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Evaluating teachers

This is sure to be contentious, but I think it’s the right direction.

Teachers in Houston ISD could lose their jobs for failing to improve student test scores under a controversial proposal slated for a school board vote Thursday.

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier’s plan to tie teachers’ job evaluations to their students’ progress on standardized tests would put Houston among a small but growing number of school districts pushing to make it easier to oust ineffective teachers.

[…]

Under the HISD proposal, teachers’ value-added marks would be included in their job appraisals starting next school year. The policy does not say how much weight would be given to the value-added data in the overall evaluation.

Teachers could lose their jobs based on the data. The proposal would allow HISD not to renew a teacher’s contract because of “insufficient academic growth as reflected by value-added scores.”

[…]

[Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon] said her concern with the proposed changes center on its use of the value-added method, which she considers flawed, too complex and not transparent.

“If you’re going to fire me, it ought to be for something that I know how you calculate it,” she said. “You can’t show me this number predicts whether I’m a good teacher.”

I think the principle that poor teachers need to be, in the words of Trustee Paula Harris, professionally developed or out of the system, is reasonably uncontroversial. That said, it’s fair to be suspicious of the methodology used to determine which teachers fall into that category. As the Trib reminds us, the much-ballyhooed merit pay program was a bust. I don’t know what the best way to do this is – for all I know, this is as good as anything – but it’s imperative to get it right. I applaud Superintendent Grier for swinging for the fences, and I hope Fallon and her cohorts keep pushing him and the board to make this as fair and transparent as possible. I’ve posted a statement from the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, as well as an email from former Trustee Natasha Kamrani, beneath the fold.

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten today called for a comprehensive teacher evaluation system that stresses long-term improvement of teaching quality based on professional standards, best practices and use of meaningful student data.

Weingarten outlined components of how a teacher evaluation system should work, instead of the current hodge-podge of evaluation methods that haven’t produced a fair or consistent means of assessing teaching quality. Weingarten criticized the use of student test scores as a sole means of assessing teaching quality. “This new process will allow for informed evaluations, rather than simply offering a snapshot from a brief classroom visit or one standardized test score,” she said. “You have to have a system where you’re looking at student growth.”

Texas AFT President Linda Bridges said that AFT’s recommendations are exactly what are needed in Texas, where some districts are inappropriately trying to tie standardized test scores to individual teachers. “Houston ISD’s recent push to use test scores for evaluating teachers for possible termination is nothing more than a district looking for easy answers,” Bridges said. “A productive evaluation system will look at every aspect of the teacher’s professional practice, not just a factory model based on test scores that doesn’t reflect the true quality of the teacher.”

Bridges said Weingarten’s plan for multiple means of evaluation— classroom observations, portfolio reviews, appraisal of lesson plans, and student work—is the key to the well-rounded evaluation system needed. “In addition to a well-rounded evaluation system that reflects the entirety of the teachers’ work, we also need a well-rounded system for assessing student performance, one that measures the students’ growth in multiple dimensions under a teacher, not just how they did on one test day,” Bridges said.

“We’re willing and able to work with districts like Houston on developing an evaluation system that actually helps develop teachers professionally and ensures teaching quality, but a starting point will be abandoning the invalid reliance solely on test scores and instead embracing a comprehensive system that makes sense,” Bridges added.

Texas AFT represents more than 63,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.4-million-member American Federation of Teachers.

Dear Friends of Education Reform,

Today marked my first HISD board agenda review as a retired board member. To be honest, I didn’t miss it. This is largely because today, of all days, I feel very confident that HISD is in good hands….specifically, in the hands of people who are putting the interests of our children first. This is evidenced by an upcoming vote of the board on an amendment to board policy to include data on student growth in the District’s teacher evaluation system (our current evaluation instrument rates a teacher on relatively insignificant items such as “makes use of technology in the classroom,” which is all fine and well, but doesn’t show that students have learned a whole lot….). As you know, we have been collecting “value-added data” on our teachers for several years now. The District recognizes that teachers do not get to select their students. Thus, they are not measuring teacher performance by reference to student passage or failure of a test. Teacher effectiveness is measured by the extent to which students in a teacher’s class improve upon each student’s prior years’ performance.

In short, the powerful influence of teachers is documented in study after study. The most extensive research—researcher Bill Sanders’ examination of the entire Tennessee public school system—shows that students who are matched with strong teachers for three consecutive years achieve 50 percent more than students who are assigned to weak teachers. In fact, students who remain with strong teachers erase the achievement gap associated with race, ethnicity, and income within three to five years. If we operated according to what the researchers already know and keep telling us, we could eliminate our achievement gap and begin leveling the field in terms of educational outcomes for all children within the decade. This is HUGE! However, as a result of significant political challenges in this area, there has been little movement among school districts and states to adopt policies that tie human capital practices to student achievement.

NOT SO IN HISD! The latest news indicates that the amendment to board policy will pass easily! And before I go one step further in this e-mail, let me simply ask that today, you thank HISD’s School Board and Superintendent for being courageous, for being bold and for putting children first!

Now, onward….I’ve got a few articles that I’ve cut and pasted below that will help you see the full picture of what the issues are around teacher effectiveness.

THE DATA

First, and most importantly, the data. Take a look at the link below which will direct you to Eric Hanushek’s essay from “Creating a New Teaching Profession.” I’ve cut and pasted some particularly important parts of the essay below

http://edpro.stanford.edu/hanushek/admin/pages/files/uploads/Hanushek%202009%20CNTP%20ch%208.pdf

From Page 4:

“The aggregate picture is consistent with a variety of other studies indicating that resources alone have not yielded any systematic returns in student performance (Hanushek 2003). The character of reform efforts—at least until recently—can largely be described as “same operations with greater intensity.” Thus, pupil–teacher ratios and class size have fallen dramatically, teacher experience has increased, and teacher graduate degrees have grown steadily, but these have not translated into higher student achievement. On top of these resources, a variety of programs have been introduced with limited aggregate success. The experience of the past several decades vividly illustrates the importance of true reform—that is, reform that actually improves student achievement.”

From Page 7

“The implications of these differences are dramatic. Let us consider the impact of low-quality, or ineffective, teachers on student achievement. If the average learning growth each academic year is one grade-level equivalent, the estimates of variations in teacher quality indicate that the least effective 5 percent of teachers see gains that are at best two-thirds of a grade-level equivalent. The bottom 1 percent of teachers achieve no more than one-half of a grade-level equivalent in annual gains.”

And from pages 8 and 9:

“The estimates given here need to be put into the policy context. Consider a school with 30 typical teachers. These estimates suggest that eliminating the bottom two or three could boost student achievement up to the level of Canada’s students. This kind of policy is very consistent with the McKinsey evaluation of the policies found in high-performing school systems around the world (Barber and Mourshed 2007). Their evaluation suggests that the best school systems do not allow ineffective teachers to remain in the classroom for long. 7 These conclusions are also consistent with more-local evidence, such as that for New York City, in Kane, Rockoff, and Staiger (2006) and the related policy prescriptions in Gordon, Kane, and Staiger (2006). Policies of making active decisions on retention and tenure are, of course, alien to the current school system. A number of states currently have laws and regulations that lead to tenure decisions as early as two years into a teacher’s career, with the mode being just three years (National Association of State Boards of Education 1997, National Council on Teacher Quality 2007). On top of that, the teacher evaluation process as typically seen is very cursory (Toch and Rothman 2008). Nonetheless, these are inconsistent with providing a quality education to all students, because some students must necessarily be relegated to these ineffective, and damaging, teachers.”

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6 Comments

  1. Amerloc says:

    I think your earlier post (http://offthekuff.com/wp/?p=25099) helps make it contentious 😉

  2. Kent says:

    I teach science at a large suburban HS in Central Texas and I can’t imagine how this is possibly going to work.

    What tests are they planning to use. TAKS scores? Let’s think about that for a moment. I teach Physics I which is a junior level class. In Texas juniors must pass the science TAKS (and all the other TAKS) to graduate. If they fail in the spring of their junior year they have multiple chances to retake it until graduation.

    I teach the lowest level physics class offered at my school. The great majority of my students will pass TAKS and graduate but I have mainstreamed special ed kids and recent immigrants with language issues and a variety of other kids who are unlikely to pass. Down the hall our department head teaches pre-AP and AP physics to a group of kids who could have passed the science TAKS in their sleep as 7th graders. He gets the national merit scholars, and all the kids bound for science and engineering programs at the state’s top universities. Across the hall there are two teachers who work as a team teaching mainly special ed and learning disabled students, some of whom walk into class not knowing as much math as my 1st grade daughter. Yesterday I saw one kid in their classroom working on his “threes” as in 3×1, 3×2, 3×3 etc.

    Now let’s consider the TAKS itself. There is a currently single science TAKS test taken by 10th and 11th grade students that is about 40% biology, 20% chemistry, 20% physics and 20% general “nature of science” questions. In our district, biology is a 9th grade class chemistry is a 10th grade class and physics is a 11th grade class. So I am teaching physics to a group of students who have been pre-selected to be average to low average students and they are going to be given a high-stakes test that is going evaluate 40% what they learned as 9th graders (perhaps at some other school or even some other state or country), 20% what they learned as 10th graders and 20% what they learned in my class. And that test is going to be used to provide a measure of my ability as a teacher?

    Finally let’s consider the testing schedule. 9th grade students are not TAKS tested in science so biology teachers don’t have to do TAKS review or wonder how their kids will do on TAKS. 10th grade students take the science TAKS so chemistry teachers have to drill and do TAKS review and wonder how their kids will recall what they learned or did not learn of biology in 9th grade. But the 10th grade TAKs is a no-stakes test for the kids and they know it. So many, especially the already low performers and lazy kids do not bother to make much of an effort on it. It affects their school’s ratings but does not affect them individually if they blow it off and sleep through the test. So they don’t bother to give their best effort. 11th grade students have to pass the science TAKS to graduate. So most are motivated to at least do well enough to pass. And they take the review somewhat seriously. But they are being tested on a lot of material that they haven’t seen since 9th grade biology. In most schools science TAKS scores go up dramatically between 10 and 11th grades because the kids know they need to pass to graduate. So a lot of 11th grade physics teachers might look like they have brought about substantial improvements in their students when nothing of the sort has happened. The kids just know they need to pass the 11th grade test but not the 10th grade test. Then there are the teachers who teach 12 grade elective science classes like AP physics, AP biology, AP chemistry, and various other electives for which there is not state test. How are they to be measured. Is the state or school district going to subject outgoing seniors with a whole new battery of expensive standardized tests to evaluate the quality of the teachers who teach primarily 12 grade students? Then there are all the art, music, computer, health, PE, career tech, and other teachers who teach subjects that are not tested by the state. The TAKS only covers four subject ares: science, math, language arts and social studies. Nothing else.

    That said, it is very possible to identify and evaluate poor and excellent teachers. It takes good experienced administrators spending lots and lots of time in the classroom evaluating what is going on. Standardized test scores are virtually useless as a measure of teacher quality for the reasons I explained.

  3. […] and others is beneath the fold. Their objections are similar to those of the HFT regarding the teacher evaluation proposal – specifically, they object to things like more standardized tests. Perry’s objection […]

  4. […] here and here. The unions object to this for a variety of reasons, including a lack of clarity about how […]

  5. Jerry Hinds says:

    They are CHILDREN!!!! Not widgets, what makes a great educational experience and how can we help teachers? Get all of the enourmously important grossly neglected work off the teacher’s plate, such as Counseling.

    If the district really, really wants to improve the scores of all children, why are there NO counselors in elementary schools? So, Oscar’s dad who just got laid off or worse arrested, or Sarah’s mom who’s addicted to drugs, or Belle, who’s being raised by a grandmother with Alzheimer’s has someone to turn to…there’s no food in the house, they’re living in the car, the list goes on….because right now, the ONLY PERSON who is consistently available in the district is the TEACHER. NOT THE SCOREKEEPER, the TEACHER.

    Get a clue, if we expect students to care about themselves, we should CARE about more than their test scores and put priorities first…their mental well-being affects their learning and their scores. If you change the teacher’s primary focus off the wel-being of the whole child and place it on a test score, YOU have FAILED NOT THE TEACHER!

    Every time I hear an official of the school district or board share an view about what children need, I want to throw-up because I know they are doing NOTHING to get the counselors back schools, they give most of the money to their executive management and mid-management staff in pay and bonuses.

    Probably most teachers are shaking their heads about this entire fiasco, Rome is burning and the new staff has decided to go after the foot-soldiers who have been keeping things afloat. It is a LIE to say that this will only affect the lowest/worse teachers. All teachers will feel some anxiety from these additional measures and pressure and I doubt the benefit is worth the intensely negative atmosphere, but this I am sure until we the public stand up and say, NO MORE CRAP HISD get some help for the teachers, because good or bad whatever, whenever children need help. It is 99% coming from the teacher…noone else is there, everyone else is measuring WIDGET PERFORMANCE or talking about HUMAN CAPITAL!

  6. Tanya Tarr says:

    Charles, usually I think you are the voice of reason in a very windy blogosphere, but on this issue, I disagree strongly with you.

    Much like the other two commenters mentioned, we’re talking about a messy process called education. Threatening the jobs of teachers is not a solution – particularly when it comes to low-performing schools.

    This isn’t some sort of corporate shake up. Moreover, it’s unfortunate that while we have big business creating economic collapse, those executives still get their bonuses. Yet in Rhode Island, where teachers were struggling to educate young people, their Superindendant did what this policy would allow for, and fired everyone.

    Is that going to solve the problem? of course not. Teachers are not widgets, and the process of learning and education cannot be reduced down to scores.

    I’m disappointed that we disagree on this issue.