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A Teenager Fights Back Against Teacher Evaluation Gone Wrong

Teen Nikhil Goyal refused to participate in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's teacher evaluation scheme.

In February 2012, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, after a lengthy feud with the state teachers union, came to an agreement over a comprehensive teacher evaluation system for the state. The arrangement made New York State eligible to receive $700 million of "Race to the Top" funds, a national sweepstakes spearheaded by President Obama that allocated monies to states that adopted his education policies.

Under the new system known as the Annual Professional Performance Review, 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation would be based on standardized test scores, while the remaining 60 percent would be based on subjective measurements, like classroom observations and student surveys. Then, teachers would be sorted into four categories: ineffective, developing, effective, or highly effective.

However, there's one catch. In the new bill, it states: "The new rating system would prohibit a teacher or principal who is rated ineffective in the objective measures of student growth from receiving a developing score overall." In other words, if a teacher is unable to raise their students' test scores for two consecutive years—even if he or she is deemed highly effective on the subjective measures—the teacher could be fired.

I recently graduated from Syosset High School in New York. My district's APPR plan was approved last fall at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year. Teachers were then expected to administer the same exam at the beginning and at the end of the year. By means of value-added measurements and an obtuse formula, the teachers' effectiveness would be determined. Moreover, in New York general state aid for schools is now tied to teacher evaluation, which puts further strain on the most impoverished communities in our state.

Sure enough, a month after school started, the Student Learning Objective exams were unleashed on every student at Syosset in every subject, including art, music, and physical education. Yes, in gym class, multiple choice exams with colorful green Scantrons were doled out. I wish I were kidding.

I cannot begin to describe some of the conversations I've had with educators, many of whom are veterans with decades of experience in this profession, who are feeling humiliated, demoralized, and beaten down by this process.

I didn't want anything to do with the tests, so I opted out of every single SLO exam. Each time, I put my name on the test booklet and Scantron and then handed the blank items back to my teacher. There were no consequences.

At the same time, a groundswell of opposition was growing. Two principals, Sean Feeney of the Wheatley School and Carol Burrris of South Side High School, took the lead and drafted a letter protesting the evaluation system. As of January 2013, 1,535 principals as well as 6,500 parents, educators, and students have signed onto the document.

If there's one thing that is absolutely clear to me, it's that Governor Andrew Cuomo has ignored the voices of students, teachers, principals, and parents who have grave concerns about the evaluations. He is frankly telling millions of students and teachers that their value is no more than a number in a spreadsheet.

What he's forgotten is that evaluation is best done when the purpose is not to punish and reward teachers but to lend them support, to foster collaboration, to encourage self-evaluation, and to allow for rich and lengthy observations by principals and fellow colleagues.

So Governor Cuomo, let me tell you how it is: You can fire my teachers. You can close down my school. You can break up my community. You can kill the love of learning in children. But in the words of William Johnson, don’t tell me that it’s because you want the best for me. I'm not a stupid little kid. Do you hear me?

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A version of this post originally appeared at The Nation

Standardized quiz or test score image via Shutterstock

This article was updated on 11/20/21.

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