another gap

Minority students less likely to have teachers rated effective, data show

An overwhelming majority of Colorado teachers and principals received the state’s two highest evaluation ratings during the 2014-15 school year, according to data released Monday.

But by at least one measure, the state’s most at-risk students were less likely to have teachers or principals with those high marks — another example of a disparity in schools based on factors including students’ race and family income.

About 88 percent of teachers and 83 percent of principals received one of the state’s top two ratings.

Colorado schools with the highest concentration of minority students had fewer teachers and principals rated as effective or higher compared to schools with the smallest minority populations.

Eighty-two percent of teachers and 74 percent of principals in schools with the highest minority populations were rated effective. Meanwhile, in schools with the smallest minority population, 91 percent of teachers and 87 percent of principals were rated effective.

Monday’s release comes nearly seven years after state lawmakers adopted Colorado’s landmark teacher and principal evaluation system with bipartisan support. The 2014-15 school year was the first year it was fully in effect.

Colorado’s evaluation system became a national model to many education reform advocates because it links a teacher’s rating to student performance. But the system has been under constant attack from teachers unions and some Democratic lawmakers. Among other criticisms, opponents believe teachers have too little control over how a student performs on standardized tests.

The evaluation system requires that teachers and principals receive an annual review. The ratings measure factors such as how well teachers know their content areas and how they manage their classrooms, based on observation.

The most controversial measure is student growth data. Student growth measures how much a student learns year-over-year compared to their academic peers. While each school district gets to decide how to measure growth, the law suggests using results from the state’s annual math and English tests.

School districts were required to measure and report student growth during the 2014-15 school year, but the results did not have to factor into a teacher’s overall rating. That led to some confusion, and some districts did not report growth, state officials said.

Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, all evaluations must include student growth data.

Because school districts have great discretion over how teacher and principal evaluations are carried out, the state cautioned against comparing districts’ results.

boosting literacy

A new Memphis nonprofit sees training teachers in dyslexia therapy as key to closing literacy gap for all

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Memphis Delta Preparatory is one of four schools working with ALLMemphis to develop stronger literacy curriculum.

A new organization says educators must be better trained in recognizing and teaching students with learning disorders like dyslexia if they are to be successful in raising reading proficiency throughout Memphis.

Michelle Gaines and Krista L. Johnson founded ALLMemphis, a nonprofit, in June to boost overall reading comprehension and fill a gap they see in local classrooms — the lack of training for teachers in approaches proven to help students with dyslexia, a disorder from which many Memphis students are likely struggling.

The pair now work, for free, with about 500 students in four Memphis elementary charter schools and have trained 29 educators.

About one in five children in Tennessee are dyslexic, but until last year, early screenings weren’t required in local schools. Students with dyslexia have difficulty recognizing words and sounds and spelling, but can learn how to read with a specific multisensory approach that combines touch, sound and sight.

But even when the disorder is caught early, schools often don’t have the proper training or tools to address it. Gaines and Johnson say their organization can change that — and benefit students who aren’t dyslexic.

Specifically, ALLMemphis trains teachers in the Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory approach to reading that is common in dyslexia therapy but is rarely a part of public school curriculum in Tennessee.

“This approach is the gold standard when it comes to dyslexia therapy, but we believe it can benefit children’s reading ability regardless whether or not they are dyslexic,” Johnson said. “Our mission is to impact the third-grade reading crisis, and we believe this can do it.” 

PHOTO: Darius Williams
Krista L. Johnson

The latest data show that two out of three Memphis third-graders aren’t reading on grade level, and Shelby County Schools officials have set a goal of 90 percent students reading on grade level by 2025.

ALLMemphis trained teachers and coaches in Orton-Gillingham over the summer and work with the educators throughout the year. Gaines and Johnson both spend time working with individual students in the classrooms as well. The organization will be tracking student data throughout the year, and the initial results are encouraging.

While working for the Bodine School in Memphis, a private school that serves students with dyslexia, Gaines and Johnson piloted their teacher-training model at KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary for the last two years. They left Bodine to form ALLMemphis in June and brought on Megan Weinstein shortly after to head up data evaluation, bringing their team to three.

Johnson said they will work with their current four schools for the next three years, but that they hope to continue adding new schools every year. Johnson said in the future they would move to charge schools a minimal fee.

Gaines said the initial data after two years showed that KIPP students who worked with ALLMemphis showed more growth overall on MAP score data than their peers, especially in first and fourth grade.

PHOTO: Darius Williams
Michelle Gaines

“What’s so exciting is that the data shows this can work in an urban, whole-class setting,” Gaines said. “We know that as we grow, we want to continue offering supports that are relevant to teachers. We write and give teachers lesson plans and we work with coaches on assessments. The point is for our program to be an asset, not a burden.”

Catherine Norman, a teacher at KIPP Collegiate, said the training program changed the way she thought about literacy — and armed her with strong lesson plans.

“What I appreciate most about Orton-Gillingham is that it incorporates lots of different learning styles in one lesson,” Norman said. “The training is really expensive when a teacher does it on their own, but the fact they (ALLMemphis) have trained every K-3 teacher at our school is crazy in a good way. It makes me really excited because it provides a lot of opportunities that our kids wouldn’t get otherwise.”  

The four schools currently working with ALLMemphis are: KIPP Memphis Academy Elementary, Collegiate Elementary and Preparatory Elementary and Memphis Delta Preparatory.

teacher trap

America’s teachers don’t move out of state much. That could be bad for students.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

Certification rules can make moving to a new state a serious hassle for teachers.

That might explain a recent finding: Teachers are significantly less likely to move between states than others with similar jobs — and past research suggests that students suffer as a result.

The study, which uses national data from 2005 to 2015 and was released this week through the National Bureau of Economic Research, appears to be the first to document how frequently teachers move states compared to those in other occupations.

Teaching stands out: Relative to jobs requiring a similar level of education, teachers were 45 percent less likely to move to different state, but only 5 percent less likely to move a long distance within a given state. This suggests that teachers aren’t averse to moving — there are just strong incentives to not cross state lines.

That “may limit the ability of workers to move to take advantage of job opportunities,” the researchers write. That’s consistent with research on the Oregon–Washington border, where teachers were more likely to move long distances in their own state than shorter distances across the state line.

Winning permission to teach in a new state sometimes requires re-taking coursework and taking new certification exams. There may be good reasons for that — for instance, states that are particularly attractive to teachers may want to maintain especially high standards but it’s also a complicated process to navigate.

“Web-surfing became my life, through hard-to-navigate state department of education websites and portals that looked like something I had created back in my college sophomore computer science class in 1998,” wrote one teacher in a recent piece for Education Week, describing her efforts to meet new requirements after moving from Florida to Massachusetts.

This matters because the rules may keep teachers who move from re-entering the classroom altogether. A national survey found that among people who had left teaching but were considering re-entering the classroom, 40 percent identified “state certification reciprocity” as a key factor in their consideration.

That, in turn, affects students. One analysis has found that schools near state borders perform consistently worse on standardized tests — perhaps because certification and other rules limit the pool of potential teachers. Research has also shown that teachers perform best when they find a good “fit” with a school, and certification rules may make that harder.

Certification rules are not the only factor in play. Teachers’ decisions may also be influenced by retirement plans that aren’t easily portable and rules that would require them to give up seniority and tenure protections when they move.

It doesn’t have to work this way. The study finds that people in other professions, like medicine, are freer to move and have certifications that easily transfer between states. But the idea of a national “bar exam” for educators hasn’t ever gained traction.

A handful of states have agreed to accept one another’s certifications, and a provision in ESSA would allow federal money to go toward the efforts.

As for the teacher, Megan Allen, who struggled with Massachusetts’ rules — and had 10 years of experience and a National Board certification? She left public education as a result. “I didn’t feel like I was valued for any of the expertise that I had earned, worked hard for, and proved,” she wrote.