Teaching teachers to drive data

“Data-driven” schools need teachers who know how to use information on students’ learning to improve teaching, writes June Kronholz on Ed Next. Some schools hire Achievement Network (ANet) to teach teachers how to use data.

During the data meeting, teachers pored over a form called an “item analysis template”—downloaded from the ANet web site—that forced them to think through the test questions that had given their kids the most grief. “What were the misconceptions” that led so many students to choose the wrong answer, the form asked them to consider. What groups of students missed the answer? What did students need to know to get it right?

Next, they worked through a “reteach action plan,” also downloaded from ANet. How was the lesson taught originally, the form asked. How and when would it be retaught, and to whom—the whole class, a small group, individual children?

After reteaching, teachers give a short quiz to see if the new lesson was effective. Then they discuss the results.

Schools in ANet’s network model their teaching practices to other schools, asking teachers, principals and instructional coaches “to help one another figure out how to reteach a troublesome lesson,” Kronholz writes.

There’s lots of detail in the story on how this works.

Few teacher education programs prepare future teachers to use assessments to improve instruction, concludes the National Council on Teacher Quality in a new report. Only three percent of programs surveyed adequately prepare future teachers to use performance data to improve instruction, the report concluded. Another 24 percent were rated “partially adequate.”  One program out of 180 “prepares candidates to work collaboratively to dissect, describe, and display data that emerge from both in-class and standardized assessments.”

If not value-added, then what?

“Would-be reformers for getting waaaay ahead of themselves” in building systems around value-added data, writes Rick Hess. But value-added can be a useful tool, even if it’s not perfect. And what’s the alternative to value-added? Principals observing teachers in the classroom? Value-added haters don’t like that either.

Only peer review — teachers evaluating teachers — has support from “self-styled teacher advocates,” Hess writes. And peer review rarely has teeth.

. . . few peer review efforts have lived up to their billing. For instance, as Steven Brill has reported, the lauded Toledo peer review program — which has been credited with aggressively weeding out bad teachers — turned out, when studied for The New Teacher Project’s “Widget Effect to have removed just one tenured teacher (in a fair-sized, low-performing system) during the two years studied.

“Public educators who are paid with public funds to serve the public’s children ought to be responsible for how well they do their jobs,” writes Hess.

Low-stakes value-added analysis can provide useful feedback to teachers, writes Matthew Di Carlo on the Shanker Institute (affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers) Blog. Teachers need disaggregated data, he adds.

For instance, if a teacher is told that her English language learners tend to make less rapid progress than her native speakers, this is potentially useful – she might rethink how she approaches those students and what additional supports they may need from the school system. Similarly, if there are strong gains among those students who started out at a lower level (i.e., their score the previous year) and stagnation for those starting out at a higher level, this suggests the need for more effective differentiation.

In a few states, teacher education programs are analyzing graduates’ value-added data to identify weak areas writes Stephen Sawchuk on Education Week.

“It was frustrating at first. Based on earlier assessments, we always had exemplary status, and then to get these data showing some weaknesses—well, it was a shock,” said Gerald M. Carlson, the dean of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “But we ultimately said, ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves and see what we can find out.’ ”

. . . the school set up teams of faculty to look at the curriculum, switched the sequencing of elementary math courses, and is now requiring faculty members to spend more time observing student-teachers, Mr. Carlson said.

Students taught by the university’s elementary teachers struggled with essay questions, the value-added analysis showed. “The university’s teacher-educators have worked with colleagues from the liberal arts department to require more writing instruction in introductory English composition courses.”

 

UM crafts national standards for teacher ed

The University of Michigan’s TeachingWorks is developing national standards for teacher education, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Aspiring English instructors were supposed to be mastering their craft in the teacher education class Francesca Forzani observed.

Forzani, a former English teacher, looked on in horror as the students spent an entire semester debating what a high school reading list should look like. More contemporary or classical literature? Perhaps multicultural books?

“They never practiced anything as simple as introducing students to a text,” said Forzani, who observed the class as part of an auditing process.

Forzani, associate director of TeachingWorks, said education professors discuss issues and theories but devote too little time to the practical challenges of teaching. As a result, more than 60 percent of teachers say they weren’t prepared for the classroom in a federal survey.

TeachingWorks will stress “leading a classroom discussion, crafting small-group projects and conferencing with parents”  and 16 other teaching skills.

. . . the goal of TeachingWorks is to highlight traits that every good teacher needs, whether the fourth-grade math class they’re leading is in Tacoma or Tampa.

Forzani hopes TeachingWorks’ standards will be used not just by college-based teacher education programs but also by alternatives such as Teach for America.

Brown: New teachers need apprenticeship

Ed Week‘s Teaching Ahead asks young teachers how teacher preparation should be changed. Several teachers who started after a crash course in teaching over the summer say they needed much more time to learn the job, though a graduate of teachers’ education also says she wasn’t prepared for classroom realities.

Time to Practice Is a Need, Not a Luxury, writes Dan Brown, who taught fourth grade for a chaotic year in the Bronx with alternative certification and eventually earned a master’s degree in education.

Looking back, my ignorance was staggering. I had bought—with the help of my alternative-certification program designed to plug chronic staffing shortages—the most insidious myth about teaching: anybody smart and dedicated can swoop in and rock it.

. . . The most important baseline that preparation programs must provide incoming teachers is substantial time in a variety of classrooms before those rookies assume the reins. An entire school year of structured observation and apprentice-teaching must be standard.

Brown’s book on his first year of teaching, The Great Expectations School, provides a vivid picture of the challenging students, colleagues and administrators. Brown provides a lot of specifics on his teaching. I’d have loved more on how the school was staffed:  The school seemed to have more administrators and other staffers than classroom teachers. Brown got more feedback on the quality of the classroom bulletin board than he did on how to manage students or teach.

Teacher education in the classroom

Instead of a semester of student teaching, University of South Dakota education majors are working in elementary classrooms for a year under a pilot program, reports the Argus Leader.

“I can’t emphasize how wonderful this experience has been,” said Cassie Zomer, a 22-year-old teaching candidate from Brandon working in the third-grade classroom of teacher Julie Sehr at Harvey Dunn. “Everything that you never learn in a college classroom, you learn here. And the collaborating … is huge.”

. . .  these education majors started in August before the students even began to show up.They helped to set up the classrooms. They greeted children when they walked through the door. They have intervened with the behavior problems, developed and taught lessons and communicated with parents from the start.

A foundation grant pays for an experienced teacher to mentor the teaching interns.

The university hopes to expand the program to include aspiring middle and high school teachers.

Via The Quick and the Ed.

Flipping teacher education

Let’s flip teacher education, proposes Justin Baeder.  Now education schools take in $20,000 per teacher candidate for providing classes, while school-based mentors are paid $50 to $500 per intern.

 What if teacher education were done by master teachers who currently work in schools (perhaps part-time, perhaps full-time with assistance), who could supervise all aspects of the teacher’s internship?

Say a master teacher obtains accreditation to take on three interns at a time, and charges them $10,000 or $20,000 each (or better yet, charges a third party such as a school district or foundation). Over the course of the year, this master teacher supervises their teaching, reviews and provides feedback on their academic work, and ensures that they emerge from the program ready to teach.

All of the content that’s currently taught on college campuses could be delivered online, Khan-Academy style, and the candidates’ work could be scored by the mentor teacher, who can make better connections to their daily teaching practice.

Teachers, what do you think?

American Educator: Content matters

The new American Educator includes Jeffrey Mirel on Bridging the “Widest Street in the World,” (pdf), the divide between education school professors and their liberal arts colleagues.

Instead of continuing to debate the relative merits of pedagogy versus content, professors on both sides should realize that prospective teachers need to know not only their subject matter, but also how to teach it so students will understand.

Lauren McArthur Harris and Robert B. Bain write on Pedagogical Content Knowledge for World History Teachers (pdf).

Deborah Loewenberg Ball and Francesca M. Forzani write on Building a Common Core for Learning to Teach (pdf). They see the Common Core State Standards as an opportunity to establish “a common core of professional knowledge and skills for prospective teachers.”

Big role of test scores in New York teacher evaluations

Last year, the New York State Legislature passed a measure that allowed 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on students’ scores on standardized state tests.

Now student test scores will account for as much as 40 percent of the evaluations, according to an article in today’s New York Times. This means they will count more than any other single measure. The new regulations are expected to be enacted on Monday by the state’s Board of Regents.

This change is likely due to pressure from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, who, according to the New York Times, said that a high-quality evaluation system had to be in place before he could support Mayor Bloomberg’s push to end seniority protection in layoffs.

But is this a high-quality evaluation system? It gives a great deal of power to tests that we don’t even have yet (as they are being revised) and to a value-added formula that has turned up many eccentricities, to put it mildly.

It is especially dangerous as a means of determining who should and shouldn’t be laid off. Teachers will be compared with each other by means of measures that haven’t stood the test of time yet (and that leave much to be desired). Principals will have little power to go against value-added ratings, even if they are clearly wrong.

New York State is still reeling from the disclosure that its state tests had gotten easier over the years. It is in the midst of revising its assessments and adopting the Common Core State Standards. The outcome of all of this is uncertain. In the meantime, the value-added formula used in New York City has numerous problems. Andrew Gelman, professor of statistics and political science at Columbia, demonstrates that when teachers are graded on a curve in this manner, a few students (in a large class) doing a little better on a test can bring a teacher from the 7th to the 50th percentile. (See all the comments on his post–they are interesting.)

Why, at this uncertain juncture, would the governor choose to make state test scores such a large part of teacher evaluations? Why the push for something clearly flawed?

Seems not only unwise and reckless, but weird.

Update: A few points of clarification:

The 40 percent would apply to those districts within the state that chose to use state assessments for the local-assessment portion of the evaluation. This would require the approval of the union in the district. So, on the one hand, it’s likely that many districts would choose to use local assessments for the local-assessment portion. On the other, the possibility of using state assessments would always be open, and districts might be under considerable pressure to take that route.

In New York Magazine, Chris Smith interprets this as a bargaining chip for Bloomberg: maybe the UFT will agree to a larger role for state tests if Bloomberg agrees to reduce the number of layoffs. It seems an ominous proposition, as the layoffs are (perhaps) a one-time deal, whereas the regulations will likely be in place for a long time.

Recruiting and training good teachers

We know teacher education needs radical changes, writes Deborah Loewenberg Ball in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Let’s do it.

First, let’s agree that teaching is about more than just being smart and knowing a subject, that it requires a set of skills that prospective teachers must be taught and should demonstrate before they take over a classroom. . . .

Second, let’s identify the set of skills that are fundamental to safe and responsible teaching. These should not be pedagogical generalities, such as “knowing learners” or “classroom management,” but specific, crucial skills, like being able to explain fractions in several different ways, or to gain and maintain the attention of a class, or to accurately and fluently diagnose specific student confusions. These should be the compact list of teaching practices that put children at risk when teachers cannot do them well enough. The work on this is well under way; the University of Michigan will have a draft of a score of such high-leverage practices available within a few months.

Many teachers and ed writers blogged about last week’s conference on recruiting and training good teachers organized by Carnegie and the Education Writers Association, including Manderson’s Bubble, EDLeaderNews, The Jose Vilson, Outside the Cave and Ed Beat.

Effective teachers know their students, wrote TeacherKen, who has more here.

Teach to the dreams, wrote TeacherManDC in his conference post.

Ms. No Neck will never be America’s Next Top Model if she cannot answer questions from Tyra Banks using proper English.   Mr. Pretty Boy will never hurdle his way into the Olympics if he continues to dodge whatever emotional challenges confront him.  The characters and ideas we encounter in literature and essays will help Ms. Bag Lady discard personal weight she should never have had to bear.  Crisp, succinct writing (and thinking) will assist Mr. Detective as he seeks to unravel, decipher, and defuse the turbulent racial history he inherited.

The fact that they know I expect each of them to pass the AP English Language exam in May is part of it, but not most of it.  The most-of-it part is that they expect it too.  I did not give them that; it was there all along.  Like the teachers I met on Friday, and the ones with which I share a  building, I just help them find the courage to dream the dream out loud–and then claim it.

Ariel Sacks suggested an excellent story idea for education writers:  Does innovative teaching lead to better test scores? There’s no need to teach to the test, one presenter argued. Teach well and students will test well.

Let’s hear from innovative teachers who see big gains in their students’ test scores but do not seem to “teach to the test”.  What populations do they work with?  What type of schools do they work in?  What do they focus their curriculum on, and to what do they attribute the success of their students on the test?  Are there things these teachers think are important to teach, but leave out, because they aren’t tested skills or content?  Where do “soft” skills like collaboration, self-reflection, creativity, and empathy figure into their classrooms and curriculum?

Let’s also hear from teachers who refuse to teach to the test and who may not see huge gains on test scores, but who have been deemed excellent, innovative teachers by other measures, such as National Board Certification, feedback by their colleagues, school leaders, students and parents.  What is their rationale for the choices they make regarding curriculum and teaching style?  What growth do they see in their students, and why don’t they think it’s being measured accurately or at all or by the standardized test?

A testing expert once told me that research had found that time spent teaching to the test is wasted. When teachers spend more time teaching writing, their students’ scores improve in both English Language Arts and math. Why would it help in math? Writing improves logic and thinking skills, he said.

Update: EWA reports on the conference on EdBeat.

One third flunk test on teaching reading

One third of would-be elementary and preschool teachers in Connecticut flunk an exam on how to teach reading reports the Connecticut Mirror.

Teach for America teachers had the highest pass rate, 93 percent, despite their abbreviated training. University of Connecticut was next at 91 percent. At some Connecticut State University campuses, more than 40 percent of student teachers flunked the Foundations of Reading exam. (I got 100 percent on the test questions here.)

The certification exam, consisting of 100 multiple-choice questions and two essay questions, has been used in Massachusetts since 2002. It is designed to test knowledge of teaching methods that reflect a rigorous, systematic approach to reading instruction, including phonics.

Many of those methods, backed by various research studies, were recommended a decade ago by a National Reading Panel report and in Connecticut’s Blueprint for Reading Achievement, but some educators and children’s advocates contend that college and university teacher training programs have been slow to respond.

Prospective teachers are complaining their education classes didn’t prepare them for the exam. And some education professors say the exam doesn’t measure what it takes to be a good teacher.

Via NCTQ Bulletin.