Faking Student Data

The Education Lab Blog at the Seattle Times today shares some of the stories of four teachers this past year using Washington's new TPEP evaluation system.

Teachers are cited as saying that they found the student growth goals component of the evaluation to be something of a joke. "Teachers were literally joking (I hope) about grading everything ridiculously hard the first time, and then just being easier on the kids the next time."

I appreciate this teacher's desire to be idealistic, but I'm quite sure that a number of teachers in Washington this year did just that.  When you make student growth a component of someone's evaluation and then give them control over how that growth is scored, this is bound to happen.

I don't think it's that teachers are evil, or out to get off easy, as one commenter suggested:

"Is anyone surprised that the first thing these teachers tried to do was game the system or somehow cheat the system into the results they wanted"

In my experience, teachers in many public schools barely have time to do the fundamentals of their job (planning, teaching, and assessing). For teachers on the comprehensive evaluation this year, it was about as much work as teaching an extra class.

Before working in the Highline School District, I worked in Washington DC. There, in 2009, Michelle Rhee rolled out a new evaluation system known as IMPACT. It did many of the same things as TPEP is trying to do in Washington State now. And prior to many evaluation conferences, I saw teachers scrambling to create data that looked favorable so that their conference would go well. A difference was that, in DC, many teachers lost their jobs as a result of those conferences. It had people operating in survival mode - a poor environment for nurturing students.

Public educators are extraordinarily overworked . The solution proposed for incentivizing us to do as much of that work as humanly possible seems to be to make us all highly accountable for proving that we've done everything we're supposed to. As a result, school-based staff are not only overworked (teachers work somewhere between 50-55 hours per week on average), but are now operating out of fear. Don't surprised if teachers are faking data. 


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