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September 9, 2014

Myths About Teacher Evaluations

While teacher evaluations haven’t garnered as much media attention as the Common Core, in the education world it has been nearly as controversial. And just like the Common Core there are a number of myths about teacher evaluations that impede important discussions on how evaluations can best be used to improve student performance. Even this insightful EdWeek essay by a Philadelphia high school math teacher included some popular myths such as:

            Value-added systems provide precise percentile rankings of teachers

While value-added models certainly can provide percentile rankings of teachers this is typically not the case. The objective of most value-added measures is not to create rankings—which wouldn’t be very precise—but to determine if a teacher is more or less effective than an average teacher. Value-added measures cannot, should not, and typically are not used to rank teachers from best to worst in any teacher evaluation system.

The impact of a given teacher on student performance is too small to accurately quantify

Because there are a number of factors besides teachers that impact students’ test scores, this is exactly the reason why value-added measures should be used. It is the only quantifiable measure that even attempts to isolate the impact of the teacher from other factors that influence student achievement. As this video shows, teachers have a tremendous impact on the academic success of their students.

The differences between schools are too great to accurately quantify

It is true that large differences between schools have an impact on teacher effectiveness which is why high quality value-added models are designed to minimize the impact of such differences. A good value-added model will compare teachers within the same school or similar schools to control for the differences between schools. These controls are not perfect but they provide a more accurate assessment of how a teacher would perform in a typical school.

Teachers are blindly fired due to flawed data that doesn’t provide context

While the other three myths had some nuggets of truth, this one is totally untrue. As I found in my Trends in Teacher Evaluation report, no state relies solely on value-added (or any one measure of student achievement) for more than half of a teacher’s overall evaluation. Even in states where half of a teacher’s evaluation is based on measures of student achievement, most of these states require that multiple measures of student achievement be used, such as student learning objectives, formative assessments and teacher developed exams.

Furthermore, in just about every state evaluation system, the lowest-performing teachers are provided additional professional development, mentoring, or other assistance to help improve their performance. Only if the teacher fails to improve after multiple years of low performance do they become eligible to be fired. And in most states the district still has the final say on whether a teacher is fired or not. So while teacher evaluation systems are used to identify low-performing teachers, it is still up to district leaders in most states to determine what to do with that information. – Jim Hull

Filed under: CPE,Teacher evaluation,teachers — Tags: — Jim Hull @ 2:32 pm





September 5, 2014

CPE’s Newest Intern

Hello, my name is Courtney Spetko. I am the new intern at the Center for Public Education and will soon start posting weekly blogs here on The EDifer, so I thought I would introduce myself. I am currently a senior at The George Washington University pursuing a degree in Economics and Political Science.

I initially became interested in education policy during my freshman year of college when I started tutoring for an afterschool program in southeast Washington, D.C.  I quickly learned that public schools in D.C. are drastically different than the schools I attended in a New Jersey suburb. It was disheartening to hear from students that their teachers had quit within the first few months of the school year and that they were then without a qualified permanent math teacher. I used this personal experience as inspiration for a research paper for my Labor Economics last semester. In this paper, I researched the differences between charter and traditional public school teachers in Washington, D.C. and their characteristics, including turnover rates, academic backgrounds, and salary.

In addition to my tutoring and class experience, I worked at a non-profit over the summer that aims to fix the achievement gap and end summer learning loss by implementing an enrichment program for low achieving students. I also have interned for President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, where I provided assistance for their various research projects. I am especially excited to begin my internship with The Center to learn more about the public education system across the United States and to understand how education policy is used to confront the current challenges that students, teachers, administrators, and school boards face.

Filed under: CPE — Courtney Spetko @ 2:10 pm





August 21, 2014

Test scores aren’t perfect— and neither are classroom observations

Classroom Observations Critics of using student test scores to evaluate teachers often point to research that shows there is a limitation to using student test scores to evaluate teachers. Due to such limitations, critics argue, student test scores shouldn’t be used to evaluate teachers. Critics typically go on to argue, if teachers are to be evaluated they should be evaluated based on how well they teach by conducting classroom observations. The problem, however, is this argument is based on the assumption that classroom observations are a more accurate measure of a teacher’s true effectiveness.

To this end, researchers at the American Institutes of Research (AIR) recently attempted to determine how accurate classroom observations were at measuring a teacher’s effectiveness. What they found is contrary to popular belief. In fact, classroom observations are not better at evaluating teacher effectiveness than using student test scores—when used within quality value-added models.

Now, this doesn’t mean classroom observations shouldn’t be used to evaluate teachers. In fact, it is critical, as they not only provide information on the quality of a teacher’s instruction but they also provide valuable feedback to teachers about the strengths and weaknesses of their instructional practices which test score can’t provide. However, it is not only important to measure how well a teacher teaches, it is just as important to determine what impact they have on their students as well. Just as in baseball, a player may have the most technically sound swing but if he can’t hit the ball they’re not going to remain on the team for very long.

This is why teachers must and are being evaluated on multiple measures, not just test scores or classroom observations.  As I laid out in Building a Better Evaluation System, to accurately evaluate the effectiveness of teachers their evaluation should be based on multiple measures such as student test scores, classroom observations or other measures. No single measure, whether classroom observations or test scores, can possibly provide a full and accurate picture of the quality of the instruction a teacher provides. By incorporating multiple measures into a comprehensive teacher evaluation program, districts can not only evaluate the quality of teachers, but more importantly identify those areas where teachers can improve.

While neither test scores nor classroom observations are perfect measures of teacher quality when used in isolation, when combined they work together to provide a valuable tool in evaluating and supporting our nation’s teachers. – Jim Hull






August 6, 2014

Interested in education policy? CPE has got the internship for you!

The Center for Public Education seeks a policy research intern to work closely with CPE’s senior policy analyst in conducting education policy research. CPE is a national resource for accurate, timely, and credible information about public education and its importance to the well-being of our nation. CPE provides up-to-date research, data, and analysis on current education issues and explores ways to improve student achievement and engage public support for public schools.

Primary duties include: Complete a major project such as a research report or writing a research article for NSBA’s magazine American School Board Journal. Other responsibilities include summarizing findings of significant education reports, updating CPE’s previous reports, and attending briefings/conferences in the Washington, DC area.

Job qualifications: A graduate or undergraduate student studying education policy, public policy, statistics, economics, or a related field. The student should also have a strong interest in education policy and research.

The internship begins in September and concludes in December and requires a minimum of 10 to 15 hours a week.

Send a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to: Jim Hull1680 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 or e-mail to jhull@nsba.org with the subject line Policy Research Intern. Please contact Jim Hull at 703-838-6758 or jhull@nsba.org with any questions about the internship.

Filed under: CPE — Tags: , , , — Jim Hull @ 2:34 pm





July 30, 2014

Hysteria to revised AP history framework shows prioritizing is hard

History is the most difficult subject to write K-12 standards for, and for one simple reason: the discipline is bursting with information. There’s not enough time, even over 13 years of public schooling, to teach students everything that is good to know in the subject. Of course, that doesn’t stop pundits and parents from protesting — often loudly — when some preferred person or event is left out.

The new AP U.S. history framework is the most recent effort to raise howls. The College Board has begun revising many of its frameworks and tests in order to reflect changes in scholarship and better align with current college freshman-level survey courses. According to the College Board, the new AP course will emphasize students’ “ability to think critically, construct solid arguments, and see many sides of an issue.” Gone are the lists of topics, replaced by a list of 27 “key concepts” each supported by 3-4 related concepts.

By my estimate, that’s over 80 content standards. That sounds like a lot, yet it’s still not enough for some. In an analysis for the Heartland Institute, retired AP teacher Larry Krieger denounced the framework for, among other things, the alleged “excising” of James Madison and Benjamin Franklin from the historical record (because they were not specifically named); its “dismissal” of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson and Washington (although all are specifically addressed, just not enough); and an imbalance in content that, Krieger claims, stresses America’s negatives over its good.

Krieger’s critique was soon picked up by the National Review , Breitbart and Glenn Beck who see something pernicious in the rewrite amounting to “left-wing indoctrination.” They have also conflated the AP revisions with the Common Core standards, even though one has nothing to do with the other. In Texas, the possible connection concerned a member of the state board of education enough that he is introducing a resolution to “rebuke and reject” the teaching of AP U.S. history in the state. Texas could be just the first.

Which brings me back to the first point: it is really difficult to write history standards. I am reminded of a very sensible question a former colleague would often ask: “if we add [favorite topic here] to the standards, what are we willing to take out?” History courses are already packed. Great political figures and major military engagements represent only a part of what a rigorous program should provide today’s students. A half century of scholarship has opened up social, economic, cultural and other lenses for viewing the past that add depth and texture to the historical picture. Every subject area — math, sciences, the arts and technology — also has a history that contributes to our understanding of those fields. On top of all this, teachers need time to help students develop their capacity to think critically and analytically about the material.

So educators have to make choices, and there’s the rub. Every story has its champions ready to engage in metaphorical combat over what should survive out of the many worthwhile stories to tell, not to mention how to tell them. And nowhere is the battle more contentious than in deciding what is important in U.S. history to teach our future citizens.

That leaves standards writers with the thankless task of trying to reconcile disparate camps. Compromise has typically been achieved one of two ways: by drafting statements that are so broad they please everyone, offend no one, and provide little guidance for teachers; or by including every topic that everyone wants, resulting in history standards that move from one fact to the next with no room for students to develop any real understanding.

Educators have often charged that the AP U.S. history framework took the latter route, something the College Board was attempting to correct with the new revision. How successful they were is clearly a topic worthy of discussion. But as a long-time standards reviewer, I’d like to offer a few things to keep in mind when considering the content of the new AP framework:

  • The framework is not a curriculum. Rather it is designed to leave decisions to teachers about the particular topics to teach and concepts to emphasize. Likewise, the AP test will feature questions that can be answered effectively by drawing from a range of historical topics for evidence. This means that no AP classroom will look exactly like the next.
  • Approximately 400,000 out of 15,000,000 high school students, or 2.6%, took the AP U.S. history exam last year. If this is a coup by the College Board to impose a national curriculum on American high schools, they really have their work cut out for themselves.
  • AP courses are intended to model college-level survey courses, and the College Board consults with universities and faculties to validate that they do. Critics who are concerned about the content might do better to direct their barbs toward higher ed.
  • Finally, students have history every year in public school beginning in at least first grade, and likely study American history yearlong in both fifth- and eighth-grades. We can assume AP students already know who George Washington is. If they don’t, we have much bigger problems to deal with than worrying about what the College Board is up to.

I have my own quibbles with the new framework. For example, I think it could have done more with science, technology and the arts and their role in defining the U.S.  But in order to include this content, what am I willing to take out?

I’ll need to think about that. – Patte Barth

Filed under: Common Core,CPE,High school,national standards — Tags: , , , , — Patte Barth @ 11:29 am





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