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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

UMass Faculty Member Protests Termination

Published: September 28, 2012
Section: News

Last spring Barbara Madeloni, a lecturer in education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, began to protest the outsourcing of teacher assessments to the company Pearson. These protests gained much momentum as her students also became involved. Madeloni then met with administrators at UMass by their request and was told that her contract would no longer be renewed after August of 2013, according to The Boston Globe.

Madeloni argues that this occurred as a direct result of her protests and it is an issue of academic freedom. Officials at UMass responded that the termination was a coincidence and that they had been planning not to bring Madeloni back for some time so that they could hire a new tenure track faculty member, according to The Globe.

According to McCormick, the Pearson Teacher assessment system had not yet been implemented at UMass Amherst and was currently only in the testing stages. With this system, which has become the standard for teacher licensing in several states, professors must take a lengthy test, upload their lesson plans and record a short video that is submitted for grading.

Madeloni’s largest concern with this system, she told The Globe, was that it was not being assessed by the university itself but rather by someone hired specifically for the test. She further argued that there is no universal teaching standard that can be scored, so it should be left in the hands of university faculty members and not Pearson.

In response to the news, Madeloni has been gathering supporters and requesting that they send letters of protest to Christine McCormick, the Dean of Education at UMass. In addition, Madeloni has begun an online petition against her termination, which has been signed by more than 1,500 people. The UMass professors are also helping to look into Madeloni’s contract to see if any of its terms were violated by this termination.

McCormick stresses that UMass has been trying to raise the ratio of tenure-track professors since 2009 in an attempt to raise academic freedom and not lower it. Tenured professors cannot be fired easily, based on their opinions.

Pearson’s assessment program, however, is under fire not just from Madeloni. According to The New York Times, the Pearson Teacher Assessment Program has induced criticism from teachers who feel that a take-home test and two 10-minute videos do not represent their teaching. One masters student training to be a biology professor found the process demeaning.

Often, instructors are compelled to reduce 270 minutes of class time into less than 20 minutes, which presents significant obstacles both for the professors themselves as well as for the graders of the test who must divine whether or not a professor is qualified to be licensed.

The test is meant to be used as a supplement to in-class observation and more long-term methods of assessment but in many states considering adopting the program, Pearson would be the finish line. Student teachers who fail to pass the Pearson assessment would not receive their license as teachers.