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September 18, 2014

PDK/Gallup poll Part 2 shows teachers matter

The folks at PDK and Gallup apparently had so much to report in this year’s annual poll of public attitudes toward public schools, they had to release it in two parts. Part 1, which we summarized here, addressed the Common Core state standards and perceptions about public schools more generally. Part 2, released this week, focuses primarily on public attitudes about the teaching profession. What they have to say should provide comfort to beleaguered teachers.

First, nearly two-thirds of the public expresses “trust and confidence in the men and women teaching children in the public schools.” The study’s authors note that this represents a decline from previous years. Nonetheless, it must be a refreshing show of support for teachers who have many reasons to feel beat up by the punditry.

The public also recognizes the key role teachers play in student learning and by large margins would welcome policies to bolster their preparation and training. A full 81% believe prospective teachers should be required to “pass board certification” similar to that for other professionals like doctors and lawyers on top of their college degree in order to be licensed to teach. Likewise, 60% thought that there should be higher entrance requirements into teacher prep programs at the front end. The majority also support the idea of requiring a longer period of supervised practice before teachers take charge of their own classrooms. A plurality of 44% thought such a bridge period should last one year with 27% saying new teachers need two (see chart).




Political affiliation had almost no effect on opinions about teacher preparation. Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike called for increasing rigor. Not so when asked about teacher evaluation, however, possibly in response to growing political controversy over new evaluation policies that are based in part on teachers’ impact on student learning. Nationally, 61% of the public opposes evaluations that include “how well a teacher’s students perform on standardized tests.” Yet only 50% of Republicans were opposed compared to 68% of Democrats. Interestingly, overall opposition to using evaluation in this way is much higher now than it was just two years ago when slightly less than half of the overall public thought it was a bad idea.

Similar party-affiliation gaps were evident when pollsters asked about the purposes of evaluation: 86% of Democrats said using evaluation to help “teachers improve” was “very important” compared to 71% of Republicans. In contrast, Republicans were much more favorable to linking evaluation to salaries or bonuses: 51% of Republicans said this was “very important” compared to only 41% of Democrats.

Other questions explored whether the public thinks their schools need to change “to meet today’s needs” and if so, how. More than half (58%) said that schools need to change compared to 47% who though so in 2006. The biggest needed change the public would like to see is a greater emphasis on career-technical education: 60% “strongly agreed” that “high school students should receive more education about possible career choices” while 32% said the same about placing “more emphasis” on college preparation for all.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the public thinks career education is more important than college readiness. It could indicate that they think high schools are doing ok with college prep but they need to do more to get students ready for work. But either way, the message is clear that the public is looking toward high schools to make sure all graduates are able to thrive in the new workplace.

Along those lines, CPE’s Jim Hull has been analyzing work and other outcomes for the group of high school graduates who do not go to a two- or four-year college. His findings should produce some valuable insights into what career-readiness should look like. His first report will be released in the next two weeks so stay tuned. — Patte Barth

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

August 28, 2014

Success of new teacher evaluation systems in districts’ hands

In just the past few years just about every state has revamped how their teachers are evaluated. In 2010 the vast majority of teachers were evaluated by being observed for 45 minutes every couple years. Now, most teachers are evaluated annually based on multiple measures of their effectiveness. Although these new comprehensive evaluation systems have the opportunity to significantly impact the overall quality of our nation’s teachers, a new report from Bellwether Education Partners shows that they are still in need of improvement.

While these new evaluation systems are superior to previous evaluation systems, the report points out there is still room for improvement and provide five major findings with lessons for policymakers:

  1. Districts are starting to differentiate between poor, fair, and great educator performance, rather than treating all teachers as interchangeable widgets.
  2. Schools are using higher-quality classroom observation rubrics to provide teachers with better, timelier feedback.
  3. Despite state policy changes, many districts still don’t factor student growth into teacher evaluation ratings.
  4. Districts have wide discretion even under “statewide” evaluation systems—meaning that evaluation systems within the same state may look very different from one another.
  5. Districts continue to ignore performance when making decisions about teacher hiring, compensation, tenure, and dismissal.


As you can see “district” is explicitly mentioned in four of the five lessons and the fifth lesson about classroom observations typically falls under the domain of districts as well. This pretty much means the success or failure of these new evaluation systems depends in large part on our nation’s school boards as they are the policymakers at the district level.  As the report points out, even in states that mandate the use of a statewide evaluation system school districts have significant discretion over how their teachers are evaluated.

As I argue in our report Trends in Teacher Evaluations it is imperative that districts have flexibility in how they evaluate their teachers. And it is good to see that this is the case, as the Bellwether report stated, “Evaluation reform has not meant the end of local discretion.”

While flexibility is necessary, districts also need support too. Few districts have the resources and expertise to implement an accurate and effective teacher evaluation system on their own. Districts need support from their states to help them align these new evaluation systems to the unique needs of their district.

While responsibility for designing teacher evaluation systems was originally placed on states, this new report clearly shows that these new teacher evaluation systems will only be successful if school boards are provided the resources not only to implement these evaluation systems but also to provide professional development opportunities that are aligned with the results of each teacher’s evaluation. Without proper support for districts, teacher evaluations are unlikely to have much of an impact on the quality of our nation’s teachers. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Teacher evaluation,teachers — Tags: , , — Jim Hull @ 10:37 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

August 20, 2013

Wrong about standardized tests

1335-1243972165NX9TA couple weeks ago I blogged that it seemed there were as many defenders of standardized testing as there were defenders of Alex Rodriguez and Lance Armstrong. My perception was influenced by the many blogs and news articles I continually read as well as the number of conversations I have had with researchers, policymakers, and educators about dangers of standardized testing. Of course, these are anecdotal and not based on any hard data which is why I was completely wrong in assuming standardized tests had few supporters.

In fact, standardized tests have significant support from a group within the education community that I failed to recognize, parents. Students may be the ones actually receiving an education but in reality parents are the true consumers of education which make their opinion extremely valuable, certainly much more valuable than any blogger, journalist, researcher, or policy analyst (including yours truly).

Which is why the results from a recent poll conducted by the Associated Press- NORC Center for Public Affairs Research on parent attitudes of the quality of education in the United States are so intriguing. While the perception is that standardized tests are as popular as serial cheaters, a large majority of parents support the use of standardized testing. Nearly three out of four parents believe it is very important or extremely important that their child’s school regularly assess whether or not their child is meeting statewide expectations for their grade level. Perception is also that students are just taking too many tests, yet just 26 percent of parents believe this to be true. Another perception is that students in low-performing schools are being inundated with standardized tests yet parents of children in low-performing schools are more likely to state their child takes too few standardized tests than parents in higher-performing schools.

Contrary to popular belief, parents believe standardized tests provide an accurate measure of their child’s ability and the quality of the school their child attends. In fact, 75 percent of parents say that standardized tests are an accurate or somewhat accurate measure of their child’s performance while 69 percent of parents believe they are an accurate or somewhat accurate measure of their child’s school. This is likely why over 90 percent of parents believe standardized tests should be used to identify areas where students need extra help and why over 80 percent of parents believe they should be used to ensure all students meet grade-level standards. The majority (60 percent) of parents also believe that standardized tests should be used to evaluate teachers although they also believe teachers should be evaluated based on classroom observations and student feedback as well.

If perception was indeed reality then standardized testing would only be popular among policymakers and so-called reformers who have forced standardized tests on public schools without any regard to those who are impacted most. While the poll shows a lack of support by teachers, a large majority of parents do in fact support the use of standardized testing for a variety of reasons. They see it is a valuable tool to help improve their child’s performance as well as determine how their child stacks up to grade-level standards.  Of course, standardized tests are just one tool and other measures should be used to evaluate students and schools as well. However, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water so we should be continually working to find the right balance of standardized tests and other measures to evaluate and improve the performance of all our students and schools and end the most outrageous perception of all, that our public schools are failing. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Assessments,Parents,Public education,Testing — Tags: , , — Jim Hull @ 2:21 pm

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