CPS reverses course on controversial teacher applicant survey
By Rosalind Rossi Education Reporter July 21, 2011 7:08PM
Updated: July 22, 2011 2:15AM
Chicago Public Schools officials Thursday did an abrupt about-face on implementing a controversial teacher-applicant test and said TeacherFit scores would no longer be used to automatically blacklist potential teachers.
In an e-mail, Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard told principals they could use TeacherFit scores however they wanted, and would be free to hire candidates whom CPS officials previously had eliminated from the candidate pool based solely on their TeacherFit scores.
The Thursday 6 p.m. e-mail followed a Thursday Chicago Sun-Times story concerning the deluge of complaints to CPS about the hundreds of teacher candidates who had been told they were, in effect, blacklisted from job consideration based solely on their TeacherFit scores. The test claims to probe the “soft skills’’ — such as self-initiative and organization — needed to be a teacher.
The Sun-Times reported that deans of 22 Chicago area colleges of education, the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Principals Association had requested CPS meetings or placed phone calls to object to placing so much weight on one new test. Thirty percent of those who took TeacherFit since June had scored in the “red” — or unacceptable — zone under a cut-off set by CPS, not the test developer.
Principals and others questioned the reliability of the test, saying that scholarship winners, graduates of select education programs and “dream candidates’’ they had observed in action and wanted to hire were told they failed the test and would be barred from job consideration for 18 months.
Applicants themselves charged they had no idea from CPS’s online instructions for the multiple-choice survey that TeacherFit represented a do-or-die test.
Instead, several said, they followed the form’s instructions to be excruciatingly honest because their responses “might be verified at a later stage” and “applicants whose responses are found to be inaccurate or dishonest will be disqualified from further consideration.’’
“Now, I feel like I should have lied,’’ said Mia Lawrence, who said she was one of at least five graduates of National Louis University’s education program to be told they flunked TeacherFit.
Lawrence pointed to one TeacherFit question that asked “How do you feel about a job that would require you to regularly work after hours?” She said she probably selected ”inconvenient.” but may have chosen “not inconvenient” if she thought a job depended on it.
Chief CPS Human Capital Officer Alicia Winckler defended the use and validity of TeacherFit as a gatekeeper as recently as Wednesday, but also said officials were preparing a response to principal complaints.
Her new boss, Brizard, made clear he had considered principals’ comments Thursday in his e-mail, saying “We value your voice and hope that these actions are responsive to your feedback.’’
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said TeacherFit had been in the works before Brizard was tapped CEO in May, but it was not until Wednesday that he “got a deeper understanding of how the TeacherFit policy was impacting principals’ ability to make their own hiring decisions.
“After speaking with some of them personally, he decided [Thursday] to change the policy. He believes this system will serve as as critical tool for principals in their hiring process, but also believes it shouldn’t be the only tool they can use.’’
Kozminski Interim Principal Sandy Traback was thrilled Thursday that she was now free to hire a “dream candidate’’ who had failed TeacherFit. Traback said the candidate was on the dean’s list at Michigan State University, won glowing reviews from at least two administrators and impressed her as a talented special education teacher during her observation of the candidate as she taught summer school.
“I think Mr. Brizard made a very wise decision,’’ Traback said. “I’m really touched that he listened to principals.’’