inquiry based, socially responsible and reflective learning to help create the kind of thinkers and citizens our society needs and deserves. Children have a natural quest for learning and a desire to be a part of a learning community. It is my job, no, my pleasure, to help usher my students towards living the lives of dedicated, engaged and thoughtful learners. The entirety of what I am tasked to do, and the reality of the circumstances of the daily lives of children and families, are really all I'm concerned about. Bravo to all of the teachers out there who continue to play the role of Sisyphus yet again. I for one will keep pushing that boulder up the hill until I get it to reach the other side.

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