explainer

New state evaluation framework leaves much up to local districts

Teachers can expect unannounced observations to factor into their annual ratings under the terms of the evaluations agreement that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today.

The unannounced observations are one of several ways that the State Education Department and state teachers union, NYSUT, agreed to flesh out the state’s 2010 evaluation law, seen as so open-ended as to stymie implementation.

The agreement, which Cuomo is set to turn into law through the state budget amendment process, resolves some major points of contention while continuing to leave many elements of districts’ evaluation system subject to local collective bargaining. Districts and their unions have until the end of 2012 to turn the framework into a local evaluation system, or risk losing state aid.

The framework hews to the broad contours of the 2010 teacher evaluation law: 20 percent of ratings will be based on a calculation of student growth based on state test scores; 20 percent will be based on other assessments that are decided locally; and 60 percent will come from subjective measures such as observations, also decided upon locally. Teachers will still receive a score between 0 and 100 and a rating ranging from “ineffective” to “highly effective.” But there are new constraints.

In a major win for the state, teachers whose students show no academic growth will get an “ineffective” rating, even if the rest of their evaluation is strong. The evaluation law had not provided for such a circumstance.

The 20 percent of ratings that are supposed to come from local assessments had been the most obvious point of contention between SED and NYSUT. Last year, NYSUT sued the state after Cuomo pressed the Board of Regents to double the weight of student test scores in teachers’ evaluations. Today’s agreement does allow districts to use state test scores for the local assessments — as long as their calculation of student growth isn’t based on the same formula as the state’s.

For example, districts could crunch the state’s numbers to show the growth of students in high-needs groups, or they could calculate an entire school’s test score climb to complement that of a single teacher’s students. Districts can also elect to use assessments produced by third-party vendors or create their own assessments, something the city had been working on when teacher evaluation negotiations fell apart at the end of December. Today’s agreement gives the state the right to vet the rigor of local assessments.

Richard Iannuzzi, NYSUT’s president, said the agreement announced today adequately constrained the role of test scores.

“While there is a place for standardized testing in measuring teacher effectiveness, tests must be used appropriately,” he said in a statement.

The agreement also clarifies the role of observations in a teacher’s rating. Previously, the evaluation law didn’t actually say that teachers would have to be observed as part of the evaluation process. The new framework guarantees that at least 31 percent of the ratings is based on at least two observations by principals. One of those observations must be unannounced, something that teachers unions have long opposed.

The agreement also bolsters the role of the state education commissioner. Now, the commissioner will have the right to reject local evaluation systems on grounds other than whether they simply comply with the state law. Systems that appear to crafted outside the spirit of the law — to make evidence of student growth a crucial component of teacher ratings — are also subject to rejection.

And the commissioner is also getting the right to evaluate teachers if he or she suspects their districts are not doing a good job.   The provision is meant as a safeguard against the current reality, in which virtually all teachers across the state receive “satisfactory” ratings each year even as student achievement results suggest that schools have a great deal of room to improve. State officials said they had no goals for the number of teachers who receive low ratings under the new system and did not anticipate stepping in to issue new evaluations for individual teachers in most cases.

Today’s agreement represents a substantial narrowing of the world of possibilities under the state’s evaluation law. But much of what will actually make up teachers’ ratings remains up to negotiation between local districts and their unions. Both the local assessments and the subjective measures other than observations must be bargained. Negotiations will direct what observation model principals when watching teachers in their classrooms. And, of course, districts and their unions will have to agree on the appeals process for teachers who get low ratings. That element had been the sticking point in New York City, and a separate deal on that front announced today won’t go into effect until all of the other pieces fall into place.

For the hundreds of school districts across the state that had actually come to an agreement on new teacher evaluations, the framework is sending them back to the negotiating table. Their deals will remain in place for the remainder of this school year, but next year they will have to set new evaluation systems that match the state’s updated framework.

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.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.