Teacher evaluation: Not ready for prime time?

An early Race to the Top winner, Tennessee is requiring schools to evaluate teachers by value-added test scores and principal observations. The new evaluation system is complex, confusing and a huge time suck for principals, reports the New York Times.

Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee’s teachers — kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers — the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores, music teachers by the school’s writing scores.

The state is tweaking rules to cut principals’ paperwork burden.  But principals complain it’s not enough.

. . .  (Principal Will) Shelton is required to have a pre-observation conference with each teacher (which takes 20 minutes), observe the teacher for a period (50 minutes), conduct a post-observation conference (20 minutes), and fill out a rubric with 19 variables and give teachers a score from 1 to 5 (40 minutes).

He must have copies of his evaluations ready for any visit by a county evaluator, who evaluates whether Mr. Shelton has properly evaluated the teachers.

 Shelton must observe his 65 teachers four times a year, whether they’re his best or weakest staffers.

In Florida, evaluation formulas are so complex, even the math teachers can’t figure it out.

The formula—in what is called a “value-added” model—tries to determine a teacher’s effect on a student’s FCAT performance by predicting what that student should score in a given year, and then rating the teacher on whether the student hits, misses or surpasses the mark.

But (calculus teacher Orlando) Sarduy, like thousands of other Florida teachers, doesn’t even teach a subject assessed by the FCAT. So his value-added score will not come from his math teaching or his particular students. Instead, it will be tied to the FCAT reading score of his entire school in South Dade—a notion that infuriates him, even though he appreciates the level of objectivity the new system brings, and the ways it strives to isolate a teacher’s impact on student learning.

Some performance-pay experiments have rewarded teachers and support staff for improvements in the whole school, rather than trying to measure each person’s contribution. The idea is that everydone does their bit in raising those reading scores, including the music teacher and the janitor. But when the stakes are high, people want to be rated on measures they control.  And it’s hard work to evalute teachers fairly.

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Evaluating teachers has far too many uncontrollable variables. But it ought to be clear to just about everybody who the worst teacher in the school is, after some years. That won’t require late-night chin-pulling about the proportion of near special needs kids or Intentional Nonlearners. Everybody will know about numero last.
    Ought to make some improvement.
    Low hanging fruit.

  2. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    I believe that the typical solution to the “worst teacher in the school” problem is to make them an administrator.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Are there administrative positions where the incumbent isn’t allowed to actually do anything?

  4. Tennessee bought its teacher evaluation from none other than the convicted felon Michael “The Junk Bond King” Milken and his brother Lowell, who is so crooked he’s banned from the New York Stock Exchange.

    And people are surprised there are problems?

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mike in Texas. I suppose it’s too much to expect you to admit knowing that the term “junk bond” is cheap propaganda.
    However, Milken or not, that leaves forty-nine other states.

  6. Richard,

    Would YOU make a large purchase from a convicted felon, and his brother who narrowly avoided jail time with a plea bargain?

    More importantly, would you want YOUR children affected by a product they are selling?

    • If that large purchase resulted in rotten teachers being booted to the curb and no longer in a position to fund their lifestyles at the cost of miseducting children, obviously yes. What other possible choice would there be for a reasonable person?

      But I suppose if you’re a conscienceless mercenary who views those children as your meal ticket the answer would have to be “no”.

      • But Allen, has it been proven that the purchase resulted in any rotten teachers being booted? Or was it a case of huge profits for the felons, with perhaps a little something something for the state officials who authorized it?

      • Oh but Mike, were any rotten teachers booted out of the profession when no one was trying to determine whether they were any good or not?

        Say! Maybe that’s your actual objection to the idea of accountability – you’d rather that lousy teachers keep pulling paychecks until retirement instead of just giving them a swift kick in the pants.

        Is that it Mike? Does the public education system exist to employ teachers with the education of kids as an annoying obsession of parents?

  7. Does anyone know what factors are taken into consideration in a value added score? I’m just curious about what other aspects of a teacher are looked at in calculating that score.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      There are different systems that take into account different things. A straight value-added system just takes how students score at the beginning of the year on some assessment and compares it to how students score at the end of the year on a similar assessment. The progress they have made is that year’s “value added.”

      Some tests are normed to years in school. So at the beginning of fourth grade, the class average on a reading test might be 4 years and zero months. If the average score at the end of the year is more than 5 years and zero months, the class has a value added greater than a year.

  8. Ciro Curbelo says:

    The problem here is NOT that teachers can’t be evaluated accurately. Many private schools and charter schools accurately evaluate their teachers.

    The problem is WHO designs the evaluation system. The trend as of late is to have State Education Departments design “one best system” for all districts. This will lead to failure.

    One state wide system can’t possible deal with the diversity of teaching roles found in hundreds of school districts in their state (push in, pull out, co-teaching, switching teachers every quarter). One state wide system can’t possibly take into account the diversity of contextual factors that need to be considered when making an accurate determination on a teachers effectiveness (e.g., % of SPED students in the teacher’s classroom, the mix of the students’ SPED diagnoses, etc.).

    State-wide to design ” one evaluation system” are guaranteed to produce a system that is accurate for no one. Worse, non-willing managers will not implement the system with fidelity and concerns about new system will distract adults who are working hard to boost student learning.

    The solution here is for states to allow parents choice (vote with their feet) and enable their choices with tax credits and needs based vouchers so that district and school leaders directly feel the consequences of their mismanagement and start working hard to figure out how to performance mange the adults working their system.

    Policy makers need to realize that they can’t micro-manage adults from DC or the State house. The need to realize that they can only create the conditions where adults in the system want to work hard to figure it out.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mike in Texas. I suppose it’s too much to expect you to admit knowing that “junkbond” is a propaganda term, and a cheap one.
    Or that the collapse in question had to do with the mandatory and unannounced change in how institutions were required to value their bond holdings.
    Anyway, Mike in Texas, that leaves forty nine other states.

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mike in Texas. First, there are forty-nine other states having trouble with evaluation and not using Milken’s stuff. What’s your excuse for them? Or, they’re doing just fine. Aren’t they? Pick one.
    The vendor or originator of practically anything is of secondary interest to me. Even a teachers’ union hack and flaming liberal knows not to cross six lanes of traffic against the light at rush hour while blindfolded.
    For all we know, Milken’s product might be useful. My question is whether people who know this stuff vetted it carefully. And then whether it works. Would you take an ed product from a firm run by Mel Reynolds? You know. Paid his debt to society and so forth.
    BTW. Back when Milken was taking the rap for something the feds ginned up on his brother, there were a number of articles asking the question, what, exactly, did he do wrong.
    Keep in mind that when you talk to a fed investigator, you tell him something, he writes down something. If there’s a difference, you lied to a federal investigator and they have some leverage. Cause it’s a crime to lie to a federal investigator, even if it’s not a deposition or under oath.
    See James Stewart’s “Tangled Webs”. The part about Plame and Libby. Seems the CIA outed their own agent, or she wasn’t covert, to Armitage. But Fitz had to get somebody and Libby was the one whose testimony had the most divergences from what the investigators wrote down.
    I know there are certain liberal reflexes, but you should restrain yourself in the presence of people who know better. If you can.

  11. Richard,

    Again, you still haven’t answered my question, would you want YOUR kid being taught by a teacher under that system?

    As for other states, who cares? We’re talking about Tennessee.

    As for the name calling, just goes to prove you don’t have any valid arguments so you’re resorting to a personal attack.

    And what does Plame have to do with this? As I understand it, her hubby criticized the powers to be so they outed her as an act of revenge. Pretty chickenshit of them I think.

    The problem is, we don’t know if Milken’s system is good or not, but yet the whole state is using it. Teachers are complaining they don’t understand the it, the ratings they receive and feel they can’t get an exceptional rating b/c the system is set up to keep them from getting one.

    Do some research before you cite all your bullshit.

    • Woo! Someone’s a mite peckish.

      Understandable, I suppose. What with “parental trigger” being a subject of great interest, voucher programs popping up all over the country, charter caps being raised left and right it’s just not a good time to be a supporter of the public education status quo.

  12. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mike in Texas.
    I wouldn’t care about the evaluation system because none of them have been shown to work regularly, or without substantial argument–sometimes seeming valid–that they don’t work. So it doesn’t make any difference. So I wouldn’t care.
    Problem is, there are forty nine other states not vended by Milken who are also having trouble. Or not. You pick it. You don’t know that any system works. Even the ones that work might not look like it because of all the other variables.
    As to Libby, you misunderstand the situation entirely. The CIA wrote to Armitage about Wilson, mentioning as a throwaway, that his wife worked for the CIA. That means either she wasn’t covert, or she was and it was the CIA that blew it. Note that nobody was prosecuted for it.
    You can check around some of your older lib buddies and you’ll find that some of them think Phillip Agee is a hero, and the rest don’t care. Difference is, Agee really did out some CIA guys and got some killed. It all depends, see, and everybody knows it.
    I mentioned Libby to make the point that the feds can get you for anything they like, and being prominent in a field that gets bad PR all of a sudden means you might be prosecuted for what atty Harvey Silverglate tells us is one of the three felonies a day we all commit without knowing it. So pointing out that Milken got jail time doesn’t tell us what he did and whether a normal person would consider it wrong. And connecting Milken to a teacher eval system is obfuscation. How about telling us if it works. Can’t? How about the other systems? They work? Generally agreed that they work?

  13. Richard,

    Reading the article and the comments from people in the system, obviously it doesn’t work.

    The sad part is how TN jumped on the system without any proof that it would work. The cynic in me believes it doesn’t work and they knew it when they bought it. They needed a method to get rid of all those pesky teachers.

    As for Plame, YOU brought her into the conversation, remember?

    As for what works, attrition takes care of a large number of teachers who can’t teach, or decide on their own, teaching isn’t for them. A little research would show you somewhere near 50% of teachers don’t make it 5 years.

    The problem for the “reform” crowd, is that along with knowledge and experience comes cost. The “reformers” don’t want to pay for it b/c their ultimate goal is the privatization of schools, with the overwhelming concern being profit. Get rid of the expensive, experienced teachers (who by the way, have seen the BS come and go and have opinions about it) and your profit goes up.

    I’d be happy to discuss the issues with you, but you were the one who was name calling. Present some actual fact based points and we can debate them.

    • Tennessee evaluated four options and chose to base its teacher observations on the Teacher Advancement Program‘s standards. The Milken Family Foundation, which gives money for cancer research and education causes, funds TAP, which is a nonprofit. You may not like how the Milkens made their money, but they’ve been giving away millions of dollars for years now. I don’t see a profit motive.