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February 27, 2014

The public doesn’t always have the right to know

Don’t get me wrong I am a huge proponent of transparency. The more information the public—especially parents—have about our public schools the better. However, there is just some information the public  shouldn’t have the right to see. Unfortunately, courts in a handful of states have declared that the public has a right to incomplete information about individual teachers. Florida is the latest example, where the courts have ruled that value-added scores for individual teachers are to be made public.

Publicly releasing value-added scores for individual teachers is wrong for a number of reasons but I will limit my critique to the usefulness of the information. As those you who follow this blog and read CPE’s research know, I am an avid proponent of using value-added scores to evaluate teachers. But I have said time and again neither value-added scores nor any other single measure should be used to evaluate teachers by themselves. To truly capture the true performance of a teacher they need to be evaluated using multiple measures. Thankfully, nearly every state has heeded that advice and now in fact evaluate their teachers using multiple measures- including value-added scores or other measures of student achievement gains. Such comprehensive approaches to evaluating teachers not only more accurately evaluates the true performance of a teacher but also provides valuable feedback to help all teachers improve- even the most effective teachers. Such improvements can have a profound effect on student achievement but only if teachers trust their evaluation is being used as a flashlight not a hammer to steal a phrase from our friends at the Data Quality Campaign. As such, the release of value-added scores for individual teachers can only undermine the efforts policymakers and educators have put in to create an evaluation system that will ultimately improve the performance of students in Florida.

I understand the argument that parents have a right to know if their child is being taught by an ineffective teacher. As a parent myself I want to know that information as well. But the answer is not providing parents incomplete information like in Florida. Providing parents only a teacher’s value-added score to determine if their child’s teacher is effective is like your doctor evaluating your health on your weight alone. Just like a doctor needs more information to evaluate your health, parents need more information on how the teacher actually performs in the classroom to determine if they are effective. Basing decisions on incomplete information will likely lead to bad decisions.

As states continue to implement these new teacher evaluation systems it will be an important debate as to what information about teachers the public is entitled and what information should only be used by administrators.  Currently some states do release aggregate teacher data at the school level but not about individual teachers, while other states like Rhode Island mandate that a student cannot be taught by an ineffective teacher for two years in row. However, most states have no policies on what information should be made public and in what form. It is a conversation that needs to be happening now in states throughout the country or more courts will likely force the release of incomplete data like in Florida that may undermine the years of work states have been putting in to create fair and accurate evaluation systems. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Teacher evaluation,teachers — Jim Hull @ 9:53 am

February 24, 2014

State Teacher Evaluation Policy – Change for the Better?

The U.S. Department of Education recently released a report titled State Implementation of Reforms Promoted Under the Recovery Act  that examines the changes in state policies between the 2009-2010 school year (the year the Recovery Act was enacted) and the 2010-2011 school year (the first school year after funds were awarded). Between 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, the number of state education agencies that reported supporting differentiated teacher compensation based on student achievement gains increased from 7 to 9. That said, the number of states that used teacher evaluation systems that measured performance with multi-level ratings, were based on multiple observations, and were based in part on student achievement gains only increased from one to two in that same time period. Overall, we can see from this report that while state education agencies were using money from the Recovery Act to build up evaluation and data systems, it was a very slow process. Although a priority, most states were unable to make dramatic changes to their teacher evaluation methods in the first year following the enactment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

However, CPE’s Trends in Teacher Evaluation report paints a slightly rosier picture when it comes to progress on teacher evaluation policy. Forty-one states now require or recommend that multiple measures be used when evaluating teacher performance, including student achievement data, classroom observations, and other factors such as student surveys and lesson plan reviews. The National Council on Teacher Quality recently released its 2013 State Teacher Policy Yearbook National Summary  which offered some interesting insight on the trends in evaluation methods over the last three school years.  One of the most striking things to come out of this report was that in 2010-2011, only 10% of states had policies in place that required teacher evaluations to include student achievement as a part of the teacher’s overall rating, but by 2012-2013, that number had increased to 80% of the states.

These changes can be attributed in large part to states seeing teacher evaluation with a new sense of urgency once their eligibility for Race to the Top money and No Child Left Behind waivers was tied to student achievement and using multiple measures in their evaluation systems. It seems promising that more states are enacting policies that use multiple measures to evaluate teachers, but we have yet to see how most of the policies will be implemented, much less how effective they will be once in place. If implemented well, they have the potential to help struggling teachers get the help they need and encourage good teachers to be great, but without proper implementation, these new policies on teacher evaluation could easily fall flat. While the efforts to enact these standards are admirable, it is too early to tell what impact these changes in evaluation will have on the teaching profession.

Filed under: CPE,Teacher evaluation,teachers — Patricia Campbell @ 4:07 pm

February 19, 2014

How can states retain effective teachers?

One of the five key areas identified in the National Council on Teacher Quality’s 2013 State Teacher Policy Yearbook is that states need to focus on is the retention of effective teachers. While there has been much discussion recently on how to evaluate who is an effective teacher, dismissing ineffective teachers, and compensating highly effective teachers, there has been limited discussion on ways to retain effective teachers aside from increasing compensation. While the NCTQ report does address performance pay and other compensation related solutions as ways to retain effective teachers, I will primarily focus on other aspects.

The NCTQ report found that effective induction for new teachers is critical for developing and retaining good teachers. Pairing new teachers with an experienced mentor who has shown evidence of their own subject-matter expertise and classroom effectiveness is critical, especially in high-need schools. This mentoring should happen frequently and should start during the first few weeks of school – a critical period for many new teachers. While the majority of states (31) have some law requiring mentoring of all new teachers, only nine require that the new teachers are mentored starting in the first weeks of the school year.

Professional development should also be a priority for schools that want to develop and retain effective teachers.  As stated in CPE’s report Teaching the Teachers, teachers need to receive regular feedback on their teaching and have the opportunity to participate in professional development opportunities based on their own strengths and weaknesses. This is an area with a lot of potential for improvement, since currently only 31 states require that teacher evaluations help shape and inform professional development. This is disappointing since there is always more to learn, especially in a field that is evolving as rapidly as teaching. Even great teachers can benefit from professional development opportunities, and schools could show that they are making it a priority to retain these great teachers by providing them with professional development opportunities.

It is important to look for ways to retain great teachers that don’t necessarily involve increased compensation. The conversation about teacher retention has been too focused on performance pay recently. While this might incentivize some teachers to stay in a position longer than they were planning to, any public school teacher will tell you they’re not in it for the money. Giving teachers opportunities to gain new skills and further develop their craft while creating a supportive school culture should also provide a huge incentive for excellent teachers to stick around. Retaining these excellent teachers gives schools a larger pool of experienced educators who can intensively mentor incoming cohorts of new teachers, thus creating a culture of effective teaching.  While there have been some changes in state policies in the last few years addressing the importance of these factors, there is still a lot of room for growth.

-Patricia Campbell

Filed under: Pay for Performance,Teacher evaluation,teachers — Jim Hull @ 2:14 pm

November 20, 2013

Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s a good idea

While I have been a proponent of using value-added measures to evaluate teachers, I have argued that valued-added scores should be one of multiple measures used to evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness. I am certainly not alone in that argument. I don’t know of any credible researcher or policymaker who believes value-added scores by themselves can accurately reflect a teacher’s performance.

In fact, as our latest report on teacher evaluation systems found, in no state does a single student achievement measure make up more than half a teacher’s evaluation. Policymakers realized that teaching is too complex to rely on a single measure to evaluate teachers, so they designed systems where teachers are evaluated on multiple measures.

Unfortunately, newspapers in Florida and Los Angeles have not come to the same realization. For some reason, newspapers there believe publishing individual teachers’ value-added scores are in the public’s interest.

Just because open record laws give newspapers the power to publish individual teachers’ scores doesn’t mean it’s in the public’s interest. There are a lot of things that are legal but aren’t in the public interest. It’s legal for newspapers to report troop locations but they don’t because it puts our solder’s lives in danger. While releasing teachers’ value-added scores will not lead to such dire consequences, they can inflict undue harm to teachers.

To begin with, publishing individual teachers’ value-added scores does not necessarily provide the public with an accurate portrayal of teacher quality in those schools. Value-added scores are just estimates of a teacher’s impact on their students’ test scores. As with any estimate, there is some error just like there is in political polling. Value-added results should be evaluated over multiple years along with other measures of teacher quality, such as classroom observations and student surveys.

Evaluating teachers on a single measure and making that measure public is irresponsible. Our teachers deserve better and the public deserves better as well. When the public reads these scores in their local newspaper they’re not going to know the limitations of the data they are looking at. Most people don’t know what value-added measures are, nonetheless their limitations.

Rather than publishing the value-added scores of individual teachers, these newspapers should investigate whether teachers are being evaluated accurately and whether the results are being used to improve the performance of all teachers so all students have access to effective teachers. Now that is in the public interest.

 – Jim Hull

Filed under: Growth Models,Teacher evaluation,teachers — Jim Hull @ 7:30 am

October 17, 2013

Seeing results takes time

As one of the first districts to make student achievement a major component of a comprehensive teacher evaluation system, Washington, DC is now seeing some of the benefits according to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The NBER authors find that since DC implemented its teacher evaluation systems called IMPACT, 4 percent of the lowest rated teachers were dismissed and 30 percent of minimally effective (IMPACT’s second lowest category) voluntarily left the district. Of course, losing lower performing teachers is only good for students if they are replaced by more effective teachers. The good news is that according to the study this is what is happening in DC.

However, as I argued in CPE’s latest report, Trends in Teacher Evaluation , in order for IMPACT and similar evaluation systems to truly be effective they need to focus on improving and supporting all teachers and not just concentrate on identifying and dismissing a small percentage of continuously low-performing teachers. While IMPACT focuses more on dismissing low-performing teachers than most evaluation systems, it does provide all teachers with supports, such as instructional coaches, to continuously improve their performance as well as provide financial incentives to retain high performing teachers. The evidence is less clear on the effect of DC’s new evaluation system in these areas.

Critics point to the fact that DC test scores have remained relatively flat since the implementation of IMPACT to counter claims of the evaluation system’s success. Although I argue any good evaluation system should result in increased student achievement, such results take time, especially when looking at a large district like DC. There are no silver bullets in education. This is true for the new teacher evaluations systems being implemented in over 40 states. They will not improve student achievement overnight. It will take time to accurately identify teachers who shouldn’t be in the classroom and replace them with more effective teachers. And as CPE’s recent report on teacher professional development found, it takes time for instructional supports to change teacher practices as well.

As such, it is not surprising DC hasn’t seen a significant increase in student achievement as of yet. However, this doesn’t mean that DC should take a wait and see approach. District leaders need to continually listen to teachers, administrators, and even students to get their feedback on how IMPACT should be improved and make adjustments as necessary just as they have done in the past. For districts in any state to get the greatest impact, district leaders need to continuously update their evaluation systems to not only ensure they are accurately evaluating teachers but are providing teachers timely feedback and the support they need to implement the best instructional practices. Teacher evaluation systems should never be static but be living policies that adjust with the ever changing needs of the district and their teachers, and eventually have a positive impact on student achievement. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Teacher evaluation,teachers — Tags: — Jim Hull @ 3:33 pm

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