elijah hawkes

New York

City's accountability czar fields criticism at forum about testing

About 200 people attended a forum in Brooklyn Monday night about high-stakes testing. The architect of many of the metrics the city uses to assess teachers and measure student growth spent Monday evening defending his work against a steady stream of criticism from parents and educators. Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky sat on a three-person panel titled "High-Stakes Testing 101" hosted at The Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies and The Brooklyn New School. The panel included two principals, Long Island's Sean Feeney and Elijah Hawkes formerly of the James Baldwin School in Manhattan, who have publicly criticized the city's and state's use of testing data to measure student growth and evaluate teacher effectiveness. Hawkes was one of about 170 city principals to sign on to a petition Feeney authored against the state's use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. That system, in which student growth on standardized test scores count for at least 20 percent of teacher ratings, was officially signed into law last week in Albany. Polakow-Suransky said the parents and principals were right to have qualms about the new system. He said the tests currently in use are imperfect and acknowledged, as the principals' protest points out, the evaluation system allows for scenarios in which a teacher can have the full confidence of her principal yet still be rated ineffective if her students show zero growth. "I agree with you that principals should not ever be in this situation where ultimately their judgment gets trumped by a mechanistic formula," Polakow-Suransky said after Feeney raised the issue. "I think that's an important thing that we need to look at as we work to implement this." But for the most part, the department's second in command defended the city's accountability system against concerns that test scores are being used inappropriately and that longer tests are negatively affecting schools' curriculum and culture.