Sunday, August 22, 2010

Taking Note of John Merrow and Grant Wiggins

I was reading John Merrow's blog Taking Note and his take on the Los Angeles Times' story on judging teachers based on value-added test score data. If you have a moment, I suggest you go read it here. And make sure you read the comments because it is there that you see some heavy hitters chiming in. Here's what I've learned:

  • John Merrow shocked the hell out of me when he said, "I applaud the Times for bringing this to the forefront. I worry that it could be a step backward if it merely heightens the significance of scores on bubble tests, but that’s a risk worth taking." John is wrong - nothing is worth heightening the significance of these poisonous tests. Nothing. 

  • David Cohen is a beacon for progressive education. He was right to say, "I’m a little surprised. The problems with VAM methodology are well known. The problems with the tests themselves are well known. It was incredibly irresponsible of the Times to report using the labels “effective” and “ineffective.” The data simply cannot support those evaluations."

  • Mike Klonsky properly called John Merrow out for sloppy reasoning when he said, "Well, there it is, John. In your own words. You don’t like bubble tests or simplistic value added measures as a way of judging schools or teachers, but you applaud the Times for using them and for outing teachers of kids who score low on those bubble tests."

  • Grant Wiggins is apparently a pro-standardized tester and teacher-hater: "I am totally behind John and the LA Times on this. His claim is undeniable: we all know who the better teachers are. I just fail to understand why teachers should get a free pass on accountability when the data is public data. How is it different from a player hitting .167 for his team – in the paper, every day?" If you think Wiggins's baseball analogy is on the mark, you need to read this! Grant you should take a look at it too.

  • David Cohen's second comment should be published on the front page of every major newspaper in the country: " This type of analysis is so cold and abstract that it frustrates those of us close to the work. One of my students committed suicide one year. Do you think that matters? How about you, John? Is there a space in the data spreadsheet for that? Another year, my son was born and I missed a few weeks of school. Is that allowable? Is there a space in the spreadsheet for that? Do you think that three weeks of substitute teaching might affect the class? One of my colleagues just went through a fight with cancer and is doing great. Is there a mark on the spreadsheet for “Cancer survivor” and a way to keep that year of data out of “her” test results, when much of the year was with a long-term substitute whose name will NOT appear on the students’ records? The folks who push this stuff down our throats at the school and classroom level NEVER seem to have answers to these questions." 

  • Dan Willingham gets it: "John, echoing what David B. Cohen says, if you don’t endorse simple bubble tests or simplistic value added measures, and if you don’t endorse using only VA measures to evaluate teachers, I’m surprised that you liked the Times article."

  • Deborah Meier is right. We should all be outraged by the outrageous: "Shocking, awful, embarrassing–especially since I have long admired you both–Grant and, John. I often thought Grant’s thinking cool/cold/logic without the common human touch, but I also respected the insights that flowed from his logic. I just can’t believe you and he wrote that junk, John. What do you think it does to kids, families, human beings…even if the test evaluations were a good measure. Nobody in the field of testing would argue for it–as you surely know."

  • Diane Ravitch is right: "The naming of names based on dubious measures is truly disgraceful. I am disappointed and shocked to see you endorsing this approach."

Using standardized test scores as a means of judging good teaching and real learning is a morally bankrupt and intellectually indefensible position to maintain. John Merrow and Grant Wiggins should know better.


  1. Sheesh. I commented on that post, and have read through Merrow's answers. I can't believe that he believes that public shaming (internat'l public shaming at this point) is okay just because he doesn't think administrators have done their jobs. Whether one believes VAMs are reliable or not, when would public shaming of anyone be okay simply because they aren't as good at their job as someone else feels they should be?

  2. Bottom-up instead of top-down de-bugging process touted here. Where is the bubble for the hungry, sleep-deprived, drug-addled, neglected student that makes up 4/5ths of my class?

  3. Since I teach art, I always feel forgotten in these debates. Not everything taught is measured.

    Also, transfer students bring with them the learning from where they came from, which is often not just another school district, but another country and language. Give me a child for 12 years, promise me the parents feed him/her, keep the TV off until the homework is done, and show up for conferences, and yes, then, I'll be glad to guarantee results.

    Until then, just evaluate me on the kids who meet that criteria.

  4. I was lucky enough to hear David Cohen speak at a progressive education conference earlier in the year - always interested in what he has to say.

  5. My 19-year-old's comment on the L.A. Times assault on teachers: "You mean they published teachers' pictures and said 'this is a sh*tty teacher'? That's the kind of courageous, boundary-crossing journalism that will save newspapers from the Internet."