Monday, March 26, 2012

Press Conference - Remarks by Kevin Kumashiro, Isabel Nuñez, David Stovall, Therese Quinn, Erica Meiners and Julie Woestehoff

Compilation of Comments for CReATE Press Conference
3/26/12, 11am, Hull-House Museum

(1) Kevin Kumashiro (Primary Contact Person)
Professor of Asian American Studies and Education
University of Illinois at Chicago
President-Elect, National Association for Multicultural Education, 773-996-8530

Good morning, and thank you for coming.  My name is Kevin Kumashiro.  I am a professor of Asian American Studies and the former chair of Educational Policy Studies here at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  I am the president-elect of the National Association for Multicultural Education, and I am also a coordinator of a citywide network of educational researchers called CReATE (Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education). 

This morning, CReATE delivered to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, and the Chicago School Board an open letter of concern, titled “Misconceptions and Realities about Teacher and Principal Evaluation.”  Signed by 88 professors and researchers who specialize in education from 15 different universities throughout the Chicago and surrounding areas, this letter describes our concerns regarding Chicago’s implementation of legislation for the evaluation of teachers and principals, and offers our recommendations for moving forward.

This is not the first time that we have issued a joint statement.  Over a year ago, we began to issue statements and reports to contrast CPS’s approaches to school reform with the research on school reform. And our messages have been consistent: that some of Chicago’s school reforms lack a sound research basis, and more significantly, that research has already proven some of these reforms to be detrimental to student learning and success.

These messages similarly frame our open letter about teacher evaluation.  The 2010 amendment to the Illinois School Code, known as the Performance Evaluation Review Act (PERA), requires districts to include “student growth” as a significant portion of teacher and principal evaluation.  Our letter describes three main concerns:

First, timing.  CPS is moving forward with plans to implement the new evaluation system in the fall of 2012, but CPS is not ready to implement a teacher-evaluation system that is based on significant use of “student growth.”  PERA requires the use of multiple assessments, but CPS has not yet developed all of the assessments, has not yet field-tested them, and has not yet trained teachers and principals on how to use them effectively.

Second, validity.  Under PERA, “Student growth” will be measured primarily using value-added models, as by looking at changes in test scores over time.  But recently, ten of the nation’s leading scholars on assessment wrote a joint letter cautioning against teacher-evaluation approaches that use value-added models, because such models can be unstable (they can vary from year to year or even from test to test for the same group).  Furthermore, such models were developed to assess student change, not teacher efficacy, so to use the models for a different purpose should first require more field-testing and development.

Third, impact.  We have already seen the results of placing increased value on tests: a more narrow curriculum, less cooperation between teachers, less desire to work with students with special needs—that is, this overemphasis on test scores results not in increased success for our students, but the opposite. 

As researchers who specialize in education, we believe that hurried implementation of teacher evaluation using student growth will result in inaccurate assessments of our teachers and decreased learning among the children in our care. We support accountability and high standards. We want what is best for our students. We believe, however, that an unproven and potentially harmful evaluation system is not the path to lasting school improvement.  We therefore make two recommendations for moving forward:

1. Pilot and adjust the evaluation system before implementing it on a large scale.
2. Minimize the percentage that student growth counts in teacher or principal evaluation.

In moving to develop and implement reforms that are based in sound research and that are field-tested locally, we hope that CPS will consult with the professors and researchers among us who bring both scholarly and practical expertise on these issues, and we look forward to the opportunity to serve.

With me are several members of CReATE, who will elaborate on our open letter.  Professor Isabel Nunez of Concordia University Chicago will discuss misconceptions of testing.  Professor David Stovall of the University of Illinois at Chicago will discuss the impact of testing on students.  Professor Therese Quinn of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago will discuss the role of teachers in a democratic society.  Professor Erica Meiners of Northeastern Illinois University will discuss the relationship between this initiative and other reform initiatives, revealing the bigger picture of school reform.  We also invited a response from Julie Woestehoff, executive director of PURE (Parents United for Responsible Education).  And we’ll conclude with time for questions.

 (2) Isabel Nuñez
Associate Professor of Foundations, Social Policy and Research, Concordia University Chicago

The centrality of test scores in the new approach to teacher and principal evaluation is of particular concern to educational researchers.  Testing in general is such a priority that the first CReATE research brief was devoted to countering the misconceptions that underlie its use and overuse.  You can read more about some of the issues we raise today in that document, which is available on our website.

First, testing is not “the way it’s always been done.”  Large-scale educational testing was born in the early 1900s at a particular time in history:  the industrial revolution.  Some might argue that the limited range of achievement that tests can measure was appropriate when preparing for the early-to-mid 20th century workforce, but in today’s globalized, information-based economy, “student growth” must be more meaningfully defined and assessed.

Next, if we are going to make the mistake of reducing student growth to an ascending diagonal on a line graph, we must at the very least abide by the principles of measurement.  The discipline of testing, called psychometrics, is governed by rules, and the uses of testing proposed in the new system of evaluation break some of the most fundamental of these. 

The first important consideration of testing is purpose.  The process of test construction is so specialized that an instrument designed for one purpose cannot be effectively used for another.  As we state in the letter:
Assessments designed to evaluate student learning are not necessarily valid for measuring teacher effectiveness or student learning growth.  Using them to measure the latter is akin to using a meter stick to weigh a person.

What makes this even more frightening is that many of the likely contenders to be Type I and Type II assessments were not even designed to evaluate student learning, but instead to compare performance.  Most large scale standardized achievement tests are scored by norm-referencing, a process of ranking, which ensures that 50 percent of test-takers score below the 50th percentile, no matter how high the overall level of mastery. 

You may hear from their defenders that tests like the ISAT also report “criterion-referenced” scores, which are not ranked.  However, for scores to be able to be ranked, each item must garner only 50% correct responses, which seriously compromises the test’s value for reflecting mastery of all the standards.  It is incredibly inappropriate to draw inferences about student achievement based on such tests, much less to base educator evaluations on them. 

Even if we use the best tests possible, it is a core truth of psychometrics that no test is completely reliable:  Error is a component of every attained score.  For this reason, test developers, academic bodies and professional associations alike warn against attaching severe consequences to performance on any test.
Clearly, this is not the first instance of schools systems riding roughshod over the principles of measurement.  It is, however, a distressing extension of the destructive misuse of test scores, which has already brought terrible harm to the children of Chicago. 

(3) David Stovall
Associate Professor of Educational Policy Studies and African American Studies
University of Illinois at Chicago

(4) Therese Quinn:, 773.459.3775
Associate Professor and Chair of Art Education
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Over 100 years ago, Margaret Haley, the Chicago elementary school teacher who was also the founder of the first American teachers’ union, argued for a vision of public schools as the center of our democracy. However, she proposed, schools can democratize society only if schools themselves are democratic. Haley and another maverick, Ella Flagg Young, a prodigy who passed her teaching examinations at age 15 and went on to become the first woman to serve as superintendent of a major American city, both argued that teachers must play central roles in school administration and policy-making, and, as professionals who are critical to the nation, must have opportunities and support to continue to grow intellectually throughout their working lives. Without this, they claimed, schools would become little more than factories, with rote assignments administered by teachers relegated to the role of automatons.

The issues and debates about education then were much the same as they are today. What’s different is that we now have decades of evidence showing that Haley and Flagg were right. For example, the nation with the most successful education system by many measures, including highest students scores and smallest spread of scores between schools is Finland, a country in which all curriculum is local and developed by teachers who are charged with designing and pursuing high standards and shared targets within their professional communities. Yet these high levels of success and responsibility don’t translate into top-down mandates. The schools are democratically organized and decisions are made laterally. Teachers evaluate their students, and collaboratively design ways to assess and improve school-wide successes. Students spend less time in school that those in most other industrialized nations and Finnish teachers spend less time teaching than do teachers in many other countries, and are not required to be present at their schools when they don’t have classes or other duties.

The Finnish education scholar Pasi Sahlberg describes a system in which teaching is consistently rated as one of the most desirable and admired professions, ahead of doctors, architects and lawyers. Finnish teachers are considered knowledge workers, education leaders, and critical members of their communities and the nation. So what are we doing wrong?

While we should certainly learn from the successful educational systems designed by our global neighbors, we should also look back at the insights of our home-grown visionaries in education, like Margaret Haley and Ella Flagg Young. They pointed to the need for what Finland has put into practice and proven as successful for students—a public education system that supports and trusts its teachers. 

Rousmaniere, K. (2005). Citizen teacher: The life and leadership of Margaret Haley. Albany, NY: State University of New York.
Salhberg, P. (2011). Finnish lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? New York: Teachers College Press.

(5) Erica Meiners
Professor of Educational Foundations, Women’s Studies, and Latina/o and Latin American Studies
Northeastern Illinois University

This is another example of a top down reforms that have little basis in research from Chicago's unelected school board. As we have recently seen in NYC, the forced implementation of teacher evaluation models that are based on student scores on standardized tests results in inaccurate evaluations of our teachers and a further demonization of a valuable profession. In NYC researchers and teachers voices have been uniform in critiquing the unreliability of the approximately 18 000 teachers that were recently assessed through the "value-added" teacher evaluation model. Again, research tells us what will build stronger schools for our communities - smaller class sizes, parent and guardian involvement and healthy communities. When one in four Americans lives in poverty, we need strong leadership from our city to support schools as spaces for transformation - not shifting the blame.

(6) Julie Woestehoff: 773-715-3989;
Executive Director
Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE)

Good morning. I'm Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, or PURE, and co-founder of the national group Parents Across America.

I'm very glad to be here today. It's so important for parents and the general public to hear what education experts are saying about education policy. Unfortunately, most of what passes for education expertise these days comes from wealthy corporate reformers and people who make money off of education. They don't have any real education credentials, but they're too often the ones our lawmakers listen to, and too often the ones who have the  most influence in decision making about the kind of education our children receive. Parents prefer to listen to educators.

I'm here representing a growing body of parents who strongly oppose the use of student test scores as significant factors in evaluating teachers, which the Chicago Public Schools is proposing to do beginning this fall.

Parents already feel that there is too much emphasis on testing in schools, and too much time wasted on testing that's taking away from teaching. In his 2012 State of the Union message, President Obama said teachers should stop teaching to the test. Yet Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been pressuring states into making standardized tests play an even more dominant role in education, especially in his demand that states pass laws tying teacher evaluation to student test scores in order to compete for federal funds.

Last year, Parents Across America wrote a position paper and a fact sheet* about the dangers of tying teacher jobs and compensation to test scores. In preparing those reports, we found out that real education experts have been warning policy makers that judging teachers using student annual test results or score growth over time is unreliable, unfair, and counterproductive. The CReATE experts are warning us today that CPS is moving in the wrong direction with its plans.  

I want to thank CReATE for including the parents' perspective in this press conference.  Too often, parents are left out of these critical discussions. PURE was disappointed when the Illinois legislature defined the process for developing Chicago's teacher evaluation system as simply a negotiation between the union and the district. Teacher evaluation is not just a contractual issue. It is an issue of educational quality that will have just as much impact on our children as it will on their teachers. There is no doubt that a poorly-designed system, one that relies too heavily on existing flawed tests, or on assessments that have not even been written yet, will negatively affect our children and their educational opportunities. 
It's time to listen more to real educational experts like those that have formed CReATE and less to people who are more interested in political or financial profit than in making our public schools stronger.

It's also time to listen to parents, who are demanding better, sounder education policies that are supported by research. We believe that teachers should be evaluated by robust systems that use multiple measures, as well as parent and peer input, to identify their weaknesses, help them improve, and weed out those unsuited to the profession. Concerned parents and community members should insist on fair, reliable, broad-based systems of evaluation, as well as on the other kinds of support that teachers need to succeed.
*PAA's position paper, Tying Teacher Salaries to Test Scores Doesn't Work, is here:

Our related fact sheet is here:

Parents United for Responsible Education is an award-winning parent-organized, parent-run public school advocacy group established in 1987 and based in Chicago. PURE’s overall goal is to assure a high-quality education for all children. Our main strategy is to support active, informed, meaningful parent participation in the public schools. PURE offers information, advocacy and other support for parents and local school councils. PURE has a special role in focusing on issues from the parents' point of view. PURE's membership and constituency are multiracial, multi-cultural and economically diverse. Find us at

Parents Across America (PAA) is a grassroots organization that connects parents and activists from across the U.S. to share ideas and work together on improving our nation’s public schools. We advocate for proven, progressive measures such as reducing class size and increasing parent involvement, and oppose high-stakes testing and corporate-style efforts to privatize our schools. PAA is committed to bringing the voice of public school parents – and common sense – to local, state, and national education debates. Visit our web site, for more.