Teachers take value-added to court

The courts may decide whether students’ test score gains are a fair way to judge teachers, note the Hechinger Report.

In what may be among the first of many lawsuits over the new evaluations—which have been adopted by multiple states—the Florida teachers union is challenging the state’s use of test scores in decisions about which teachers are fired and which receive pay raises. The Florida Education Association argues the system violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses.

Everyone agrees that value-added measures, which compare students’ performance with a teacher to their past performance, aren’t entirely reliable. But are they good enough?

About one-quarter of effective teachers may be misidentified as ineffective, concludes a paper by Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington-Bothell, and Susanna Loeb, of Stanford. “The error rates,” they write, “appear to be quite high.”

And, yet, traditional methods of evaluating teachers, such as “cursory classroom observations, pass rates on licensure tests and degrees earned” are even less reliable.

“Flawed as they are, value-added measures appear to be better predictors of student achievement than the teacher characteristics that we currently use,” the researchers write.

“Ultimately, employment decisions need only be based on evaluation systems that are sufficiently valid, not perfect,” they conclude.

Best, worst teachers can be spotted early

The best and worst teachers can be identified in their first two years in the classroom by value-added analysis, according to a working paper by University of Virginia and Stanford researchers. Teachers improve as they gain experience, however early effectiveness ratings predict how teachers will be evaluated after five years in the classroom, the study concluded.

Researchers tracked new fourth- and fifth-grade teachers in New York City, analyzing their students’ achievement-test results in math and English/language arts, as well as gender, ethnicity, home language, poverty, special education status, and absences and suspensions. Teachers’ value-added ratings — their ability to improve students’ achievement — in the first two years were compared with the next three years.

Overall, the teachers improved significantly in their first two years in their value-added score. While more than 36 percent of teachers were rated in the lowest of five levels of effectiveness at the start of their careers, only 12 percent were still rated in that same quintile by their third year of teaching.

However, when teachers at each initial level of effectiveness were tracked individually over time, their growth was much less significant. Compared with other teachers who started at the same time they did, teachers in the lowest 20 percent were still likely to be in the lowest 20 percent three to five years later.

Firing teachers in the lowest 10 percent in value-added effectiveness after two years would eliminate 30 percent of the least-effective group in five years, pointed out Tim R. Sass, an economics and public-policy research professor at Georgia State. Principals wouldn’t lose any teachers who’d eventually be rated in the top 10 percent.

A walking ray of sunshine (and failure)

“This year, I have been blessed with a student who may be the nicest kid I’ve ever taught,” writes Exasperated Educator, who teaches in New York City.

Always prepared with an ear-to-ear smile and enormous enthusiasm, he is friendly to everyone even the mean kids. . . . No matter how challenging the lesson is for him, he works hard to understand. He is a walking ray of sunshine.

She’s also got a student who can process information in the moment, but can’t retain anything.

I model it. I give him manipulatives. I’ve had other students tutor him. I’ve given him extra homework. I’ve given him no homework. I’ve let him investigate the topic using videos or computer games. I’ve kept him at lunch for private tutoring. If he does understand the lesson, it lasts only a short while and certainly not into the next day.

It’s the same kid. As much as she likes him, she worries his inevitable failure will make it harder for her to be labeled an “effective” teacher. She resents that — and hates herself for thinking of this warm-hearted boy as a problem.

Value-added analysis is supposed to account for this kind of student: He’s maintaining his previous rate of growth — none — in her class. Whether it actually works like that is another story.  Exasperated doesn’t say if he’s been diagnosed with a learning disability. Inability to retain information should qualify him for an Individualized Education Program, though that’s no magic cure.

Superintendent: Don’t test for 3 years

Schools need time to implement Common Core standards, so declare a three-year moratorium on federally required testing, proposes Joshua P. Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, in a Washington Post op-ed.

If we are serious about realizing the promise of the Common Core, we must allow our school districts to focus on the important work of curriculum and assessment development, implementation and professional development.

Most U.S. public school systems are attempting to implement at least three things at once right now: revamped accountability measures, reforms as part of the federal Race to the Top program and the Common Core State Standards. This is simply too much at one time.

“School districts are not investing in new curricula, assessments, professional development or data systems” because they’re so distracted by testing, Starr argues.

I think his real concern is to derail value-added teacher evaluation plans.

Gates: Mix measures to evaluate teachers

Combining growth in students’ test scores, student feedback and classroom observations produces accurate information on teacher effectiveness, according to Gates Foundation research.

A composite measure on teacher effectiveness drawing on all three of those measures, and tested through a random-assignment experiment, predicted fairly accurately how much high-performing teachers would successfully boost their students’ standardized-test scores, concludes the series of new papers, part of the massive Measures of Effective Teaching study launched three years ago.

No more than half of a teacher’s evaluation should be on growth in student achievement, researchers concluded.  In addition, teachers’ classroom performance should be observed by more than one person.

Of course, the controversy on how to evaluate teachers — and what to do with the information — is not over.

The ever-increasing federal role in education makes no sense, writes Marc Tucker, who complains that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is forcing states to evaluate teachers based on student performance in order to get No Child Left Behind waivers.  Most researchers don’t think value-added measures of teacher performance are reliable, writes Tucker.

The study is a “political document and not a research document,” Jay Greene tells the Wall Street Journal.  Classroom observations aren’t a strong predictor of student performance says Greene, a professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas. “But the Gates Foundation knows that teachers and others are resistant to a system that is based too heavily on student test scores, so they combined them with other measures to find something that was more agreeable to them,” he said.

CREDO: Indiana charter students do well

Students at Indiana charter schools outperformed similar students at traditional public schools in math and reading, concludes a new report from Stanford’s CREDO. Indianapolis charter students did especially well, reports Ed Week.

The study tracked 15,297 charter school students at 64 schools from grades 3-8. On average, students in charter schools ended the year having made the equivalent of 1.5 more months of learning gains in both reading and math than their traditional public school counterparts did. Students in charter schools in Indianapolis ended the year ahead of their traditional public school counterparts by two months in reading and three months in math.

Charter students and the control group were matched by  demographic and performance data (gender, race/ethnicity, special education status, English language proficiency, free-or-reduced lunch participation, grade level, and prior test scores on state achievement tests).

In Indiana, 58 percent of charter students are black, compared to 11 percent of the state’s students. Eleven percent of charter students are in special education compared to 15 percent in traditional public schools.

In a wrap-up on education research in 2012, Matthew Di Carlo notes that CREDO’s research on charter gains in Indiana and New Jersey show most of the progress comes in big cities, Indianapolis and Newark. By contrast, rural charter students tend to underperform similar students.

One contentious variation on this question is whether charter schools “cream” higher-performing students, and/or “push out” lower-performing students, in order to boost their results. Yet another Mathematica supplement to their 2010 report examining around 20 KIPP middle schools was released, addressing criticisms that KIPP admits students with comparatively high achievement levels, and that the students who leave are lower-performing than those who stay. This report found little evidence to support either claim (also take a look at our post on attrition and charters).

An another analysis, presented in a conference paper, “found that low-performing students in a large anonymous district did not exit charters at a discernibly higher rate than their counterparts in regular public schools,” DiCarlo adds.

On the flip side of the entry/exit equation, this working paper found that students who won charter school lotteries (but had not yet attended the charter) saw immediate “benefits” in the form of reduced truancy rates, an interesting demonstration of the importance of student motivation.

Di Carlo has more on the research this year on charter management organizations, merit pay and teacher evaluations using value-added and growth measures.

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.”