Future of Teaching

Proposal: Let test scores count for up to 50 percent of teacher evaluations

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Student test scores could account for as much as 50 percent of teachers’ performance evaluation ratings under a proposal the Indiana State Board of Education is expected to consider next week.

That would be a huge about-face for Indiana, which made a point of allowing local schools to decide how much test scores should count in 2011 when other states mandated that student test scores factor in at a high percentage. The proposal could require legislative action before it is put into practice.

Under a 2011 state law that overhauled teacher evaluation, test scores were required to “significantly inform” a teacher’s evaluation score, which was interpreted very differently by different school districts. The different approaches to counting test scores made it difficult to compare teacher results across school districts. But critics of evaluation systems that rely heavily on student test scores say it is an unreliable method of quantifying a teacher’s impact that can vary wildly from year to year.

As part of an effort to craft more specific guidance for how test scores should count, the state board brought in as a consultant The New Teacher Project, which met with the board’s strategic planning committee today. The New York-based company, started by former Washington, D.C., school chancellor Michelle Rhee, suggested scores could be factored into teacher ratings at different percentages depending on what subjects they teach.

For example, teachers who teach subjects tested on state ISTEP exams could have student scores count for 33 to 50 percent of their ratings, the company suggested, while teachers who don’t teach tested subjects could have test scores count less, perhaps a range of 25 to 40 percent. Districts could determine locally what percentage to use based on the evaluation models they’ve chosen.

Indiana districts are allowed to create their own evaluation models, which has led to very different results in different districts. Ratings this year were exceedingly favorable — 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.”

Jessica Conlon, presenting for the company, said test scores shouldn’t be the only objective measure used to determine how teachers are performing. Others, such as portfolios of student work and classroom observation, are also important.

“A teacher’s job is far too complex to be able to look at one metric only and decide that tells us that this person is a good teacher,” she said.

Conlon also suggested the state board wait until 2016-17 to implement these new ranges so the state has one year of data from its new standardized tests, which kids will take for the first time in 2015-16. The extra time would make the evaluations more reliable, she said, and give districts more time to change their evaluation systems.

“With that baseline and plenty of time to improve, I think that can help address many of the concerns that have been raised by teachers and others who are going to be evaluated under this metric,” board member Gordon Hendry said.

The company’s recommendations also included changing the way evaluations affect teacher pay. Some teachers and administrators see evaluations as a tool for keeping salaries low, Conlon said, so the system could be improved if pay increases aren’t withheld when teachers receive low ratings but are not deemed ineffective.

Board member Brad Oliver, who is also an education professor, agreed that teacher pay needs to be part of the evaluation discussion, especially for cash-strapped districts that might give only performance bonuses for good evaluations but not regular pay raises. He said if administrators are making evaluation decisions based purely on raising pay for teachers, it undermines the evaluation process.

“The focus seems to be on increasing the performance grant, which I’m all for,” Oliver said. “But if it’s being done with the belief that that will fix the underlying problem, I think there’s a disconnect between that and what’s really happening.”

He said the legislature should participate in these discussions to make sure performance bonuses don’t replace yearly cost-of-living increases.

The committee voted to send the recommendations to the state board for discussion and a vote at its Feb. 4 meeting. Hendry said he thinks the recommendations make good steps toward improving teacher evaluation in the state.

“We know that the teacher evaluation system in Indiana is not perfect and that there is room for improvement,” Hendry said. “But that’s OK. And I think we’re going to get there eventually, and I think it’s going to be better for everyone who is part of Indiana’s education system, especially, I think, teachers.”

 

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.

 

Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.

Another error

Missing student data means 900 Tennessee teachers could see their growth scores change

PHOTO: TN.gov

Tennessee’s testing problems continue. This time the issue is missing students.

Students’ test scores are used to evaluate teachers, and the failure of a data processing vendor to include scores for thousands of students may have skewed results for some teachers, officials said.

The scores, known as TVAAS, are based on how students improved under a teacher’s watch. The scores affect a teacher’s overall evaluation and in some districts, like Shelby County Schools, determine if a teacher gets a raise.

The error affects 1,700 teachers statewide, or about 9 percent of the 19,000 Tennessee teachers who receive scores. About 900 of those teachers had five or more students missing from their score, which could change their result.

The latest glitch follows a series of mishaps, including test scanning errors, which also affect teacher evaluations. A delay earlier this summer from the Tennessee Department of Education’s testing vendor, Questar, set off a chain of events that resulted in the missing student scores.

To calculate a teacher’s growth score, students and their test scores are assigned to a teacher. About 3 percent of the 1.5 million student-teacher assignments statewide had to be manually submitted in Excel files after Questar experienced software issues and fell behind on releasing raw scores to districts.

RANDA Solutions, a data processing vendor for the state, failed to input all of those Excel files, leading to the teachers’ scores being calculated without their full roster of students, said Sara Gast, a state spokeswoman. The error will not affect school or district TVAAS scores. (District-level TVAAS scores were released in September.)

Gast did not immediately confirm when the state will finalize those teachers’ scores with corrected student rosters. The state sent letters to districts last week informing them of the error and at least one Memphis teacher was told she had more than 80 of her 120 students missing from her score.

In the past, the process for matching students to the right teachers began at the end of the year, “which does not leave much room for adjustments in the case of unexpected delays,” Gast said in an email. The state had already planned to open the process earlier this year. Teachers can begin to verify their rosters next week, she said.