The option to opt-out, until it happens to you.

After months of waiting to be heard, the New Mexico legislature is back in session and (we) teachers are ready to exercise our voices!

There are many topics up for debate in this session, some of which were discussed in a recent NY Times article, and least of all include the confirmation of our Secretary of Education Designate (Hanna Skandera), increased “under the line” spending, and merit pay for teachers.

It’s a scary time to be an educator in New Mexico.

But the suggested bill that I am most interested in is the opt-out bill: SB34, proposed by Senator Keller.

For the first time this year, 50% of teacher evaluations in my district are determined by student standardized test scores, according to the Value Added Model.

My eye literally started twitching as I typed that phrase: Value Added Model.

The VAM has been hotly debated across the country, which Diane Ravitch has dubbed the “Value Added Nonsense,”  as early as September of 2012!

I’ll explain, using my personal experience.  The majority of the classes I teach are AP Literature and Composition and each year I teach a section or two of Regular English 11.  I have some of the most amazing and brilliant students in these classes.  (I know all teachers say this BUT I really mean it!)

The state VAM formula requires that we only use scores from the classes in which we teach 90% of our students.  Great for me! Right?  Those are the high-performing AP students.

Wrong.

50% of my evaluation will be determined by their growth on our (newly developed and un-vetted) English 12 End of Course exam—which, by the way, means absolutely nothing to them for graduation.  They must show growth from the previous year’s (newly developed and un-vetted) English 11 End of Course exam—which was required for graduation.

Here’s the catch.  What if these kids did their absolute best on last year’s exam?  Which I know they did, as it was required for graduation!  And now how are they supposed to show growth from last year to this year?

Beats me.

Furthermore, the state has made it clear that while students may use their AP scores (of a 3 or better) to fulfill the standardized testing requirement for their graduation, I may not use their test data as part of my VAM score.

I’m still waiting for someone to explain that to me.

And when my colleagues and I attended a town hall meeting last November, we asked for clarification as to what would happen if all of our students opted out of the test, at our urging.  And our Secretary of Education Designate’s response was that it would be “unethical.”

Unethical! 

To suggest that students opt out of tests that are administered solely for my supposed benefit—to prove my worth as an educator.

 To prove that I have ADDED VALUE to their education.  

It makes me absolutely sick.

And now for the KO punch.  A student told me that he was opting out of the English 12 EOC in my class, a decision with which I whole-heartedly agree.  As he told me this, a colleague standing nearby piped up proudly, “That’s thanks to me!”  She had already explained to him how to opt-out of testing this year, as he had already fulfilled the  graduation testing requirements (which have quadrupled in the last two years).

And here’s the conflict that I cannot reconcile.  How can I urge my students to opt out (as I so badly want to) when I need their data to prove my “worth” as an educator?

And my eye is twitching again.

But I don’t think there is an easy answer, other than maybe to go to the doctor to have my eye looked at and to pray the rosary that the NM legislators gets their heads on straight and give the boot to Skandera. Oh, and to exercise my teacher voice!