Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Elia Says Test Scores Tell Us All We Need to Know About Teachers

Feel the Warmth...

Dr. Barbara Nevergold's latest blogpost offers a ringside glimpse into the flinty reptilian eyes of  newly crowned NYSED chief, MaryEllen Elia. Commissioner Elia has shed her faux skin of "concern" and her pose as a "listener" which we all knew she would before too long. So I guess it's kind of like looking at the crime scene photos to hear a first hand account of Elia in fully weaponized ed reform mode bristling and bullying educated adults as we knew she would. Dr. Nevergold here describes Elia's exchange with South Park High and Burgard Vocational personnel, who, from what I am told, were administrators not teachers:

... She said that while the majority of teachers, in both schools, were evaluated as effective or highly effective, student achievement was not correspondingly ranked.  In other words, students with effective teachers are expected to receive test scores that mirror their teachers’ ratings. How did they explain this discrepancy, she queried?  The staff members were hard pressed to respond. Her assertion about this disconnect and her question left no doubt that the Commissioner believes that there is a “connect” between these two measures.  

So MaryEllen Elia wants to talk about educational "disconnects" does she? The glaring fatal flaw in her corporate ed reform logic is the reformer fallacy that a standardized test score will tell you how good a teacher is. The disconnect she is operating under -- the twisted belief that an invalid test score can evaluate teaching ability -- has been debunked by The American Statistical Association and Educational Historian Diane Ravitch. But Elia has drunk deep from the flask of ed reform and is tipsy in her conviction that a great or even good teacher who's been  observed and evaluated by a qualified professional is only as good as some test scores on a Pearson product. Observations be damned. Test Scores Ubber Alles. She has her script and she is sticking to it just as she was hired to do. 

 Mary Ellen Elia believes that an invalid and unreliable Pearson test is the truest measure of good teaching. And when you look at her ed reformy career path and her dalliances with Eli Broad and Bill Gates you understand why she utters such asinine statements. She might have been a teacher in Sweet Home back in the days of the Dewey Decimal System. She may even have some soapy story to share about a Christmas present a student gave her wrapped with Courier Express newsprint and band aids. But her career as a teacher might just as well have never happened for all of the relevance her current mindset has to what actually transpires in a Buffalo Public School classroom in 2015.  She has no idea what teachers face on a daily basis in places like Burgard and South Park  -- or even at DaVinci for that matter.

What's really maddening is Elia doesn't even think she has to know. Her contempt for the dedicated teachers at South Park and Burgard couldn't be any more obvious. I spent my first 5 years teaching at Burgard and the day I broke up a knife fight in a hallway during lunchtime I went home and wrote out my request for a transfer. The knife wielder has since been incarcerated for a fatal knife attack during a home invasion. He stands a chance of being paroled next month too by the way. I accepted a position for the following year at South Park the school where a security guard had been shot by a student in a hallway a few months earlier. I guess I was using the lightning can't strike twice in the same spot logic. MaryEllen Elia's fuzzy homecoming stories about Sweet Home don't cut it when you talk about the environment of these two schools. And what's really amazing about them both is the number of hard core dedicated teachers you'll find at Burgard and South Park shaking off the adversity coming to work, handling everything that gets thrown at them. And yes things like staplers, chairs and books are among the items thrown at them. 

MaryEllen Elia has Buffalo in her sights. She has no time for the realities of the communities that produce so many kids who don't do well on standardized tests. She has no insight or compassion or respect for the teachers who spend their days with kids from unbearably adversarial homes and neighborhoods. She doesn't want to hear it. She has no place in her head or her heart for this data. In Elia's head these teachers don't deserve to be rated anything above ineffective if their students don't score well on tests that are purposely created to be too difficult in order to create the illusion of bad teaching and failure. She is sticking to her script. We all know the endgame of her script is to fire as many teachers as possible and weaken teacher's unions enough that the forces of privatization can be sent in to "save the day." They won't of course but that's not really the objective here anyway. 

Commissioner Elia is nothing more than a useful idiot, another pawn like John King hired by the forces of corporate education reform and privatization to do their bidding and stick to her script. If you look at the mess she left behind in Florida it's clear she wasn't selected for her excellence in managing a school district. She is a steadfast soldier who will follow orders. Qualities like insight, compassion and integrity are not required to do what she was hired to do. Good thing too as she lacks all three.  We shouldn't take her personally but it's hard not to when she struts in here like John Wayne at high noon throwing down on people whose shoes she's not fit to polish. 

Before Commissioner Elia utters the word "disconnect" again in reference to test scores and teacher evaluations, she really ought to examine the total disconnect Pearson and Co. have demonstrated between their shitty, terribly written tests and the dedicated teachers who are being flogged with them. Only in the upside down world of ed reform would you ever find such a powerful figure as NYSED Commissioner Elia laboring to make the glaringly stupid connection between an invalid test score and a teacher's abilities to teach kids. As she doesn't appear to have much in the way of intellectual curiosity I think she'd do well to look into the history of her predecessor, Mr. King. When he became too much of a liability for Andrew Cuomo he went bye-bye. And when Elia finds herself faced with hundreds of thousands of pissed off Opt Out parents Cuomo won't hesitate to make roadkill of her too. I look forward to the coming year. It's sure to be filled with surprises. 


  1. There may be more openings in the USDOE.

    Abigail Shure

  2. Excellent work.

  3. Thank you for writing this. Well done.

  4. It should be "über alles" with one b and an umlaut, or "ueber alles." (Sorry, I teach English and German; the urge to correct is just too strong in me!)

  5. It should be "über alles" with one b and an umlaut, or if you wish to leave out the umlaut "ueber alles" works as well. Other than that, I really enjoyed this blog post. I am sorry about being THAT person. I teach English and German, and the urge to correct is just too strong. :)

  6. I took the phrase from my memory of it on a Dead Kennedys lyric sheet inside the Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables album. Sue me!

  7. Sean, please tell us how you really feel!

    Excellent truth telling! My favs: "a ringside glimpse into the flinty reptilian eyes" "Elia has shed her faux skin of 'concern' and her pose as a 'listener' "
    and "it's kind of like looking at the crime scene photos".

    Thank you!

  8. the portrayal of letters and umlauts or whatever is not significant to this page…. the meaning of the words and the essence of the experience are what is important and this is a superbly written description of the exact situation and the tone of the circumstances; this is better than any English teacher/editor could ever come up with because it is precise in the description of what teachers know ….

  9. As an English teacher of Special Needs kids you've paid me the highest compliment. Thanks, I appreciate the love. You only know it because you've lived it too is my feeling.