delayed arrival

NYC's evals include scoring fix that districts lacked this year

The State Education Department is hoping to mend holes in its evaluation regulations, and it’s using the evaluation plan that Commissioner John King imposed on New York City as its model.

The changes are aimed primarily at eliminating the possibility that teachers could receive final ratings that do not reflect their performance.

One issue revolves around how scores on three subcomponents of evaluations turn into a single rating. Under the state’s scoring rules, there are some scenarios where a teacher could be rated ineffective overall despite scoring “developing” or higher on each subcomponent.

A teacher needs a composite score of at least 65 out of 100 points to be rated developing or higher. But when the state set scoring ranges based on student growth measures, there were a small number of scenarios where a teacher could receive as few as six points out of 40 and still get rated developing on those subcomponents. Any point total under 59 that that teacher received on the remaining 60 points would not meet the 65-point threshold and result in an overall “ineffective.”

“They never took the time to run through all the permutations,” said Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Long Island, who has written about versions of the scoring quirk since the state adopted new teacher evaluation requirements in 2012.

The parties involved in negotiating those requirements — teachers unions, State Education Commissioner John King and Gov. Andrew Cuomo — have never conceded to Burris’s criticism publicly. But when King imposed an evaluation on New York City last month, he tacitly acknowledged it by using different scoring rules.

The new rules for New York City increase the range of points that teachers receive when they are rated “ineffective” on either of the two student growth components. Under the scoring system used throughout the state, teachers rated ineffective receive between 0 and 2 points. But in New York City, teachers who are rated ineffective can get up to 12 points. The result is that teachers who score “developing” in either category are unlikely to net overall “ineffective” ratings.

State officials say the changes won’t result in more teachers being rated ineffective. Instead, the changes will ensure that only teachers whose performance merits ineffective ratings will get them.

“The cut scores in force throughout the rest of the state are the problem,” UFT researcher Jackie Bennett wrote on the union’s Edwize blog. “The NYC cuts are actually the fix.”

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A look at the new scoring ranges for New York City.

The second set of changes has to do with the “subjective” evaluation measures, which for New York City next year are based entirely on observations. Under the scoring rules in place across the state, teachers who score higher than “ineffective” rack up 50 points or more. But in New York City, teachers who are rated ineffective get no more than 38 points.

The result is that scores of teachers with a wide range of performance on their observations would all receive similar point totals, meaning that their scores on the objective measures would make the difference in their final ratings.

“When you create such a narrow band from developing to highly effective, it means that most of the variation is going to come from the measures of student learning,” said Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, who argued for more proportional ranges during state arbitration. “In those versions, it actually created more weight than the law intended on measures of student learning.”

Polakow-Suransky said it would also allow principals to have greater control over how teachers in their schools are evaluated.

“The measures of student learning should be potent,” he added, “but it shouldn’t be determinative of most of the evaluation.”

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The scoring ranges that many districts this year adopted to convert scores from observations and other subjective measures.

The scoring quirks that the state is addressing are products of the state’s approach to combining evaluation data into a final rating.

New York uses a “numerical” approach, which some consider easy to communicate with stakeholders. Evaluations in Washington, D.C., and Tennessee also use the approach.

“Many states and districts look at the numerical approach and consider it to be more transparent because the numbers and formulas are more clearly articulated,” said Lisa Lachlan-Haché, a researcher at the American Institute of Research who studied the subject for a white paper she co-wrote last year. New York hired AIR to develop its student growth models for state assessments.

In two other widely used approaches to convert evaluation components into final ratings — “profile,” which is used in New Haven, and “holistic,” which is used in Massachusetts  — there is no conversion to points. Instead, raters translate information more impressionistically.

Lachlan-Haché said that New York State was taking advantage of the flexibility of the numeric approach, which allows policymakers to make changes when they see some things aren’t working.

“We should expect to see pioneers like New York adjust their cut points and summative rating approaches in the first few years of implementation,” Lachlan-Haché said. “States are generally going into evaluation design with the understanding that these systems will not be perfect.”

The New York City model could be on the table for other districts when they renegotiate their evaluation systems.

“That is a topic we can come back to in July,” King said last month, referring to the July 17 Board of Regents meeting.


money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”