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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Carolyn Abbott, The Best "Worst" 8th Grade Math Teacher In New York State


Anderson’s Math Team is going to State!

posted Feb 7, 2012 9:00 AM by Marcie Shaw   [ updated Feb 10, 2012 2:12 PM ]


Anderson's middle school Math Team came in second place overall in the Manhattan MathCounts competition and will be moving on to compete at the state level! At the Manhattan competition, held on Saturday, February 4, 2012 Anderson also won the trophy for "Most Improved School", for moving from 11th place last year to 2nd place this year. Team coach Carolyn Abbott, Anderson 7th and 8th grade Math teacher, deserves major credit for getting the team in such incredible shape over the last few months! 

Individual results were impressive: Max Fishelson (8th grade) was #2 in Manhattan overall, Sophia Zheng (8th grade) was #10 overall and Julia Hou (8th grade) was #11 overall. Steven Litvack-Winkler (7th grade) and Joseph Gelb (8th grade) scored high enough to have made the Top 16. Team members Nala Sharadjaya (7th grade), Justin Kim (7th grade), Audrey Lang (8th grade), Emily Redler (8th grade) and Irene Brogdon (6th grade) all scored amazingly, too, doing the team and The Anderson School very proud !

Sophia Zheng also won 3rd place in the "Countdown Round", an exciting, challenging Jeopardy-style live competition in front of the entire crowd of 500 spectators at the end of the afternoon.  

Congratulations and we wish our team all the best at the state competition!

The worst eighth-grade math teacher in New York City

Eye On Education


For 10 months, Carolyn Abbott waited for the other shoe to drop. In April 2011, Abbott, who teaches mathematics to seventh- and eighth-graders at the Anderson School, a citywide gifted-and-talented school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, received some startling news. Her score on the Teacher Data Report, the New York City Department of Education’s effort to isolate a teacher’s contribution to her students’ performance on New York State’s math and English Language Arts (ELA) tests in grades four through eight, said that 32 percent of seventh-grade math teachers and 0 percent of eighth-grade math teachers scored below her.
She was, according to this report, the worst eighth-grade math teacher in New York City, where she has taught since 2007.
“I was angry, upset, offended,” she said. Abbott sought out her principal, who reassured her that she was an excellent teacher and that the Teacher Data Reports bore no relation to her performance. But, the principal confided, she was worried; although she would enthusiastically recommend Abbott for tenure, the Teacher Data Report could count against her in the tenure process. With a new district superintendent reviewing the tenure recommendation, anything could happen.
Using a statistical technique called value-added modeling, the Teacher Data Reports compare how students are predicted to perform on the state ELA and math tests, based on their prior year’s performance, with their actual performance. Teachers whose students do better than predicted are said to have “added value”; those whose students do worse than predicted are “subtracting value.” By definition, about half of all teachers will add value, and the other half will not.
Carolyn Abbott was, in one respect, a victim of her own success. After a year in her classroom, her seventh-grade students scored at the 98th percentile of New York City students on the 2009 state test. As eighth-graders, they were predicted to score at the 97th percentile on the 2010 state test. However, their actual performance was at the 89th percentile of students across the city. That shortfall—the difference between the 97th percentile and the 89th percentile—placed Abbott near the very bottom of the 1,300 eighth-grade mathematics teachers in New York City.
How could this happen? Anderson is an unusual school, as the students are often several years ahead of their nominal grade level. The material covered on the state eighth-grade math exam is taught in the fifth or sixth grade at Anderson. “I don’t teach the curriculum they’re being tested on,” Abbott explained. “It feels like I’m being graded on somebody else’s work.”
The math that she teaches is more advanced, culminating in high-school level algebra and a different and more challenging test, New York State’s Regents exam in Integrated Algebra. To receive a high school diploma in the state of New York, students must demonstrate mastery of the New York State learning standards in mathematics by receiving a score of 65 or higher on the Regents exam. In 2010-11, nearly 300,000 students across the state of New York took the Integrated Algebra Regents exam; most of the 73 percent who passed the exam with a score of 65 or higher were tenth-graders.
Because student performance on the state ELA and math tests is used to calculate scores on the Teacher Data Reports, the tests are high-stakes for teachers; and because New York City uses a similar statistical strategy to rank schools, they are high-stakes for schools as well. But the tests arenot high-stakes for the eighth-graders at Anderson.
By the time they take the eighth-grade tests in the spring of the year, they already know which high school they will be attending, and their scores on the test have no consequences. “The eighth-graders don’t care; they rush through the exam, and they don’t check their work,” Abbott said. “The test has no effect on them. I can’t make an argument that it counts for kids. The seventh-graders, they care a bit more.”
The state tests, she believes, are poorly equipped to assess real mathematical knowledge, especially for high-performing students. “They’re so basic; they ask you to explain things that are obvious if you’re three years ahead,” she says. The Anderson students “understand it at a different level. They want to explain with equations, not words.” But the scoring of the free-response items on the tests emphasizes a formulaic response, with the scoring instructions often looking for a single keyword in a response to garner credit.
“They’re not accepting answers that are mathematically correct,” Abbott notes, “and accepting answers that aren’t mathematically correct.” And the multiple-choice questions?  “Multiple-choice questions don’t test thinking,” she declares. Knowing how to answer them is “just an art.”
When she taught PSAT prep classes while on the faculty at the Bronx High School of Science, she realized that she was “teaching how to eliminate the wrong answer, not how to get to the right answer.” She didn’t mind doing that outside the classroom—but in her classroom, “mathematics is about deep understanding, and enjoying the process.”
How do her students perform on the content that she actually does teach? This year, the 64 eighth-graders at Anderson she teaches are divided into two groups, an honors section and a regular section. All but one of the students in the honors section took the Regents Integrated Algebra exam in January; the other student and most of the regular-section students will take the exam in June. All of the January test-takers passed with flying colors, and more than one-third achieved a perfect score of 100 on the exam.
“They did phenomenally,” Abbott said. “If they did so well, I don’t see how they can say I added no value whatsoever.”
In mid-February, the courts authorized the public release of the Teacher Data Reports, and they were published in print and online by major media outlets in New York City. “It was humiliating,” Abbott said. “To be published online, and stay there forever—it felt like an invasion of privacy.” She was terrified about the possible backlash from parents.
But of the parents of the 128 seventh- and eighth-graders she is teaching this year, only one wrote to her school principal—to express appreciation for a number of things she had done in her classroom. Anderson parents are a notorious bunch; they’re like helicopter parents on steroids. “I’d be more worried about the parents whose students haven’t had me—their preconceived notions that I must be a bad teacher,” Abbott said. “They have this idea that I’m the worst eighth-grade math teacher in the city.”
This summer, New York State will release the new iteration of the Teacher Data Reports, ranking English and math teachers in grades four through eight all across the state on their contributions to their students’ scores on the state tests. For Carolyn Abbott, the numbers will be little more than a curiosity. She has decided to leave the classroom, and is entering the Ph.D. program in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall.
“I love to teach,” she says. And she loves mathematics. Ultimately, she decided, the mathematics was more important than the teaching, although she envisions teaching mathematics at the college level in the future. “It’s too hard to be a teacher in New York City,” she says. “Everything is stacked against you. You can’t just measure what teachers do and slap a number on it.”


This, like so many evaluations will fail.This one will fail with a big thud. In time, very soon actually, it will show it doesn’t work. Calm down teachers, this nonsense will drive everyone crazy for awhile, but this will change again. Let your voices be heard, but don’t get yourself crazy, like the people who send you these articles in the first place.
Write letters to all involved people, be heard!!! But don’t get yourself sick over this. After the load of lawsuits that will be filed all over the state, a more realistic evaluation system will be done. Sadly, we have to watch this one crash and burn first.
Wow. Just wow. And another fabulous teacher goes down in flames, leaving the students to suffer through some teacher next year who will bring them from 25% to 40% competency, thus “adding value”.
I had the pleasure of mentoring Carolyn for a few short months at the beginning of her career – she is a fabulous instructor and it is a testament to the tragedy of the way this education system is set up that she has been forced into another career.
First, she was the victim of harassment at Bronx Science by a vicious AP (who didn’t want her being mentored by the union rep) who was never punished by the DOE despite the findings of a neutral arbitrator… Now, she has been victimized the testing Teacher Data Reports.
The city has lost a wonderful teacher.
[...] BY Aaron Pallas posted May 15, 2012 at A Sociological Eye on Education [...]
UW-Madison has an excellent math ed program.
Aren’t there ways to correct for these kinds of circumstances? What do value-added methods about ceiling effects?
I teach at a high-achieving elementary school in Park Slope and we have the same problem — the most brilliant math students are penalized because they know how to use equations to represent complex math, and the test wants them to use words to describe very easy math. I’ve scored these tests, and the high achievers, who do computation in their heads, are at a huge disadvantage. “Explain your thinking” makes no sense when the kids are just identifying a geometric shape or doing basic subtraction or identifying an ABAB pattern. Their frustration is written all over their faces as they take the test. No one is even tracking the really difficult math they ARE capable of, so as a teacher I am penalized for “wasting time” pushing my high achieving students to excel. Before this system gets changed, a lot of NYC teachers are going to flee the schools.
[...] Pallas, Aaron.  ”The worst eighth grade math teacher in New York City.”  A Sociological Eye on Education.  May 15, 2012.  Retrieved from: [...]
This is an amazingly informative window into the insane testing world in which our public school kids and teachers now reside. It’s surreal to think that high achievers are being penalized by the testing system that was put into place in order to raise achievement! I wish Carolyn all the best in her future career, and lament the loss to the talented kids here in New York who need her and others like her.
[...] at Teachers College, Columbia University. He writes the Sociological Eye on Education blog — where this post first appeared — for The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, non-partisan education-news outlet [...]
We had a similar problem in our school district. All sophomores were given the geometry test to determine growth from 1st to 2nd semester. All juniors were given the Algebra II test. The problem is all of my sophomore and junior students are in Precalculus/Calculus honors class. Not only are they being judged on something they did two years ago, but my evaluation will be based on the growth they have shown, even though I do not teach the geometry in my Precalculus class. If the test does not measure what you actually are teaching in the class, how can you be marked down?? On the other hand we have some juniors who are still in Algebra I or Geometry, but they had to take the Algebra II test to determine growth and teacher effectiveness!! Who decides these idiotic measurement tools??

1 comment:

Unknown said...

My son has Ms. Abbott for 7th grade math this year at Anderson. I have to say she is a fantastic teacher! The NYC DOE teacher rating system is so ludicrous and a disservice to excellent teachers who have kids performing at the highest levels on the tests. The teachers are rated on student improvement. For many students who are performing at the highest levels on the state tests year after year, there is no room for improvement. What happens? The teachers get low scores because their kids' scores did not go up. How ridiculous is that? This rating system is a joke and will only drive away excellent teachers like Ms. Abbott which is a loss to our kids and school.