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.

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “… I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “… We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Randi Smith, a psychology teacher at Metro State University, marched to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a citywide walkout in downtown Denver, CO.

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”