Archives for category: Teacher Evaluations

Among the conservatives who comment on education, Rick Hess is consistently the most thoughtful. I often disagree with him, for example, about choice and for-profit schooling. But I am often impressed by his thoughtfulness and pleasantly surprised by his willingness to question “reform” dogma.

Here is a column that is a great example of Rick’s insight. In it, he essentially concludes that Race to the Top failed because it told the states what to do instead of asking for their best ideas. He is not the first conservative to question this strategy. States are good at promising to comply with mandates but if their hearts are not in it, don’t expect much.

Rick wisely points out that Race to the Top imposed the Common Core standards and by doing so, fomented the eventual pushback and controversy. Because of Arne Duncan’s eagerness to boast of fast results, he created problems that he could not control. Rick says the same thing about teacher evaluation. Race to the Top forced all states eager for federal funds to adopt a new teacher evaluation program without knowing how to do it. Early returns show that 95% or more of teachers are rated “effective” or higher, so what was the point of the hundreds of millions spent to create those systems.

One might say much the same about Duncan’s beloved turnarounds. They have not produced much in the way of lasting, positive results.

Rick’s conclusion about the $4.35 billion spent on Race to the Top?

“The result: the sugar high that Race to the Top used to fuel reform in 2009 is likely to be undone, and then some, by the legacy of half-baked, federal compulsion.

“What President Obama termed “the most meaningful education reform in a generation” has proven, for my money, to be more a cautionary tale than a model.”

This has been a period of unprecedented turmoil in American schooling. Unless you are in love with the idea of disruption, as many reformers are, there is not much to celebrate.

Wow! This post will knock your socks off, unless you work for the U.S. Department of Education. The post was written by Mark NAISON, one of the co-founders of the BATs. (I don’t know why, but my iPad always converts Mark’s last name into all-caps.)

The Badass Teachers Association held a rally outside the U.S. Department of Education on July 28, and several were invited to meet with staff at the Office of Civil Rights to air their grievances and see if they could find common ground. After some talk, some of which was contentious, Arne Duncan dropped in unexpectedly and joined the conversation, but said he would talk about only two subjects:

“Secretary Duncan after introducing himself, and saying that he could only stay for a few minutes, asked for two things; first if we could articulate our concerns about the Department’s policies on dealing with Special needs students, and secondly, if Shoneice and Asean could step out with him to talk about what was going on in Chicago.

“In response to his first comment, Marla Kilfoyle started speaking about her concerns about Department from her standpoint of the parent of a special needs student as well as a teacher. She said it appeared that Department policies were forcing school districts to disregard individual student IEP’s and exposing special needs students to inappropriate and abusive levels of testing.

“Secretary Duncan deflected her remarks by saying that the Department was concerned that too many children of color were being inappropriately diagnosed as being Special Needs children and that once they were put in that category they were permanently marginalized. He then said “We want to make sure that all students are exposed to a rigorous curriculum.”

“At that point, I interrupted him in a very loud voice and said “ We don’t like the word ‘rigor.” We prefer to talk about creativity and maximizing students potential.”

“Secretary Duncan was somewhat taken aback by my comments. He said “ we might disagree about the language, but what I want is for all students to be able to take advanced placement courses or be exposed to an IB (International Baccalaureat) curriculum.

“At this point, Larry Proffitt interrupted the Secretary and said that in Tennessee, Special Needs students were being abused and humiliated by abusive and inappropriate testing and that their teachers knew this, and were afraid to speak out.

“We were clearly at an impasse here, which the Secretary dealt with by saying he had to leave and asking Shoneice and Asean to step into the hall with him and continue the conversation.”

This is a small part of a fascinating report on the BATs meeting at the DOE. When people ask me why I support them, I say, “They speak truth to power.” Here is the proof. Too many educators are docile and compliant. They are not.

Please read the whole post.

Do you think that Arne Duncan really believes that the greatest need of students with disabilities is access to rigorous AP and IB courses?

Carol Burris, principal of south side High School in Rockville Center, New York, writes here about the multiple flaws of test-based teacher evaluations.

At an Ed Trust celebration, Duncan told the crowd, “But we can’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. We can’t let the utopian become the enemy of the excellent. And we can’t let rhetorical purity become the enemy of rigorous practice.” I do not have any idea what the third admonishment means, but I doubt Arne needs to fear that his rhetoric is pure.

So it came as no surprise that when he spoke of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation plan, Mr. Duncan praised the state for “not letting the perfect become the enemy of the good”. The teachers of Tennessee, however, are not seeing the new system as “the good”—they are, for the second time, suing the state because the system is, in their eyes, arbitrary and flawed. And it is.

When it comes to the new teacher evaluation systems, it is not a dispute between perfect and good. We are now forbidding the good to be the enemy of the lousy. The use of students’ scores is becoming more and more indefensible. In New York State, teachers despise APPR, and it is equally unpopular among principals who, for the most part, see it as a headache that does nothing to improve teacher performance. Teacher and principal scores, by district, were supposed to be released in the winter. It is the end of July and they have not appeared. That is not a surprise. If they were released, it would be an embarrassment, especially for districts that actually tried to engage in the Las Vegas pursuit of predicting student growth from pre-tests to post-tests. The New York State Education Department is stalling, and Governor Cuomo is letting it happen.

There was one state, Massachusetts, that created a plan that was more sensible than most. It did not use numbers, but rather was rubric based. It was phased in over time and applied to everyone, including central administrators. But now that the time has come to phase in the test scores, the trouble begins.

In his July 17 memo to Superintendents and Charter School leaders, Commissioner Mitchell Chester states he is pleased that the Bay State has not chosen “an algorithmic approach,” only to later explain in detail the algorithm by which teachers should be evaluated by test scores. To go further down the path of the lousy, he explains how the state will generate growth scores from PARCC exams for participating schools, and then attempt to show “growth” from the prior year student MCAS scores. Please say it isn’t so. That is not a growth measure. That is comparing students with similar scores on one test with each other the following year on an entirely different test. New York did the same thing last year. Can you do it? Of course you can—there is very little that you cannot do with numbers. It is easy to create a formula that is intimidating enough that eyes will glaze over. But that does not make it valid, reliable, fair or useful. It will be one more silly system that will result in a lawsuit, no doubt.

Chiefs for Change, including State Superintendents Huffman and Skandera, took the NEA and AFT to task for having the guts to back away from the test-based teacher evaluation systems they once supported. They accused them of ‘evading accountability’ like horse thieves running from the posse. They wanted union leaders to sit compliantly with hands folded, in the face of mounting evidence that the test-score evaluation systems are not working. These Chiefs for ‘change at any cost’, do not understand. True accountability means having the courage to speak the truth when facts come to light, even when it contradicts what you once supported. To keep one’s mouth shut as the lousy marches forward is wrong.

Moshe Adler, a professor at Columbia University, has emerged as one of the most incisive critics of the work of Raj Chetty, John Friedman, and Jonah Rockoff on Value-added measurement (VAM).

In the recent Vergara decision about tenure for teachers in California, the study by Raj Chetty and John Friedman of Harvard and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia played a prominent role. But according to the economist Moshe Adler the study is wrong and misleading. According to Adler, the authors suppressed a result that contradicts their main claim, they picked and chose which data sets to use, they used a misleading method of analysis that inflated their results and they misrepresented research that contradicts their claims as supporting them. These are just a few of the problems with the scientific integrity with the study. Adler wrote his review for the National Education Policy Center and it can found at: http://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2014/06/adler-response-to-chetty)

A short time after the publication of his NEPC review, Adler received an email from Chetty that informed him that the study had been accepted for publication by the American Economic Review (AER). (Chetty also suggested that a Nobel Prize will likely follow!) Adler immediately wrote to the editors of the AER to alert them to the grave scientific problems with the study. The editor-in-charge did not evaluate Adler’s objections herself, nor did she send them to the referees to evaluate. Instead, she forwarded Adler’s letter to the authors who then replied to Adler’s NEPC review. The editor found this reply satisfactory, but as Adler explains in his response, Chetty’s et al.’s reply is without merit, and it only adds to the problems with the research. Chetty’s letter to Adler and Adler’s correspondence with the AER can be found at: http://www.columbia.edu/~ma820/Chetty%20Adler%20AER.htm

In 2010, Colorado State Senator Michael Johnston took credit for a piece of legislation called Senate Bill 191, which he said would produce “Great Schools, Great Teachers, Great Principals.” Its main feature was tying teacher evaluation to their students’ scores, which counted for 50%. But it included other time bombs. One allowed districts to lay off teachers for various reasons. Now seven teachers and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association is suing.

One of those who lost her job was Cynthia Masters, a special-education teacher in a K-8 school. She was one of only 3,000 to lose their job.

“In the four years since the law was passed, nearly 3,000 DPS teachers have lost their positions due to what the district calls “reduction in building,” or RIB for short. The reasons that teachers are RIBed vary: Some lose their jobs because their schools are “turned around” or closed. Others are cut because school enrollment drops. In Masters’s case, she was RIBed due to a decrease in the number of special-ed students.

Of those 3,000 teachers, 1,240 had at least three years’ worth of positive evaluations, including Masters. And not all of them have been able to find new jobs. According to the law, still widely referred to as Senate Bill 191, RIBed teachers with three years of positive reviews — officially known as “nonprobationary” — who can’t find a position within a certain time frame are put on unpaid leave, a move that both unions believe violates the state constitution……”

“Brad Bartels, an attorney with the Colorado Education Association, says these teachers are victims of DPS’s brand of musical chairs. They didn’t lose their positions because they were bad teachers, he insists: “They just didn’t have a chair when the music stopped.”

“Seven DPS teachers and the DCTA have now sued the district. (The statewide CEA is representing the DCTA in the matter.) The lawsuit is a class action, and the plaintiffs represent several different classes, including all teachers in Colorado who were considered nonprobationary prior to the passage of Senate Bill 191 and all nonprobationary DPS teachers who were RIBed and ended up on unpaid leave.

“Westword spoke with five of the seven plaintiffs and found that they have several things in common: All are older than 45 and have good teaching records. Upon losing their positions, all five applied for hundreds of teaching assignments within DPS but, inexplicably to them, received just a few interviews. Only one managed to avoid being put on unpaid leave or being forced into early retirement.

“I applied for over 700 positions in the district,” says plaintiff Michelle Montoya, who got RIBed in the fall of 2010. “I thought, ‘I can deal with this. I’m going to go get a job. My skills are definitely needed.’ And I just never got a second interview.”

Will Senator Michael Johnston live long enough to declare that Colorado now has great teachers, great principals, great schools, thanks to Senate Bill 191?

Remember that the Los Angeles Times released the value-added ratings (made up by their own consultant) with the names of teachers in 2010?

 

Recently, the paper sued to get the ratings for three years-=-2009-2012. The LAUSD said it would release the ratings but not the names attached to them.

 

Yesterday a three-judge panel said the district did not need to release the names of the teachers with their ratings.

 

The public has no right to know the names of Los Angeles Unified School District teachers in connection with their job performance ratings, according to a court ruling issued Wednesday. In denying a request for disclosure by The Times, a three-judge state appellate court panel found that keeping the names confidential served a stronger public interest than releasing them. The panel overturned a lower court ruling ordering disclosure and rejected The Times’ assertion that the public interest of parents and others in knowing the ratings of identifiable teachers outweighed the interest in confidentiality.

 

Instead, the panel accepted L.A. school Supt. John Deasy’s contention that releasing the names would lead to resentment and jealousy among teachers, spur “unhealthy” comparisons among staff, cause some instructors to leave the nation’s second-largest school system, and interfere with teacher recruitment.

 

The judges said the specter of parents battling to place their children with the highest-performing teachers was of “particular concern.”

 

Is the rating based on test scores? Is it valid? Has anyone asked for the ratings of police or firefighters or other public employees?

 

Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Assn., said the ruling was “unbelievable” and that accepting “conjecture” as evidence to deny public disclosure was “without precedent.”

“How a speculative declaration can rise to the level of clearly outweighing the public interest in disclosure is a mystery to me,” he said.

The Times sought three years of district data, from 2009 through 2012, that show whether individual teachers helped or hurt students’ academic achievement, as measured by state standardized test scores. L.A. Unified has provided the data but without the teacher names or their schools.

Using a complex mathematical formula, the district aims to isolate a teacher’s effect on student growth by controlling for such outside factors as poverty and prior test scores. The district sought to use the analysis in teacher evaluations but was resisted by the teachers union, which called it unreliable.

The court did not rule on the validity of the analysis, known in L.A. Unified as Academic Growth Over Time.

The judges did find that the public might have a right to know the schools where the anonymous teachers worked. They sent that issue back to the lower court for consideration.

 

Think about it. The LA Times published the names and ratings of individual teachers in 2010. Can anyone honestly assert that this data release improved the schools? Did it mean that the schools hired better teachers or that parents chose better teachers?

 

This is a thicket into which Race to the Top has led us, as districts and states across the nation use “value-added assessment” to measure the unmeasurable. No one has figured out how to make it work, but people continue to believe in it as if it were a magic talisman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The word is getting out. Basing teacher evaluations on test scores is a sham. Or unpopular. Or junk science. Or Gates said not to do it.

 

Whatever the reason, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has announced that his state will cut back on the importance of test scores in evaluating teachers.

 

“Governor Christie announced the rollback Monday while ordering the creation of a commission to study the effectiveness and impact of all standardized tests given in the state.

The two actions came amid growing criticism of the new academic standards known as Common Core and the tests linked to them. Many parents have contended that too much testing is harmful to students. The teachers union has argued that the new exams have been rushed, that districts aren’t ready, and that it’s too soon to judge teachers on the results. Political conservatives — a key constituency for potential GOP presidential hopefuls like Christie — believe the standards are a federal intrusion in the classroom, and they have put pressure on governors to roll them back.

“This is an issue that is a national issue,” state Education Commissioner David Hespe said in an interview Monday. “We want to understand all the assessments that our children are taking. We want to know: Are they all necessary and can we do it better? I think the answer is yes.”

The rollback would minimize the impact of tests on teacher evaluations, making them worth 10 percent in the next school year instead of 30 percent. Their portion of teacher evaluations might increase to as much as 20 percent in the next two school years….

The New Jersey Education Association, which represents teachers, welcomed the compromise with the Christie administration.

“The NJEA believes this agreement is the best possible outcome, and it should lead to common-sense, research-based recommendations from the Study Commission,” said Wendell Steinhauer, president of the union.

He pointed to bills in the Senate and the Assembly that would delay the use of tests as teacher performance measures and to create a task force to examine the Common Core standards. Steinhauer said he believes the key reason for Christie’s concession was that the measure had wide public support, was overwhelmingly passed in the Assembly, and was poised to pass in the Senate — which could have forced a gubernatorial veto.

Steve Wollmer, communications director for the union, said the governor saw that the implementation would be a “train wreck” and could have led to greater problems.

In the practice rounds of testing this year, districts reported problems with technology. Parents feared that preparation for tests had dominated classroom instruction.

The commission created by Christie’s executive order will review the effectiveness of all K-12 tests used to assess student knowledge. The commission will look at volume, frequency and impact of student testing throughout New Jersey school districts.

Christie will appoint all nine commission members, who should have expertise or experience in education policy or administration, according to his order. The commission will issue an initial report with recommendations by Dec. 31, and a final report seven months later.

Hespe said the commission will check on whether tests can be used for multiple purposes and whether any are redundant.

Jean McTavish, a Ridgewood parent who had her children opt out of new standardized tests, said she remains skeptical of real change. She worried the tests led teachers to narrow the curriculum and teach to the test, and that liberal arts education was suffering as a result.

“Ultimately, I don’t think this is going to change much, but it’s a good thing people are going to learn more,” she said. “I anticipate this is going to be a long conversation about how best to educate our children.”

The task force will not review the effectiveness of the Common Core State Standards in general, as some critics had wanted. New Jersey adopted the standards in 2010 and was one of 44 states to do so.

The standards, developed with support from governors and business, created a uniform list of what students should learn in English and math by grade level. It was intended to raise standards and better prepare students for college. But controversy and complaints have prompted many states to pass laws in recent months to review or revoke standards.

Political conservatives have been among the harshest critics and have assailed Republicans who support the standards. Christie could face questions about his support for Common Core if he seeks the Republican Party nod for president.

In a press release, Christie touted his commitment to school spending, rigorous education and teacher effectiveness.

“Establishing this commission is just another step in ensuring we’re providing the best quality education possible to our students.”

 

Stephen Sawchuck did a good job reporting the heated debate about the Common Core standards at the AFT convention. The Chicago Teachers Union wanted to dump them. The head of the New York City United Federation of Teachers mocked the critics of the standards. One union official said that the critics represented the Tea Party. That’s pretty insulting to the Chicago Teachers Union and one-third of the AFT delegates, as well as people like Anthony Cody, Carol Burris, and me.

As far as I can tell, no one explained how states and districts will find the hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for hardware and software required for “the promise of Common Core.” Early estimates indicate that Pearson will have a contract of $1 billion to develop the PARCC tests. Who will pay Pearson? Who will be laid off? How large will class sizes go?

There were no Martians on the committee that wrote the Common Core standards, but there were also no classroom teachers, no early childhood teachers, no special education teachers. There were a number of testing experts.

Frankly the best and only hope for the future of these standards is that they are totally decoupled from testing. It is not likely to happen because doing so would deny the privatizers the data to prove that schools are failing and must be closed at once. That’s where the next big fight will occur.

Will they prepare all children for college and careers? Nobody knows. Will they help prepare our children for “global competition?” Not likely if the global competition works for $2 an hour for 18 hours a day under unsafe conditions.

The Common Core standards will never be national standards. They were developed in haste, paid for by one man (the guy is Seattle who thinks he knows everything), sold to the public via a slick PR campaign. They were never tried out. The tests connected to them are designed to fail most kids. Arne Duncan and Bill Gates thought they could pull a fast one and bypass democracy. Sorry, boys, you are wrong. Public education belongs to the public. Children belong to their parents. Neither public education nor children are for sale.

The Gates Foundation called for a two-year suspension of the high stakes evaluation of teachers–ratings and rankings tied to student scores—but not a moratorium on the testing. A reader writes:

“If there is a moratorium on the evaluations connected to the tests, then there is no point in continuing the tests either since the sole purpose of the tests was to attempt to measure growth for the purposes of the evaluations. The real reason the evaluations are being suspended is that there simply cannot be any remotely accurate growth measures to base them on while the CC$$ is being implemented. This moratorium is like saying we will suspend the use of nails but are still required to swing the hammers and hit the wood. And, once the CC$$ is being ramped up and many more teachers see it’s problems manifesting themselves, such as it being developmentally inappropriate for K-3, will the moratorium be extended while that and any other problems are being solved? How will they be solved, with the input of teachers as should have been the case from the beginning? Or not? Hard to say since it is a copy righted product.”

Mr. Anonymous, an education policy analyst who is working towards his doctorate, wrote the following cautionary story about the use and misuse of statistics for political purposes. He requires anonymity for the usual reasons, mostly fear of retaliation for speaking up.

He writes:

The Common Core and Departments of Education: Lies, Darn Lies, Statistics and Education Statistics

Numbers have taken center stage in the discussion of education policy in the United States. Test score metrics have become a particularly critical set of numbers. They are seen as objective measuring devices, comparable across years, that provide a reliable evaluation of how students, teachers, schools, districts, and the United States as whole are doing. But are they really objective?
The push for implementation of Common Core exams has caught the attention of the public. In New York State, as in many other states across the nation, questions have been raised about the motivations of those pushing for the roll-out of these exams and their use in high-stakes evaluations. As we will see below such concerns are definitely legitimate given the history of the New York State Department of Education and the Board of Regents in setting cut-scores and changing exams in ways that serve political and other ends.

Let’s start with Biology, a standard course that almost every high school freshman takes. Remember dissecting that frog? In 2001 the New York State Department of Education changed the Biology Regents to a re-named “Living Environment.” A rather remarkable aspect of the change was the dramatic lowering of the passing score. In the Biology exam a student needed at least 59 points (out of a total of 85 possible points) to earn a passing grade of 65. On the new Living Environment Regents students need only 40 points (out of a total of 85 possible points) to earn a passing grade of 65. In some years (e.g. 2004) a student needed only 38 out of 85 points to earn a passing grade of 65.

The story repeats itself in mathematics. Until 2002 the New York State Department of Education required students to take a “Sequential Mathematics I” exam. That test had a total point value of 100 points. The conversion was simple enough, each point was equal to one point and a student needed 65 points to pass. Then, in 2002, the math exam was switched to a “Mathematics A” exam.

On this test students needed to score 35 out of a possible 84 points to earn a 65 and pass. Earning 42% of the possible points led to a 65. Then, in 2008, the math exam was switched again, this time to an “Integrated Algebra” exam. On this test students needed to earn 30 out of a possible 87 points to earn a 65 and pass. Earning 34% of the possible points now led to a 65.
The United States and Global History exams underwent similar changes at the turn of the millennium. Before the changes students were required to write 3 essays accounting for 45% of their final score. After the changes students were required to write only two essays accounting for only 35% of their final score. On one of the essays students are provided with extensive information they can use in their writing.

A couple of years later the exact same process occurred with the English Regents. In 2011 the New York State Department of Education changed the exam from a two part six hour test with two essays to a single part three hour test with only one essay. Again the cut scores were dramatically lowered. The scales on these two exams are very different making comparison difficult. One way to measure the change is to look at the grade a student would receive if s/he got exactly half the multiple choice questions correct and earned exactly half of the possible points on the essay(s). On the old English exam that student would have received a grade of 43. On the new English exam a grade of 50.

A year ago the New York State Department of Education changed things yet again. But this time they did not change the exam. They just changed the cut scores. From 2011 until 2013 out of 286 possible point combinations on the exam an average of 74 resulted in a passing grade. Then, in June of 2013, the number of point combinations leading to a passing grade was dramatically lowered by 23%. Since then an average of 63 point combinations out of 286 leads to a passing grade.

It is disturbing that this change occurred at the very moment when the test results would first be used to evaluate teachers. The research base shows that such value-added metrics are unreliable. For example a RAND report concluded “the research base is currently insufficient for us to recommend the use of VAM for high-stakes decisions.” A report out of Brown University concluded “the promise that value-added systems can provide such a precise, meaningful, and comprehensive picture is not supported by the data.” Nonetheless New York State passed laws requiring school districts to use test scores in teacher evaluations. Why, at the same time, did the Department of Education quietly change the cut scores on the English Regents? Is it an attempt to ensure that more teachers are rated ineffective? This would allow certain interest groups to declare the law a success and claim that “bad teachers” are now being identified and should be fired. Is it an attempt to create evidence that there is an epidemic of failing students in New York State? This would allow certain interest groups to proclaim that the crisis can only be solved if the new Common Core Standards are implemented without delay.

Advocates of the Common Core are either ignorant of or deliberately ignore this history. A decade ago New York State Department of Education decided that the high school graduation rate was too low. They therefore changed exams and cut scores to make them easier. The graduation rate went up. Now it seems that some powerful interests have decided that it is too easy to graduate. So they want the exams made harder and the passing cut scores raised. It is evident from the history reviewed above that playing with cut scores is not the way to improve education. After all that just leaves us in the very place we are in today. Yet we seem to be condemned to repeat this cycle all over again. We seem to be enamored of easy solutions. Make exams harder (or easier). Raise cut scores (or lower them). What we do not seem to be willing to do as a nation is roll up our sleeves and do the really, really hard work of ensuring that every student receives a quality education.

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