the blog of Carol Burris

A Young Teacher’s Voice: The Devastating Effects of Evaluation by Common Core Test Scores

The other day I received this email from a South Side graduate who became a teacher.  This young woman is brilliant–just the sort of person we want in our profession.  She is presently teaching in a Washington DC high school.  Read how she describes the effects of the evaluation of teachers by test scores, especially since the Common Core arrived.

I have protected her identity, because sadly, that is what must be done in times like these.  Read her story and share it. How can anyone claim that students benefit from these reforms?

Good Morning Dr. Burris,

I am not sure if you remember me, but I was a student at SSHS.  I went on to become a teacher and started my career right out of college at a high school in Washington DC.  In the four years since, I have seen what education reform has done to teaching and learning.

While I did not have any experience as a teacher prior to the introduction of common core, I have seen enough to know that this used to be a different game.  My first year of teaching, I felt incredible.  I worked in a school for students who struggled in mainstream classroom environments due to emotional or behavioral issues, but I had managed to figure out a way to reach them and make them excited about learning.  I found texts that not only challenged them academically, but also encouraged them to change the way they looked at the world.  I taught them the foundation skills they were missing and maintained a level of rigor throughout each lesson.

I was evaluated by my principal, assistant principal, and two “master educators” (unknown persons who show up in your classroom unannounced whenever they please).  I received a score of highly effective, which was to come with great recognition and a cash bonus. I was beyond elated.  My students were learning.  My students were excited.  I was learning and excited.  This seemed like great success, right?  Wrong.

After my students, who arrived reading at 2nd and 3rd grade levels, took the 9th grade DC CAS exams, my evaluation score dropped significantly.  No longer was I considered highly effective.  Their success in my classroom, while great, did not directly translate to the formulaic nature of the test; therefore, we were both unsuccessful. This didn’t just happen to me; it happened to all teachers in “testing grades.” For some teachers, this drop in scores meant that they were placed on probation, their pay was frozen at its current step value, or that they were simply pushed out of the system altogether.

My principal, though she worked SO hard to help us to improve the school culture and learning environment in our building, was soon under fire.  She was let go and replaced.  Under her replacement, the school culture/safety suffered, but teachers continued working.  Miraculously, we managed to improve our test scores.  Imagine my surprise when that still somehow negatively affected my overall evaluation score.

The teacher evaluation system in DC is a direct product of the damage that education reform is doing to real education.   Master educators and principals are encouraged not to give out too many “highly effective ratings.” Our value is based largely on test scores and our overall scores are calculated using a combination of a rubric and an “Individual Value Added” formula that we do not have access to.   It’s a process that I think fosters a culture of “teaching to the test” rather than really teaching young people to think and be curious, innovative forces in the world.

So many teachers are so frustrated, but so many administrators are following along because this is the mandate that has been given.  I have since moved schools, but common core hasn’t gotten any better.  The PARCC exam left many of my students frazzled and discouraged.  As teachers, we are struggling to keep up with what is required of us, both according to that test and our high stakes evaluation systems.  It is clear to both us and the students that this just isn’t working, but it’s not a truth that many want to hear and/or face.

I first heard about your work on this front when a coworker asked me if I had ever heard of you.  I was confused at first because I wasn’t sure if the Carol Burris everyone was buzzing about was really Dr. Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School.  Sure enough, after some quick research, I realized it really was you.  I said of course I had heard of you and that I had actually been a student of yours.  My coworker said, “your school must have been amazing.  She’s standing up for all of us.”  I told her that she was right: that it was, and that you are.

I may have been a bratty kid.  I may not have always understood you when I was a teenager.  However, when I tell you that I am so proud to have gone to high school with you as my principal, it is the truth.  You had our backs then, as students (even though we may not have always realized it), and you have our backs now, as teachers.  I am so grateful to you for taking the position you have and for standing on the front lines defending teaching and learning as it should be. From RVC to DC, your voice is heard and appreciated.  Thank you for all that you do.


27 Responses to “A Young Teacher’s Voice: The Devastating Effects of Evaluation by Common Core Test Scores”

  1. celiaoyler

    So encouraging to read this teacher’s comments about real teaching and real learning. And so heart-warming to read her tribute to you. This teacher and other new teachers may want to hook up with The Young Teachers Collective.

  2. Janice Little Strauss

    While this is such a sad story, I echo this young lady’s sentiments in saying thank-you, Dr. Burris, for working so hard to help preserve our public school system. Your work is much appreciated!

  3. Lloyd Lofthouse

    Before I say what I’m thinking right now, I want to mention that I read “Child 44” by Tom Rob Smith and then saw the film. “Child 44” is about Stalinist Russia and the main character is a KGB agent who eventually sees the system for what it is and tries to do something about it.

    Now I will say what I was thinking as I read this post and that young teacher’s letter.

    Stalin would be proud of the corporate eduction reformers—for instance, Bill Gates, the Walton family, Eli Broad and the greedy Hedge Fund freaks—and what they are doing—the methods and tactics the reformsters are using comes right of of Stalin’s play book when he ruled the Soviet Union. If you want to know what I mean, you’ll have to read “Child 44” or see the film. Sorry!

    As an author, I could lift the plot for “Child 44” with few adjustments and plug it in to what is happening to teachers and children in the U.S. public schools and write a novel that would pretty much match.

  4. Anthony J. Colesanti

    You are right. I have been in education for over forty years , and I have never seen any concept or theory as terrible as common core. It is demoralizing to the students as well as the teachers. My son teaches at Dr. Barris’s school and they are very unhappy with the situation. This is a giant step back for American education.. They are fighting it and hope to follow Governor Christie’s lead and opt out before it is too late.
    Sincerely ,
    Anthony J. Colesanti

  5. Anthony J. Colesanti

    sorry about the typo on Dr. Buris’s name.
    I stand corrected.
    Thank you
    Tony Colesanti

    • KelleyAnn

      I hate to break it to you, but Christie has NOT opted out. His comments the other day were misdirection, smoke and mirrors, if you will. He’s taking a hit right now because of the pension, so he is pretending to side with teachers, parents, and students who know Common Core is CCRAP. Unfortunately, he’s talking out his ass like he usually does. How can he say he’s getting rid of Common Core but keeping the PARCC?! That makes no sense since the PARCC tests the Common Core. Trust me, I would love for this to be true. My 11-year-old daughter and I have been fighting for this very thing for 2 years now. We need everyone in NJ to continue to fight and not fall for Christie’s lies.

  6. Jake Jacobs

    DETACH NOW: The hiring crisis is a really big issue, but it seems that 90% of the public has no idea what’s going on. In September of 2013, the states that took Race to the Top money started attaching test scores to teacher evaluations, an idea cooked up in the basement of ALEC that Obama decided to embrace. It has been a drastic mistake and the junk science behind the metrics has been exposed so thoroughly that it’s been written out of the latest US Senate bill to reauthorize NCLB, letting states opt out.

    Teachers have been trained that we must “differentiate” because all students are unique, they learn differently, they are like snowflakes. This is true, and so our jobs have become 100 times more complex as we plan for individual students instead of whole classes, using “universal design” or “multiple entry points” or “Gardner’s intelligences”. We get this.

    Yet in this same environment, the federal government assesses teachers via massively arbitrary, inaccurate broad-brushing. We give standardized tests that are one-size-fits all with corresponding curriculum expectations that force every 3-8th grade class, school and district in all these states to use cookie-cut standards that make math and ELA more important than anything else. This directly contradicts our training, experience and best practices.

    After two years, we have enough data and research to show Obama’s “growth models” are horrible for tracking teacher effectiveness, with error rates beyond 50% that can make black look white, up seem like down and popular master teachers appear to be dead weight. The policy goes out of it’s way to ignore whole-child factors like poverty in order to place responsibility for outcomes onto teachers. My evaluation, for example dropped from ;’effective’ to ‘developing’ solely because of my students’ Common Core math scores – but the sad joke is I teach Art, not math.

    Despite the expert testimony pointing to flaws, the polling, the opt-outs and the protests, states like NY have doubled down on federal “value-added measures” and refuse to revisit the evidence, even as legislators, parent groups, the Board of Regents, unions and rank-and-file teachers all call for an immediate review of the metrics.

    When officials refuse to respond to evidence or constituents, it becomes clear this is about more than education policies or schools. This, unfortunately, is about class war and the influence of rich or corporate donors onto politicians. They don’t want better schools or higher test scores, they want worse schools and lower test scores. This is because “failing schools” create the conditions for takeover of local control, or “receivership” plans (NY’s new law now has 17 school districts facing receivership.

    Their broader goals are to suppress wages and decrease benefits like public pensions. They want to break labor unions and bring market-based education to every district, allowing Wall Street investors and private vendors to offer all kinds of alternatives to public education and to kill democracy.

    WHAT TO DO: The tone-deafness in Albany is a clear signal that the politics are set, so only ‘voting the bums out’ will fix anything. The first priority is to wake people up – we need parents engaged, especially in the inner cities. Sadly, not nearly enough teachers are even engaged. But the potential is there, if we can galvanize parents and teachers to understand what’s going on to demand better.

    With this, we’ll need candidates for office who reject corporate influence and unmask the propaganda that passes for campaign rhetoric. With good candidates and engaged parents, we can save public education so teachers can teach and students are no longer exploited. We must detach for-profit tests to teacher evaluations, and in order to do this, we must detach corporate money from our political campaigns.

  7. Brian Davison

    Ms. Burris, I am quite astonished that so many educators continue to make fools of themselves on these blog sites like yours and Diane Ravitch’s. Let’s analyze this letter from the young teacher as if we were grading a paper in an ELA class.

    1. The teacher claims to be an effective teacher without providing any proof whatsoever. She cites some good observation scores, but since we know that virtually 99%+ of all observation evaluations are always highly positive, we know those can be very misleading (in Loudoun County the number is 99.5% effective).

    2. The teacher claims that she just “knows” she is getting through to these kids and that kids who were previously not engaged are now eager to learn and study. If this were remotely true, those kids would have shown progress on the standardized tests and her VAMs would have been great. Note that often teachers of disadvantaged kids can get great VAMs not necessarily because they are great teachers of the information, but simply because they “connect” with kids and get them to try for the first time. That connection should be rewarded. Clearly, that was not the case with this teacher even though she self-reported as much.

    3. The teacher is surprised that her VAMs were not very good. Note that VAMs don’t measure achievement so her disadvantaged kids could have still failed the test overall and made great progress. In that case, she would have received high VAM scores and received potentially a $20-30K bonus.

    4. The teacher is surprised that “improved test scores” didn’t result in a higher VAM score. The teacher clearly has no clue about “growth” vs “achievement”. VAMs are based off growth and depends on the characteristics of the students. If the scores improved simply because the kids were more capable (less disadvantaged), the VAMs should not have improved. Teachers complain about being judged poorly when they teach disadvantaged kids (VAMs don’t do that though) but want to take the credit when the scores of more affluent kids are naturally higher. It doesn’t work that way.

    This letter is neither persuasive nor supported with any facts. At best, it would have received a “C”.

    Next, let’s turn our attention to you. You put this letter up on your blog without asking any skeptical questions. You claim you want to teach kids to be curious and think “critically”, to be skeptical of any one-sided argument. Yet you take this kids’ letter “hook, line and sinker” without even thinking it through. How could we believe you are anything but a union activist promoting the “opt-out” nonsense? Do you have any idea how hypocritical and foolish letters like this make you appear?

    The only line in the letter that is undeniably true is the one about the former student being a “bratty kid”.

    • carolcorbettburris

      I do not mind your personal attacks, to which I will not respond. As my mentor once told me, “if you take the bait you’re a fish,”
      Insulting a young, talented woman, who by the way was never “a brat”, is in very poor taste. Not a good way to make a point.

      • virginiasgp

        How did I insult her? I simply pointed out that her essay was less than persuasive and included virtually no factual basis for her conclusions.

        The only one I may have insulted is you. You simply passed her emotional letter off as “proof” that VAMs don’t work without any evidence whatsoever. You are supposedly an award-winning principal but in your blog entry on the “Answer Sheet”, we see your true colors as you simply complain about the methodology of the rankings when they don’t go your way. It was also misleading as you wanted to take credit for 8th headers’ test scores in high school. As an experienced educator, you would have received an F for this blog entry. No factual data whatsoever.

        I guess the only good news is that you will be retiring this year. We (knowledgeable parents and STEM leaders nationwide) are going to fix our educational system by getting great teachers into core classes and letting them innovate. Great teachers do not mind being honestly and objectively evaluated. Talent loves talent more than anything. I would suggest you sit back and watch but the choice is yours.

    • Jake Jacobs

      Brian, what is your proof that VAMs actually measure growth? Just because VAM’s well paid architects and some astroturfers claim so? Please provide the evidence of it’s efficacy because the relevant experts say it should be pulled. In fact, it’s headed to court in NY where it’s failure in the field will be exposed, following something of a “pile-on” by dozens of state superintendents. You haven’t convinced me that you are a credible judge of evaluation systems because your notably hysterical anti-teacher rant reveals you, but your ad hominem attack was just classless. Was your point just to vent or did you think you were being effective?


      • virginiasgp

        Well first, Jake Jacobs, why don’t you ask Carol Burris to allow my prior response to her reply to be posted? I see Carol is not too fond of withering critiques.

        As for VAMs, do you understand what a partial derivative is? Have you read any of the research? Look for my posts all over WaPo (Virginia SGP) and you will learn something. Why is it that humanities majors never understand VAMs? I guess you never took calculus so you really don’t understand the formulas. And you thought calculus had no real purpose in life, eh.

        Btw, I am the one who is forcing Virginia to release SGP data. Hopefully, teacher names will be associated with those SGPs by the summer. Oh, you are most welcome!

    • Jake Jacobs


      My suggestion would be to check your bullying and lay out your facts. You lost me even before you called this brand new teacher a brat, which is a shame because I try to learn from those with opposing views.

      When you wrongly guessed that I didn’t take calc or didn’t understand VAM, it was a good example of how assumptions and predictions lead to inaccurate conclusions, just like VAM, where trying to force unique individual students into a small set of cookie-cut designations ends up with arbitrary and capricious results. And I can assure you less students will be taking calc in light of the imposed “common” mediocrity.

      • virginiasgp

        Jake, now that Carol stopped blocking my comments, I’ll be happy to respond.

        Models are designed to predict outcomes. VAMs do just that. So why don’t we bet. I’ll put up $10k if you will. To the charity of choice of the winner. Here’s the bet.

        We take 1000 students at random from any system. We each pick out 200 each from that pool. The winner is the one whose students gain the most on a standardized test over a given year.

        I will pick mine exclusively based on the VAM scores of the teachers and principals. I’m assuming you won’t even look at the VAM because you don’t think it’s reliable, right. Pick yours off of teacher evaluations or whatever made up rating you want.

        Pretty simple, right. That’s how science basically works. At some point you pretenders have to be shown as the charlatans that you are. The only thing you want is no accountability for teachers, more pay for the existing teachers in the union, and more teachers in the union (aka “smaller class sizes”). You couldn’t care less about whether kids actually learn.

        So are you taking my bet or is a concrete hypothesis too “subjective” for you? Hey, maybe Carol’s “charity” (tax-free cushy job) could get a new infusion if you are courageous enough.

        Btw, the kid called herself a brat. I just noticed she was correct.

      • carolcorbettburris

        I never blocked your comments. I am quite busy and frankly do not check the blog all the time. I do not have a tax free cushy job…. I have no idea what you are talking about. Are you referring to Schools of Opportunity? I do that as a volunteer, I do not get paid a cent. In fact, I contribute. I do not mind if you comment, but your comments are mean spirited. If they continue to include personal attacks, I will block you.

      • virginiasgp

        Btw, if you are so great at math, why don’t you explain VAMs to us. First, explain them in mathematical terms (calculus) as Chetty , Hanushek or I would. Then, you are free to disparage them as you like. But I’m not even sure you could explain them in our terms (aka reality). Good luck.

        Oh, I wouldn’t ask the Spanish teacher who hosts this blog to help. She likes to criticize VAMs but couldn’t even begin to describe how they work. I’m sure she can write a great “opt-out” persuasive essay in Spanish though.

      • virginiasgp

        Carol, so everyone else had their comments “moderated” as well? You know, my local school board tried that angle as well. The chairman didn’t realize his attempt to block my question on private sector equivalent pay would be highlighted to the world in real-time. Seems like you had the same experience once you realized I posted a screenshot of you blocking my post on Val’s WaPo blog.

        Did you have any response to my comments on the lack of data supporting your prior student’s letter? Or do you think the opt-out leaders should be exempted from critiques?

      • virginiasgp

        For folks that didn’t know, both my original post and the ones today appeared instantly on Carol’s blog. However, once Carol responded to my original comment a week ago, my comments became “moderated”. That means they wouldn’t show up until Carol “approved” them. She did not for about a week as others posted replies to me that I could not answer. When Carol finally realized I had provided evidence of her blocking my comments on Val’s blog, she “unmodetated” my comments so now they are back to appearing instantly.

        Oh, and Carol, just in case you were thinking I’d “modrrating” or deleting these comments, they are already captured for eternity. I look forward to a lively debate. One that uses facts and data going forward instead of emotion and obfuscation.

  8. Valentina

    Thanks for sharing this story. These perspectives and experiences are crucial to policymaking going forward. One point of confusion or clarification — DC isn’t actually using test scores in their educator evaluations this year (

    Does the teacher here have thoughts on how this year’s evaluations are impacting the culture at her school?

  9. sydneymitchell17

    Thank you for sharing this! I think it is absolutely heartbreaking to read this type of story. It is not fair for teachers or students to be evaluated solely on a test. I do not think that any test can accurately capture the effectiveness of a teacher or accurately measure the capabilities of a student. I think that we as a nation need another way to measure student knowledge that is not a standardized test, because lets face it, not all students are the same, so why test them as if they are?


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