planning ahead (updated)

State releases teacher rating data that most districts won't use

As of today, school districts across New York State have in hand the first piece of data they would need to calculate some teachers’ ratings: their “growth scores” for last year.

The State Education Department today distributed scores to districts for 36,685 educators who teach reading and math in grades 4-8 or supervise those teachers. The scores — which calculate students’ growth on state math and reading tests, adjusting for the students’ past performance, the performance of similar students, and the reliability of the exams — would count for 20 percent of educators’ ratings under the state’s evaluation law.

Two consecutive “ineffective” ratings could trigger termination proceedings under the law. But the data released today suggest that the state’s current formula for measuring student growth would be unlikely to place many teachers’ jobs at risk.

Nearly 85 percent of the 36,685 educators who received a score fell into the “highly effective” or “effective” ranges. Just 6 percent of them had scores in the “ineffective” range.

Few of the scores issued today will actually be used to evaluate teachers. Most of the state’s 715 school districts, including New York City, have not yet adopted evaluation systems that comply with the state’s evaluation law, and many that have adopted new evaluations won’t use them until next year.

“The evaluation law won’t be fully implemented until the coming school year, so most districts won’t be using the scores we’re releasing today for evaluations,” State Education Commissioner John King said in a statement. “But they can use the scores to help improve instruction.”

The state temporarily removed the scores from its internal data system this afternoon after districts alerted it to inaccuracies in some of the reports, according to an email from Jeff Baker, SED’s data chief, that GothamSchools obtained. Baker said the reports would be corrected and reposted on Friday.

The state’s scores are similar in theory but not in algorithm to the city’s defunct Teacher Data Reports, were produced from 2008 to 2010 for reading and math teachers in grades 3 to 8. The TDRs were “value-added” scores that adjusted students’ test score growth for many more factors than the growth scores used. The state’s evaluation law mandated a growth score measure for last year and a value-added measure for the future, possibly starting this year.

The state is working with the American Institute of Research to build its model; the city’s model was designed by a research center at the University of Wisconsin.

Both strategies aim to upend the way teachers traditionally has been judged. In the past, assessments of teacher quality tended to look only at students’ test scores: A teacher whose students scored higher was deemed stronger. But that design stacked the deck against teachers whose students started the school year with greater needs and lower scores.

The idea behind value-added and growth measurements is that they look instead at how much improvements students make in a year. Teachers are rewarded not when their students score highest, but when the students’ performance gains exceed the average gains made by similar students.

Several news organizations published the city’s TDR scores in February, leading to a public reckoning about the value of rating systems that emphasize progress on test scores. It also placed some low-rated teachers in the line of sharp criticism and caused some principals to receive requests for students to be moved to higher-rated teachers’ classes.

This fall, educators and district leaders will get access to the growth scores, but they will only be able to see their own scores and scores of teachers they supervise. In December, the public will get a window into the scores, but in accordance with a law passed in June, only aggregate data will be available and parents will have to ask their principal for access. The state is supposed to shield all information that could allow people to link ratings with individual teachers.

City Department of Education officials said they were reviewing the state’s growth scores for accuracy right now and would make them available to schools in the future. “We intend to prepare materials for schools to help principals share and discuss the results with individual teachers in the fall,” said Connie Pankratz, a department spokeswoman, in a statement.

But Pankratz said the city would not share the state’s scores with parents until a new evaluation system is in place in New York City, explaining that the department is “legally prohibited” from sharing the scores until then. “This is just one of the many reasons why it is imperative that we come to an agreement on teacher evaluations,” she said.

In addition to the 20 percent that the state calculates, evaluations under the state law require another 20 percent to come from locally approved growth measures and the final 60 percent to come from subjective measures, at least half based on principal observations.

The law mandates that districts make publicly available both the subcomponent scores and the overall ratings. But if the state’s growth score is not yet part of the city’s annual evaluations, it would not necessarily fall under the transparency law.

New York City was supposed to have evaluations online last year in 33 schools that had been receiving federal funds known as School Improvement Grants. But the city and its teachers union could not reach an agreement about particulars of the evaluation system, so neither new evaluations nor the federal funds are flowing to the schools. Nine other districts across the state did reach evaluation deals for their SIG-eligible schools, and they make up the majority of schools where the growth scores for last year will influence teachers’ ratings.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has set a Jan. 16, 2013, deadline for all districts to comply with the teacher evaluation law or risk forgoing increases in their state school aid.

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

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.