Monday, October 29, 2012

An unfair burden raises concerns . . .

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center did an op-ed for the Kent Journal about why teachers will  love charter schools.  She quotes a current public school teacher sharing the constraints being experienced by teachers in today's public schools and then offers six ways that charter schools offer an escape from the unfair burdens being placed upon them by traditional school administrators.  When I got to number four I found myself getting a little upset.

Fourth, teachers in charter schools are evaluated on their performance on an individualized, humane basis by a high-quality principal who knows them well. Teachers in traditional schools in Washington state will soon be evaluated on a complex checklist of factors, reduced to a matrix of numbers, which cannot possibly capture a teacher's unique and quintessentially singular ability to motivate and inspire students to learn.

If you follow my blog you know that I have struggled with the new evaluation system and shared my thinking in previous posts such as this one.  It wasn't "traditional school administrators" who decided on the model we are being forced to implement, it was policy makers responding to pressure from Washington D.C. and the "reformers" who see value-added as a necessary component of school reform.  The same might be said of the charter initiative that she believes teachers will love.

I didn't need to see this op-ed piece, but now that I have I will share some additional information on the teacher evaluation models that have now become the next big thing to change the quality of public education. This Education Week article from last week, shares two research studies that raise questions about it's use at secondary levels. Findings from a study  of middle school math teachers by Douglas N. Harris of Tulane University raises the question of how academic tracking may be influencing the results.

Failing to account for how students are sorted into more- or less-rigorous classes—as well as the effect different tracks have on student learning—can lead to biased "value added" estimates of middle and high school teachers' ability to boost their students' standardized-test scores, the papers conclude.

"I think it suggests that we're making even more errors than we need to—and probably pretty large errors—when we're applying value-added to the middle school level," said Douglas N. Harris, an associate professor of economics at Tulane University in New Orleans, whose study examines the application of a value-added approach to middle school math scores.

I also found very interesting the analysis shared below that can and most likely would have a significant influence on the math courses that teachers would want to teach knowing their student learning score is part of their overall evaluation total.

The scholars' analysis also showed that teachers who taught more remedial classes tended to have lower value-added scores, on average, than those teachers who taught mainly higher-level classes.

That phenomenon was not due to the best teachers' disproportionately teaching the more-rigorous classes, as is often asserted. Instead, the paper shows, even those teachers who taught courses at more than one level of rigor did better when their performance teaching the upper-level classes was compared against that from the lower-level classes.

The idea of tracking is a common-sense scenario for any parent who has faced the politics of middle school, Mr. Harris said. "It's not that surprising when you think about how tracking works," he said. "Part of it is based on whether your parents are the ones who are more savvy about this and are going to call the counselor and lobby for you to be in these higher courses."

But if such bias is not accounted for in policy, a teacher could, in effect, boost his or her value-added score simply by teaching all higher-level courses, the paper notes.

Add to this another article from Education Week where twelve of the nation's top education researchers urged caution in the use of value-added evaluation models.  In a series of studies, Jesse Rothstein, a University of California professor, found bias in standard value-added models.

“[Value-added measures] will deteriorate—will become less reliable and less closely tied to true effectiveness—if they are used for high-stakes individual decisions,” Mr. Rothstein wrote in a brief for the meeting. “How much will teachers change their content coverage, neglect nontested subjects and topics, lobby for the right students, teach test-taking strategies, and cheat outright? ... We simply don’t know.”

I could go on, but I'll just share one more example of why we need to be cautious with how these evaluations will be used.  It comes from an article Amy Adams shared with me about Florida's value added model in this Tampa Bay Times article.

What aggravates teachers most is that 40 to 50 percent of their evaluation is based on "student achievement" — but it's not always their own students who are being measured.

For example, fourth- and fifth-grade teachers are rated partly on their students' FCAT scores. But the FCAT is not given until third grade. So if you teach a lower grade, then your "student achievement" score is based on the scores of older students at your school. Similarly, teachers of subjects that don't even appear on the state's standardized test are being evaluated, at least in part, on FCAT scores. Eventually, the newer end-of-course exams will be counted into the equation.

Kim Musselman teaches kindergarten at Clearwater's Eisenhower Elementary, where children's families tend to move a lot, she said. So she likely will be evaluated on the scores of older children whom she never taught.

When the evaluations are used to determine raises, "my pay is going to be based on kids that I've never had before," Musselman said.

This is one of my biggest fears; that in the future raises will be based on the results of these models and that there is so much more that must be learned before they should be used for this purpose, if ever.  What will our learning organizations become if raises are based on a teacher's value added score and when teachers lobby to teach only those classes and those kids that result in higher ratings?   How will this influence principals as they make these important and difficult decisions?

Quite a long post from reading a short op-ed piece.  It concerns me that if I-1240 passes there will be 40 charter schools that need not evaluate teachers using the state-mandated process.  If it is so important and has so much promise to improve instruction in public schools, and if charters are public schools in this state, why would they not be required to follow the same evaluation rules that we must?  Or, if as Finne says it is another unfair burden, why require it of all other public schools in the state?  If teachers in our district did not belong to TEA, WEA, or any other EA would we get the same exemption?

I'm still upset that we can't use our instructional model that we spent years developing and refining and I don't believe that being a charter school or school system would improve what we are creating in Tahoma.  Finally, I guess that I am one of those "traditional school administrators" that Finne speaks about, but please know that I had no role in placing the unfair evaluation burden on teachers and principals.

1 comment:

Scott Mitchell said...

This is exactly the thing that gets me fired up about charters. Olympia says do this in the public school system with evaluation and then they turn around and support charters that state they do not have to follow the rules. They are saying let's reform schools with new evaluation models and then say we need charters so that they do not have to follow these same models. What a bunch of garbage.

Also, one point that you quoted in your post that you did not address is the individuals will be evaluated on an individual, humane basis by high quality principals who know them well. This really sets me off. In Tahoma, regardless of the what system is in place, I know that I will always be evaluated on an individual, humane basis by a high quality principal. The model that is in place should not have any affect on this. I can agree that it is sad that we evaluation will be a matrix of numbers but I also know that I will still be looked at for my uniqueness and ability to motivate and inspire. I am not sure what one teacher they found that has a bee in their bonnet but you can find one in any system.

I too am upset that we cannot use our model to evaluate, it just seems like a wrong way to move forward. A district and association both want to use a model that will lead to success but the state forces into their selected models.

Okay, I am being told to stop by my wife, who is my health monitor (watching the blood pressure).