Young teachers support evaluation reform

Newer teachers are willing to be evaluated on their students’ academic growth, according to two new surveys, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

In the Teach Plus survey, 71 percent with 10 years or less in the classroom said student academic growth should be part of their evaluations, while just 41 percent of the more experienced group (11+ years) agreed. Education Sector compared teachers with less than five years of experience and those with 20+ years: 56 percent of newer teachers and 50 percent of older ones supported measuring teacher effectiveness using student growth models.

Sixty percent of the newer Teach Plus survey teachers said they were interested in changing “compensation and tenure systems.” Just 20 percent of the older teachers had that view. The Education Sector survey teachers appeared more supportive of moving in that direction: Ninety-one percent of the newer teachers and 75 percent of the older ones supported unions taking a role in simplifying the process of removing ineffective teachers.

The American Federation of Teachers’ proposal to make it harder to enter teaching will raise teacher quality, writes Marc Tucker in his Ed Week blog.

High-status professions “do a lousy job of getting rid of their worst performers,” but make it hard to get into professional school and to pass licensing exams, Tucker writes. “We will get quality teachers not by firing the worst but by recruiting, training and hiring the best.”

Higher standards mean better performance, which meets the interest of the public.  But higher standards also means that fewer people are able to enter the profession, and fewer members curtails supply, which means higher compensation for those who get in.  The professionals get higher compensation and the public gets higher student achievement. Everyone wins.

The National Education Association also has come out for “national standards for the preparation, licensing and certification of educators,”  Tucker writes.

Younger teachers . . . want to work in a truly professional environment where competence and achievement count for more than seniority, where distinctions in responsibility and authority among teachers are made and made on the basis of their demonstrated accomplishments in the classroom.

The U.S. has “prized cheap teachers over good teachers,” lowering standards whenever there’s a shortage, Tucker writes. “A very large fraction” of would-be teachers today will not be able to meet high-quality licensure standards.

Attracting the young people who could pass the new “bar exams” would require us, the public, to be willing to pay teachers more, invest in our teacher training institutions to make their quality comparable to that of the institutions that train our doctors and engineers, improve the quality of school leadership so that schools become attractive professional workplaces and offer teachers the kind of professional autonomy that high status professionals have.
We could pay for it by training fewer teachers and retaining them longer, Tucker argues.

Good principals are great

Good principals are very, very good for teachers and students, concludes a study in Education Next. “For student outcomes, greater attention to the selection and retention of high-quality principals would have a very high payoff,” write Gregory F. Branch, Eric A. Hanushek and Steven G. Rivkin.

. . . highly effective principals raise the achievement of a typical student in their schools by between two and seven months of learning in a single school year; ineffective principals lower achievement by the same amount. These impacts are somewhat smaller than those associated with having a highly effective teacher. But teachers have a direct impact on only those students in their classroom; differences in principal quality affect all students in a given school.

Less-effective teachers are more likely to leave schools run by highly effective principals, the study found. “Good principals are likely to make more personnel changes in grade levels where students are under-performing.”

Unsuccessful principals aren’t weeded out, especially those teaching in high-poverty schools. Those who leave go to other schools.

The value-added analysis looked at “the extent to which math achievement in a school is higher or lower than would be expected based on the characteristics of students in that school, including their achievement in the prior year.”

Politics and the Chicago teachers’ strike

Teacher evaluation — what percentage of a teacher’s rating should be based on students’ improvement on tests? — is at the heart of the Chicago strike, writes Marc Tucker, looking at the politics. The city wants a higher number than the one set by state law. And why did Illinois require the use of student test scores in evaluating teachers? It wanted to please Arne Duncan to get Race to the Top money.

The very policy that the teachers are most furiously opposed to is not just Rahm Emanuel’s policy.  It is core Obama administration policy.  The mayor is carrying the water for the Obama administration’s education reform strategy, and, in doing so, may be undermining the very reelection effort to which the mayor is personally very committed.

. . .  The administration has ardently and successfully advocated a reform agenda that teachers and their unions see as anti-teacher.  They have been successful in this advocacy because a tough-minded stance on teacher evaluations is one of only a tiny handful of issues on which the administration can find common ground with Republicans around the country.

President Obama has taken no position on the strike, notes Stephen Sawchuk on Teacher Beat.

“The president has said what’s appropriate to be said, that this is a local issue,” (American Federation of Teachers president Randi) Weingarten said.

. . .  I overheard the president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers telling the striking teachers that he’d removed his “Reelect Obama” lapel pin.

After vehemently endorsing the Wisconsin teachers’ union’s fight with Gov. Scott Walker, Weingarten “has been careful to not embrace her Chicago chapter too closely,” writes Rick Hess in a New York Daily News op-ed. There’s been no fiery rhetoric this time.

What’s different is that this is a bad fight for the teacher unions – most of the public, seeing the facts, will not be on their side – it comes at an awful time, and an ugly defeat could be a crushing blow.

The district is opening more “Children First” centers to provide games, arts and crafts and recreation for children and expanding to normal school hours, reports Sawchuk.

It’s about power, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. “The unions are feeling whipsawed by tectonic shifts that have occured within the Democratic Party in recent years.”

There’s talk the strike could be settled soon — perhaps soon enough to start classes on Monday. Striking teachers are planning what to tell their students, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Christopher Barker, who teaches math and humanities at an elementary school, said he’ll ask students. “Is there anywhere that you go in life when you do have to speak up for yourself when there’s a perceived injustice?”

Donielle Lawson, who teaches special education at an alternative high school at Cook County Jail, also plans to discuss the strike. ”They’re all too familiar with bullying and societal injustices, so it would be a very easy conversation with them,” Lawson said.

Tennessee: Observers inflate teachers’ scores

Principals are giving high scores to low-performing teachers, concludes a Tennessee Education Department report on the state’s new evaluation system, reports the Tennessean. Principals need more training in how to evaluate teachers, the report recommends.

. . . instructors who got failing grades when measured by their students’ test scores tended to get much higher marks from principals who watched them in classrooms. State officials expected to see similar scores from both methods.

“Evaluators are telling teachers they exceed expectations in their observation feedback when in fact student outcomes paint a very different picture,” the report states.

More than 75 percent of teachers received top scores of 4 or 5 in classroom observations, but only 50 percent earned high value-added scores based on their students’ academic progress. By contrast, fewer than 2.5 percent received a 1 or 2 observation score; 16 percent were rated that low based on student progress. Teachers with a learning gains score of 1 averaged an observational score of 3.6.

Teachers can be denied tenure, or lose it, if they score score 1s or 2s for two consecutive years.

. . . Half of each evaluation is based on observations. The other half comes from standardized tests and other measures of student performance.

But almost two-thirds of instructors don’t teach subjects that show up on state standardized tests, so for those teachers — including in kindergarten through second grade, and in subjects like art and foreign languages — a score is applied based on the entire school’s learning gains, which the state calls its “value-added score.”

Rather than using schoolwide scores, the state should develop other ways to measure these teachers, the report recommends. It also calls for principals to “spend less time evaluating teachers who scored well and more time with teachers who need more training,” reports the Tennessean.  ”High-scoring teachers may get the chance to undergo fewer observations and to choose to use their value-added scores for 100 percent of their overall scores.”

 

Surveys let students grade teachers

In addition to value-added measures and classroom observations, teachers could be evaluated by their students, reports Ed Week‘s Teaching Now. At a Center for American Progress event, the Tripod student-perception survey was discussed.

Developed by Ronald Ferguson of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University in partnership with Cambridge, the Tripod surveys have been used in 3,000 classrooms across the U.S. as part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Measures of Effective Teaching Project. . . . Teachers are rated on the research-based “7 C’s”—care, control (of the classroom), clarify, challenge, captivate, confer, and consolidate.

Tiffany Francis, a Pittsburgh teacher, said her second-grade students’ views were “enlightening.”  All rated her highly on “care,” but scores were lower for “control,” and on the statement, “to help us remember, my teacher talks about things we already learned.” She plans to make changes in her teaching.

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers supports the use of student surveys, as well as the use of value-added measures, despite heavy criticism from other union affiliates, said William Hileman, vice president of PFT.  Other union affiliates  ”We have to get better about instructing children,” he said.

 

Are students learning? Colleges don’t know

Many college students aren’t working very hard or learning very much, according to recent studies, writes New York Times columnist David Brooks, who suggests value-added assessments to show how much graduates have gained.

At some point, parents are going to decide that $160,000 is too high a price if all you get is an empty credential and a fancy car-window sticker.

. . . Colleges and universities have to be able to provide prospective parents with data that will give them some sense of how much their students learn.

In 2006, the Spellings commission recommended using the Collegiate Learning Assessment.  There are many other ideas out there, Brooks writes.

Some schools like Bowling Green and Portland State are doing portfolio assessments — which measure the quality of student papers and improvement over time. Some, like Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, use capstone assessment, creating a culminating project in which the students display their skills in a way that can be compared and measured.

Colleges could pick an assessment method that “suits their vision,” writes Brooks.

Then they could broadcast the results to prospective parents, saying, “We may not be prestigious or as expensive as X, but here students actually learn.”

. . . If you’ve got a student at or applying to college, ask the administrators these questions: “How much do students here learn? How do you know?”

With many different learning assessment schemes, it would be difficult to compare schools — or to add a do-they-learn metric to the all-powerful U.S. News college rankings.

Maybe they can use value-added for Sociology profs

How should we measure college’s success in educating students?  The New York Times‘ Richard Perez-Pena takes a look.

The answer seems to be shaping up to be “tests”.

‘Creative … motivating’ and fired

Sarah Wysocki struggled in her first year of teaching fifth-grade at a Washington D.C. middle school, but she earned excellent evaluations in her second year. Then she was fired for low value-added scores, reports the Washington Post.

A majority of her students took the fourth-grade test at a feeder school suspected of cheating. Some who’d tested as “advanced” could barely read when they started fifth grade, she said.  When their scores slipped, her value-added score took the hit. With a low score from her first year of teaching, Wysocki was out.

In classroom observations in her second year, Wysocki’s teaching won praise.

“It is a pleasure to visit a classroom in which the elements of sound teaching, motivated students and a positive learning environment are so effectively combined,” Assistant Principal Kennard Branch wrote in her May 2011 evaluation.

Branch asked her to share her ideas with her colleagues. He also praised her ability to engage parents.

After Wysocki was fired, Principal Andre Samuels wrote a glowing recommendation describing her as  “enthusiastic, creative, visionary, flexible, motivating and encouraging.” She was hired immediately by a Fairfax,  Virginia elementary school, where she’s again teaching fifth grade.

Most teachers with low value-added scores also score poorly on classroom observations, says an architect of D.C.’s system for teacher evaluation. But there doesn’t seem to be a way to apply common sense when the system goes wrong.

After years of very low performance, D.C. needs to stress reading and math scores in teacher evaluations, Rick Hess writes.

In response to MetLife’s survey, which found teachers’ satisfaction has declined, he wonders who is unhappy. “If a teacher is lousy or doing lousy work, they should have lousy morale. Hopefully it’ll encourage them to leave sooner.”

Good teachers, low value-added scores

At a very high-achieving Brooklyn elementary school, the fifth-grade teachers posted low value-added scores, writes Michael Winerip in the New York Times. They’re a talented, hard-working group, says the principal. So what happened?

Though 89 percent of P.S. 146 fifth graders were rated proficient in math in 2009, the year before, as fourth graders, 97 percent were rated as proficient. This resulted in the worst thing that can happen to a teacher in America today: negative value was added.

The difference between 89 percent and 97 percent proficiency at P.S. 146 is the result of three children scoring a 2 out of 4 instead of a 3 out of 4.

. . . In New York City, fourth-grade test results can determine where a child will go to middle school. Fifth-grade scores have never mattered much, so teachers have been free to focus on project-based learning.

If Winerip’s theory is correct, all of New York City’s fifth-grade teachers should have low value-added scores. Or perhaps there’d be an effect only in schools with students who care about getting into a good middle school.

Update: Winerip provides an example of creative teaching:

Using the new curriculum, children work in groups to solve real-life problems. On Friday, each group spent an hour developing a system to calculate who ate more — eight students sharing seven submarine sandwiches; five students sharing four; or four sharing three. Each child developed his own solution, and the group decided which way was best.

. . . This week, students will advance from dividing sandwiches to comparing fractions with different denominators, to calculating least common denominators.

In another fifth-grade class, students have spent weeks writing research papers on the Mayans. Students might score higher, Winerip suggests, if they drilled on writing essays for tests: Write a topic sentence, three sentences that support the thesis with examples from literature, current events and personal experience and a concluding sentence.

I spent my entire high school career writing topic sentences supported by subtopic sentences supported by three “concrete and specific” details. And I wrote a report on the Mayans in sixth grade. Writing research papers and learning to support a thesis with examples are not incompatible.

If Winerip is correct about the numbers — if it’s possible for 89 percent of students to score proficient and the teachers to look like losers — then the value-added system is not reliable.

New standards, tests may kill teacher ratings

New common standards, which will require new tests, may put the kibosh on value-added ratings of teachers, speculates WashPost columnist Jay Mathews.

California will switch to Common Core Standards in 2014, get new tests in 2015, but no new textbooks aligned with the new standards and tests until 2017, teacher Jerry Heverly learned at a conference organized by his union. The state can’t afford new books.

(Heverly) has no strong feelings about the current tests, but the big change in 2015 is akin to watching a rising tide approach sand castles carefully constructed on the beach.

Integrated Math I, II and III will replace the traditional algebra, geometry, advanced algebra sequence, Heverly was told.  (This is a blast from the past: California adopted integrated math — algebra, geometry and statistics are taught at each level — in 1992. After protests, districts won the right to choose a traditional or integrated approach. New math standards were adopted  five years later, which required a new exam. Integrated math went out of fashion.)

The new standards will require changes in other subjects, as well. And developers say the new tests will be quite different, stressing students’ ability to explain their thinking, not just right answers.  Mathews writes:

These new tests in nearly every state will delay, if not stop altogether, the national move toward rating teachers by student score improvements. School districts can’t do that when the tests change so radically. They might have to wait years to work out the kinks in the tests before using them to assess teachers.

Once the new tests are accepted as valid, it will take years of data on students’ progress to create valid value-added measures of teacher effectiveness.