Building Better Teachers

State board stops short of guiding schools toward more test scores in teacher ratings

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
The Indiana State Board of Education held off on major changes to teacher evaluation today.

The Indiana State Board of Education today held off a decision to ask school districts to count test scores and other “objective” measures of teaching as bigger factors in annual teacher ratings.

Board member Gordon Hendry said the board wants to talk with legislators and get public feedback before determining how to guide schools to help them determine what counts as “objective measures” of teaching quality how to meet the standard in state law that requires test results and other measures to “significantly inform” a teacher’s rating.

“The board will not be setting specific numbers today at the meeting,” Hendry said.

A large crowd, including several educators, came to the meeting expecting a vote on a proposal to set minimum and maximum percentages for how much teacher ratings should be driven primarily by student test score gains. The guidelines would have encouraged schools to count test scores for as much as half of the teacher’s rating score.

The board approved other recommendations  for teacher evaluation by a 7-4 vote, with state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and board members Cari Whicker, Troy Albert and Andrea Neal voting no. The dissenting board members said they opposed to changes because new tests and new accountability systems in the works right now make it difficult to change how teachers are evaluated. Whicker and Neal are classroom teachers, and Albert is a principal.

“For me it’s just a premature vote,” Neal said. “The assessment situation is just so up in the air, and until that situation resolves itself, I am uncomfortable moving a new teacher evaluation system forward.”

But Hendry said changes must be made sooner.

“The vast majority of educators currently say they are dissatisfied with the system,” he said.

A 2011 law that overhauled teacher evaluation in Indiana left decisions about how to count student test scores in a teacher’s rating up to local school districts. That law required student test score growth to “significantly inform” a teacher’s evaluation score, which was interpreted very differently by different school districts.

“The downside of local control is that what ends up happening is that there is a high degree of variability across the state,” said Jessica Conlon of The New Teacher Project. “Some districts weigh objective measures as low as 5 percent and others as high as 50 percent.”

A list of recommended changes to teacher evaluation processes was brought to the board by a consultant, New York-based The New Teacher Project, resulted from feedback the state got from the U.S. Department of Education as part of a waiver that releases Indiana from some of the sanctions of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The consultant proposed increased training and communication among teachers and administrators along with suggesting schools count in more tests. But even giving guidance on what percentage of a teacher’s rating should be based on tests could require a change in state law.

Under the original recommendations, districts could break teachers’ evaluations into two big categories: one-half to two-thirds of the rating would be based on observations of their teaching, while the remaining one-half to one-third would be based mostly on student gains on state tests.

If a teacher is in a subject that is not part of the state testing system, then other sorts of test and objective measures such as portfolios of student work could count for as much as 40 percent of their ratings, under the recommendations. School districts would still determine their percentages within those ranges.

Indiana teachers this year saw predominantly positive ratings — more than 97 percent of the state’s teachers who were rated were deemed “highly effective” or “effective,” the top two of four categories. Hardly any were rated “ineffective.”

Daniel Brugioni, a high school English teacher in Lake Ridge schools near Gary, said putting too much emphasis on student test scores misses much of the improvement struggling students make throughout a school year. Brugioni said his supervisors consided the 51 percent of his students that passed the English end-of-course exam last year a “dismal failure,” but 110 of his 129 students began high school reading below a ninth-grade level.

“In any other parameter or any other statistical group, that would be a miracle, and I would be lauded,” Brugioni said.

Teaching cannot be judged primarily on numbers and statistics, said Ryan Russell, assistant superintendent in Warren Township. Poverty and other factors outside of school can affect how children perform on tests, he said. It’s not fair that teachers in high-poverty schools risk lower ratings because their students tend not to score as well on tests.

“Do we really believe — if we move highly effective teachers from a middle class district to a high-poverty one — do we really think the students would perform better?” Russell said. “If we do, let’s just set up a teacher exchange program and that will solve all our problems.”

Whicker said it’s not realistic to believe schools can use objective measures other than state test scores, such as portfolios.

“To grade 120 portfolios for my students across the state is not really realistic,” she said. “Well, we’re back to the ISTEP test, so that’s what practical. So we can talk about objective measures even just to talk about them, but the truth is that’s not the reality. That’s just less time for me to teach.”

 

School Politics

Colorado schools were a hot topic at the state Capitol this year. Here’s what lawmakers did.

A teacher reads to her students at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Colorado lawmakers this week are celebrating major education-related policy wins, including finding more money for public schools.

This year’s legislative session, which ended Wednesday, was marked by big compromises on issues that have befuddled policy makers for years: charter school funding, ninth-grade standardized testing and measuring the reading skills of the state’s youngest bilingual students.

With so many thorny debates behind them, lawmakers and Capitol observers are now looking toward other major policy questions they’ve put off for years, including reforming how the state pays for its public schools and making changes to Colorado’s school accountability laws and teacher licensure policies.

“The hope is now that the K-12 community can come together to focus on the big issues,” said Jen Walmer, Colorado state director of Democrats for Education Reform.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look back at the last 120 days:

Lawmakers found more money for schools than anyone could have imagined.

Before the legislative session began, school districts were preparing for the worst. Despite the state’s booming economy, constraints on how much the state could spend meant schools could have gone without much of a funding increase.

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from Sterling, on the first day of the legislative session.

The forecast became even more dire midway through the session when lawmakers learned the local tax base that generates about a third of all state spending on schools was going to shrink drastically. The worst predictions had the state’s education funding shortfall growing to more than $1 billion.

State officials found a technical workaround, and lawmakers were able to send more money to schools. On average, schools will see about $242 more per student next year.

However, leaders in both parties are aware that the state’s problematic constitutional constraints, tax policies and school funding formula still exist. That’s why a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers led a successful effort to create a committee to study and propose changes to the way the state funds it schools.

“We have more work to do. We need to continue with what we’ve done this session: have tough conversations,” said Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat.

“How do we make sure that students, regardless of race, income, regardless of whether they have a disability, that they have the opportunity to succeed?” she said. “There is no doubt that we have structural decisions we have to make when it comes to our budget.”

Republican leaders said they’re also anxious to see the committee get to work. But they’re less likely to support an influx of cash to the state’s schools.

“If we’re going to look at real overhauls to the system and funding, we need to look at all the options — not just throwing more money at the system — a system that by many’s accounting is not working well or efficiently,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Canon City Republican.

He and other Republicans are encouraging the committee to look at how other states have focused their funding formulas on students rather than on a school’s size or geographic location, and used funding to expand school choice.

Lawmakers already have one option on the table: A proposal to set a statewide property tax rate, which was born out of the legislature’s budget office and floated early in the session. While there was a lot of talk behind the scenes, it failed to gain traction. Expect to hear a lot more about the idea.

The charter school funding compromise, which some called “historic,” was just one of many longstanding issues that were resolved this year.

The 2017 legislative session will likely be remembered as the most productive in a decade because of several big compromises.

State Rep. Brittany Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat, sits alone on the House of Representatives floor as members of her own party filibustered her compromise on charter school funding. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Lawmakers grinned Thursday as they ticked off a long list of accomplishments to reporters, including one that could send more local money to charter schools. In return, charter schools will be required to post on their official websites more tax documents and will no longer receive two specific financial waivers.

The last-minute charter school funding bill — sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers that included state Reps. Brittany Pettersen and Lang Sias and state Sens. Owen Hill and Angela Williams — was the compromise no one saw coming.

“Anything is possible,” Pettersen said after the session.

Lawmakers had wrestled with the question of requiring the state’s school districts to share their locally approved tax increases with charter schools for two years. Despite vocal objections from several school superintendents, the legislature overwhelmingly supported the bill.

Early in the session, lawmakers eager to reduce the number of standardized tests reached another compromise with the governor’s office. High school freshmen will no longer be required to take the controversial PARCC English and math tests. Instead, they’ll take a test that is aligned to the college entrance exam, the SAT.

We kicked the PARCC test out of high schools,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican. “It’s gone!”

Other deals that were reached include the creation of a diploma seal of biliteracy for students who demonstrate proficiency in two languages and new regulations on how to monitor the reading skills of young English language learners.

Colorado schools will also see a financial boost for the next three years after lawmakers passed an omnibus bill that resolved a debate over a hospital fee that helps pay for the state’s health insurance program.

As part of the biggest compromise of the year, the state will raise taxes on recreational marijuana. Those taxes will send $30 million to rural schools next year and $40 million over two years to the state education fund, a sort of savings account for schools.

Rural schools flexed their muscles and blocked a bill to reform the state’s student suspension rules, but they didn’t get everything they wanted.

Not every piece of bipartisan legislation reached the governor’s desk.

Students at Merino Elementary School work during class.

A bill that aimed to reduce the number of preschool and elementary school students who are suspended was killed by a GOP-controlled committee at the request of rural schools, despite having overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Rural school leaders said the bill attempted to create a statewide solution for a Front Range problem. A Chalkbeat analysis of suspension data, which rural superintendents refuted, showed otherwise.

Supporters of the legislation vowed to work with opponents this summer and fall and try again next year.

While rural schools were successful in blocking that mandate, they were dealt a setback when a bill that would have allowed them to remedy a teacher shortage by hiring unlicensed teachers was killed by its sponsors.

State Rep. Jim Wilson, a Salida Republican, said he couldn’t garner enough support for his effort. At least not this year.

“Like Arnold Schwarzenegger said, ‘I’ll be back,’” Wilson said.

Even though that bill failed, lawmakers did take steps to curb the state’s teacher shortage.

Stanley Teacher Prep resident Lily Wool works with kindergartner Samori McIntosh at Tollgate Elementary School in Aurora. Wood’s residency program is merging the Boettcher Teacher Residency program. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Prior to the session, education leaders at the Capitol had few if any plans to take on the state’s teacher shortage. But retired teacher and freshman state Rep. Barbara McLachlan pushed to address the issue.

The Durango Democrat partnered with a host of other lawmakers from both parties to sponsor legislation to study the shortage and provide solutions. She also sponsored a bill that would allow rural schools to hire retired teachers without penalizing their pension. Both bills were sent to the governor.

Two other bills, including one to create multiple teacher preparation pilot programs, failed to advance. But with the issue on the legislature’s radar, expect it to come back.

“That’s the most pressing issue, next to funding,” said state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat.

Despite newfound freedom from Washington, lawmakers didn’t make any bold changes to the state’s school accountability system.

Several lawmakers early in the session seemed eager to take advantage of new flexibility from the federal government.

While the state education department was busy putting together a mandated statewide plan to adopt the new Every Student Succeeds Act, lawmakers were debating how they could update the state’s school accountability laws.

But only two bills making minor tweaks advanced.

A HOPE Online student works during the day at an Aurora learning center. (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)

One requires elementary schools that receive low quality ratings to address the needs of students in preschool through third grade.

The second bill requires the state to measure how well high school students are meeting updated graduation requirements. As part of the new requirements, which go into effect in the year 2021, high schools must adopt a list of options students can use to prove they’re prepared for college or a career.

Those options include the SAT exam, which all Colorado juniors are required to take; passing a concurrent enrollment college-level course; passing a Advanced Placement test; or completing a college thesis-like capstone project demonstrating knowledge of a subject.

“This bill is a really clever way to allow school districts to say, ‘This is what we care about, and this how we’re going to do it,’” said Luke Ragland, president of Ready Colorado, a conservative education reform group.

Some of the most anticipated school-accountability bills of the session never materialized.

One would have provided more clarity on what happens to schools that consistently receive low quality ratings from the state.

“This was a big undertaking, and the bill’s sponsors needed more time,” Ragland said.

It’s another issue Capitol-watchers can expect to see return next year.

As Ragland put it, “The lack of clarity at the end of the state’s accountability clock is bad for everyone.”

apple a day

New York City is honoring 19 exceptional teachers. Here’s who they are

PHOTO: Courtesy of the Department of Education
Chancellor Carmen Fariña presents fifth-grade teacher Keira Dillon with a Big Apple Award.

New York City has named 19 teachers winners of Big Apple Awards, a competitive prize that rewards “exceptional success” in instruction, impact on student learning, and overall contributions to school communities.

The winners were culled from a pool of 7,800 nominees, 1,000 of whom were invited to submit formal applications. The applicants were judged based on essays, classroom observations, recommendations and interviews.

Among the Big Apple winners is a physical education teacher — a first in the program’s five-year history.

“This year’s recipients represent the thousands of incredible educators who go above and beyond to motivate their students, and move their school communities forward,” schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

Here are the winners:

Danielle Bocchino (fifth-grade teacher, P.S. 215 Morris H. Weiss, Brooklyn)
Mrs. Bocchino has taught at P.S. 215 for 14 years and holds her students to rigorous standards, rewarding them with “conversation coupons” when they use accountable talk. Mrs. Bocchino stresses the importance of student independence because, she believes, “It is important to let them do the work.” At the beginning of this year, just 17 percent of her students were meeting fifth grade math standards; by mid-year, 86 percent were meeting the standards including 34 percent who were exceeding them.

Corinne Cornibe (high school math teacher, Academy for Young Writers, Brooklyn)
“I want my students to be creators – to design, innovate, and problem-solve their way to a better future,” said Ms. Cornibe. She started a robotics program and later establish an Advanced Placement Computer Science program that have ignited students’ passions and interest in learning. 73 percent of last year’s graduating class took a course in computer science, robotics, or both.

Yocasty Diaz (middle school math teacher, I.S. 219 New Venture School, the Bronx)
Ms. Diaz has worked at I.S. 219 for 16 years and describes her classroom as “a center of investigation, discovery, and risk-taking opportunities.” Ms. Diaz utilizes project-based instruction focusing on meteorological science to expand her students’ horizons by exposing them to professions that they otherwise might not have had access to.

Keira Dillon (fifth-grade gifted & talented teacher, P.S. 163 Alfred E. Smith, Manhattan)
Over her ten years at P.S. 163, Ms. Dillon has exposed students to great works of philosophy and art. Her goal: “to offer enriching academic and social opportunities that mirror this amazing city.” Ms. Dillon believes in building cross-curricular connections and her students conduct a weekly song analysis through a Socratic seminar.

Adriana DiScipio (English as a new language teacher, P.S. 230 Doris L. Cohen, Brooklyn)
Ms. DiScipio is now in her 11th year of working with often newly arrived English Language Learners at P.S. 230. “I perceive my students’ linguistic diversity as a strength and a resource.” Beyond her classroom, Ms. DiScipio serves as a Learning Partners Program Model Teacher, sharing work around language learning and vocabulary development with her school community.

James Harrington (high school art teacher, High School of Art and Design, Manhattan)
In his 11th year teaching at the school he graduated from, Mr. Harrington strives to live up to his own teachers’ legacy as mentors who saw their students as artists. Relating to his students, Mr. Harrington reflects, “I became a teacher to pass on the gift of art to a new generation, just as it was passed on to me.”

Leslie Lehrman (high school English teacher, Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology, the Bronx)
Ms. Lehrman explains that she left her career in magazine publishing to “combine my passion for reading and writing with my love for children.” As a Master Teacher, Ms. Lehrman acts as the department lead, guiding vertical alignment of instructional strategies, and helps to lead a professional learning community, collaborating with colleagues to develop and deliver monthly professional development aligned with schoolwide goals.

Jessica Martell (fifth-grade teacher, Central Park East II, Manhattan)
Ms. Martell works in an ICT setting and became a teacher to combine her love of New York City with her belief that every student is entitled to a quality public education. This year, each of her students has grown at least two reading levels, and Ms. Martell has fulfilled her goal of ensuring “all students see themselves as capable and brilliant readers and writers.”

Nash Matute (Reading recovery teacher, Archer Elementary School, the Bronx)
Ms. Matute has taught in New York City public schools for seven years and serves as a Reading Recovery teacher for a group of first grade students. She is “driven by the never-ending room to grow and develop.” Ms. Matute also serves as an instructional coach for her school’s upper grades and has implemented a schoolwide teacher and peer conferencing system for teachers to assess and build relationships with students.

Katie McArdle (Elementary Autism Teacher, P.S. K231, Brooklyn)
Ms. McArdle has spent the past 14 years teaching New York City students on the autism spectrum. “After college, I stumbled upon a graduate program focusing on students with severe and multiple disabilities, and as soon as I began, I knew I had found my niche.” In her classroom, each students’ unique learning style is respected and nurtured. Mrs. McArdle’s primary focus is on developing her students’ self-awareness, self-control, and self-advocacy.

Faye Michalakos (sixth-grade math teacher, Hellenic Classical Charter School, Brooklyn)
Ms. Michalakos ties all of her instruction to real world examples and experiences for her math students. Understanding the “why” of math is critical to her students’ success, and Ms. Michalakos builds partnerships with parents and families through schoolwide engagement events. In the classroom, she insists upon students using math vocabulary and accountable talk, and prepares them to facilitate their own Socratic seminars and to monitor their own progress by writing themselves “glow and grow” notes.

Carmen I. Morales (TASC preparation teacher, East River Academy, Rikers Island)
Ms. Morales has spent the past 25 years at East River Academy working with incarcerated students. She often “sneaks” hopeful and inspiring messages into their work to keep them engaged, and cultivates a physical learning environment which is uniquely suited to the social emotional needs of students on Rikers Island.

Patrick Murphy (special education teacher, P.S. 199 Maurice A. Fitzgerald, Queens)
Mr. Murphy has inspired students to consider engineering careers after starting a Lego Robotics program. He believes in tapping into his students’ interests and passions to drive instruction, saying, “I became a teacher because I love the art of learning.” Individual student conferences also help him monitor student progress and create monthly goal sheets aligned to rigorous academic standards.

Rose Newman (physical education teacher, P.S. 118 Lorraine Hansberry, Queens)
“My Physical Education class is a place of moving and learning,” said Ms. Newman. She is the first PE teacher to receive a Big Apple Award, and her goal is for students have fun while learning about health-related fitness, skills, and character. She also sets specific goals that can be tracked during the year, and students are expected to spend at least 50 percent of class time engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and complete at least 1,000 steps during each lesson, as measured by the use of pedometers.

Rosario Orengo (middle school social studies teacher, The Urban Assembly Unison School, Brooklyn)
“I wake up every morning excited to do this work,” said Ms. Orengo. For her, the work of being an educator means creating a safe environment, in which her students feel comfortable taking academic risks and sharing their own confusions and misunderstandings. Focusing on conversation and discussion, she uses high-interest readings and integrates connections to current events to motivate her students, and helped introduce restorative practices to the school community.

Elaine Rodriguez (dual language middle school math teacher, M.S. 322, Manhattan)
Ms. Rodriguez said she “practices an open-door-at-all-times policy and welcomes positive thinking and mistakes from students, parents, administrators and visitors.” In her dual language classroom, Ms. Rodriguez models instruction in Spanish for one week and then continues the curriculum in English the following week.

Julia Satt (second-grade special education teacher, P.S. 45 John Tyler, Staten Island)
Ms. Satt has taught at P.S. 45 for ten years in an ICT setting, focused on educating the whole child, responding to each student’s unique behaviors and needs, and using restorative circles to promote equity of voice. A significant portion of Ms. Satt’s students have made two years’ worth of reading, writing, and math progress in just one year.

Diana Shteynberg (Pre-K teacher, Shorefront YM-YWHA, Brooklyn)
Raised in a family of educators, Ms. Shteynberg’s goal is to guide students to be “self-initiating and self-directed learners” and to “grow from dreamers to doers.” Ms. Shteynberg seeks to create a welcoming environment and an atmosphere of trust for every child and family, and builds strong parent partnerships, offering positive and constructive feedback. At the end of last year, every student in Ms. Shteynberg’s class was able to enter Kindergarten without the ESL program due to excelling in language and literacy.

Binh Thai (sixth-grade humanities teacher, University Neighborhood Middle School, Manhattan)
Mr. Thai began his teaching career 17 years ago as a member of the inaugural cohort of the New York City Teaching Fellows. Mr. Thai implements a 360-degree feedback process in his classroom: students receive feedback from each other as well as from their teacher, and Mr. Thai uses an online form to solicit feedback on his instruction directly from students.