The powers that be keep taking their education reform agenda to new lows, even as they speak at the same time about raising standards, a la the ever-controversial Common Core State Standards. In reality, most teachers held their students to high account well before the government and business folks like Bill Gates decided they needed fixing and nationalizing.

Other Obama administration reforms include: Growing numbers of charter schools–both brick and mortar as well as virtual–online Common Core-based standardized assessments, education data collection, teacher evaluations based on value added measures, handwriting replaced with keyboarding instruction, and on and on.

And now comes their latest “innovation,” the ETS® The National Observational Teaching Exam, aka NOTE. Its mission: Student teacher evaluation and certification.

It’s the brainchild of TeachingWorks, which received a $6.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to establish a Teacher Preparation Transformation Center, and ETS, the Education Testing Service.

The former describes NOTE as “a comprehensive suite of innovative measures designed for use in making the initial licensure decision for teacher candidates… and provide important insights into the knowledge, skills, and competencies required to enhance student learning.”

ETS sees it as “truly ground breaking” and “an innovative assessment program designed to evaluate a prospective teacher’s ability to translate their knowledge of content and of teaching into effective practice in the classroom”

What exactly does all that high-minded rhetoric translate into? That’s the question Michigan State University’s Dr. Mitchell Robinson posed when attending a presentation/informational session on the assessment. Among her discoveries:

1.      The system can generate no more than 5 “student” avatars at a time—as if that reflects our often 30+ student-filled classrooms.

2.      These avatars are controlled NOT by knowledgeable educators but “interactors” wearing headsets and moving joysticks to operate them.

3.      Voice modulating software gets the avatars sounding like children.

4.      Modules consist of 7- to 12-minute “on demand” teaching episodes, whereby the student teacher must “elicit correct responses.”

In other words, NOTE evaluates student teachers on how well they “teach” no more than 5 cartoon-like avatar “students” at a time in 7- to 12-minute so-called classroom experiences that make it “harder for students to cheat.”

Pass this “high-leverage” teacher entrance exam and you’re licensed; fail it and opt for a retake at a cost of $400.

Truth be told, college supervisors are already in place–master teachers in their own right–who make qualification determinations after an entire semester of observing their assigned student teachers numerous times in real-time classrooms and for an entire semester, coupled with instruction and mentoring.  No NOTE and its joystick manipulated avatars required.