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.”

Screen shot 2013-07-01 at 10.55.10 AM
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.


the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”