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California Education Data Systems Stuck in Political, Financial Mire

August 14, 2011
Today’s InterACT guest contributor is Alice Mercer, a Sacramento teacher and blogger, and member of Accomplished California Teachers.  Alice’s prior contribution to InterACT can be found here (“Divining Rod, or Rod of Discipline?”).  This post follows up on ideas that Alice has blogged about recently concerning the use of student test scores for teacher evaluation, and discusses the state’s imperiled education data systems, California Longitudinal Teacher Integrated Data Education System (CALTIDES) and California Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS).
CA Capitol Building

State Capitol Building, Sacramento, CA (photo: David B. Cohen).

In May of this year, California’s new (re-new?) governor, Jerry Brown, surprised both so-called education “reformers” and those of us who want more meaningful and thoughtful changes to education, by canceling the budget for state education data collection systems.  This caused no end of joy, shock, and hair-pulling, depending on what side of the issue you were on. Word now comes down that because we have abandoned CALTIDES , a teacher data collection system that they wanted to tie-in to student data system, CALPADS, the state will lose federal grant money for that data system.

The Sacramento Bee has been doing a series of “Chicken Little” articles about this and even devoted op-ed space to the topic, where they provide a list of reasons why this system is needed:

It would give the state the ability to monitor workforce trends, teacher education trends, assignments of teachers by qualifications and linking those to student performance.

The editorial goes on to talk about how the state will not qualify for “Race to the Top” (RttT) grants, and will not be able to apply for “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) waivers. What it doesn’t say is that this data linking teachers data to student performance is not just for informational purposes, but will be used to evaluate teacher performance. Both the waivers and RttT require this.

Everyone seems to take for granted that because this is “quantitative”, it must be accurate, when it is anything but. I will once again remind readers of our experience with the financial meltdown, a crisis that was brought on by a heavy reliance on quantitative measures, complex mathematical models, and a lot of hot air and overly-ambitious promises that have melted like most of our pension/401k balances.

Let’s look across the country to New York, which is further down the road of using student data for teacher evaluation. New York City has already been using teacher data reports for granting tenure and evaluating students, and here we see problems, like teachers of higher math students who tend to score at the top of the scale, and therefore teachers have little room to “improve” their scores. Here is an example from the L.A. Times debacle, about a teacher at the other end of the testing spectrum where the test missed student growth.

The state of New York, didn’t seem to heed either the experience of New York City, or the advice of testing experts. To comply with RttT, recently had its regents (equivalent of California’s State Board of Education) approve a new teacher evaluation system that will be based 40% on student test performance. New York City is rolling out some of the first student assessments in this system, but as one of the experts in the story points out (Dr. D. Koretz of Harvard), this has been tried before (Kentucky) and it was abandoned.

I think this quote from a Director at the California Department of Education sums up where things are at:  “A CALTIDES system isn’t going to be built until there is an agreement from a policy standpoint about how we are going to do that” said Keric Ashley, director of the California Department of Education’s Data Management Division. “There is no political will to build a system while the whole teacher evaluation (issue) is out there.”

My thoughts? We need to get the evaluations issues settled lest the data be used as a blunt weapon against us. Until then…just say no.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2011 10:54 am

    Overall a good post, but I challenge you to provide evidence on one claim: “melted like most of our pension/401k balances.” The stock market has pretty much recovered from the recession, and 401k balances should be close to what they were before the recession. It is true that the stock market is clearly unstable and subject to wild oscillation, so some better regulation is needed to dampen the swings, but I’ve not seen evidence that 401k balances have “melted”, unless investors withdrew their money at the bottom of the recession.

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