added complexity

Proposal to refine state's "value-added" formula elicits concerns

ALBANY — A dozen new factors could be tossed into the state’s formula for measuring how much teachers have boosted their students’ state scores, according to a proposal that is dividing state education policy makers.

The state’s teacher evaluation law, passed in 2010, requires student performance to count in teacher ratings. Currently, the state calculates “growth scores” that count for a fifth of teachers’ overall ratings. But the law allows the state to increase the weight of its score to a quarter of teachers’ ratings once officials adopt a more complex “value-added” model for assessing teacher impact.

Both models are based on the principle that comparing students’ actual test scores with their predicted scores can show the impact their teachers had on their learning. The question is what variables to use when predicting scores so that teachers whose students have greater needs are not at a disadvantage.

The current growth model considers and controls for four basic characteristics: previous test scores, students with disabilities, students living in poverty, and students who are still learning English.

At Monday’s Board of Regents meeting, state education officials said they had come up with a value-added formula that includes 12 other factors, including students’ previous test scores in other subjects and whether they are overage for their grade. The officials want to adopt the new formula for use starting this year in districts that have teacher evaluation agreements. (New York City is one of a few districts that do not yet.)

The proposed value-added formula would also control for the first time for classroom variables, such as class size and the proportion of students with high needs.

The added factors represent an attempt to distinguish more precisely between students who share the same characteristics that are controlled for in the current growth model. Right now, the state’s formula treats students with special needs as all presenting the same challenge to teachers, for example, but the proposed formula would give a different weight to the scores of students with severe disabilities.

“All those variables are there to further refine similar students,” said Amy McIntosh, a senior fellow for the Regents Research Fund who oversees teacher evaluations, of the value added formula.

The Regents must approve the proposed formula before the State Education Department can use it to calculate this year’s ratings for math and English teachers in grades 4-8, who make up about 17 percent of teachers statewide.

At this week’s meeting, discussion of the value-added formula was unusually contentious. It came halfway through the state’s first round of tougher tests, which have drawn fire from those who think the scores should not be used in high-stakes decisions such as teacher evaluations.

The plan drew swift resistance from several Regents, including two from New York City, who have been critical of using student test scores in teacher evaluations in the first place. They said making the state’s measurement of teacher impact on student test scores more complex would not address some of the issues surrounding the value-added approach, which include year-to-year instability and a requirement for some teachers to score low.

“I have no confidence that this is going to give us what we’re looking for and that teachers will be evaluated fairly,” said Westchester County’s Harry Phillips.

Phillips and Roger Tilles, of Long Island, both urged the state to shelve the growth models or treat them as a low-stakes pilot for now.

A vote is scheduled at next month’s Regents meeting, where Commissioner John King and Chancellor Merryl Tisch promised to bring an updated proposal that would at least in part address the concerns raised. But King reiterated his support for using the value-added model, citing research from the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching study that compared several approaches to factoring student performance into teacher ratings.

“This approach has been used all throughout the country, quite extensively,” King said. “The methodology that we’re using is very similar to what’s been used and studied extensively.”

King said the state convened its own advisory group that included teachers, principals, and district officials from across the state On technical matters, it also consulted an advisory group of eight researchers from around the country, including Jonah Rockoff and Douglas Staiger, two economists who studied New York City’s value-added data.

At times, the advisory groups’ recommendations were at odds, state officials said. The state’s Regents advisory group recommended weighing students’ gender when calculating teachers’ impact, King said, but the technical advisors recommended against doing so. Gender is not a factor in the proposed value-added formula.

The composition of the technical advisory group drew criticism from several Regents. The Bronx’s Betty Rosa pointed out that all eight researchers in the group are men. And Kathy Cashin of Brooklyn said the group lacked a different kind of diversity.

“How do you have a panel with one point of view?” Cashin said, referring to the fact that the researchers’ work begins with an assumption that it is possible to isolate teachers’ contributions to student learning.

In addition to changing the formula for measuring student growth in teachers’ ratings, the State Education Department has also proposed introducing a growth measurement for high school principals, based on their students’ Regents exam pass rates.

And the department also wants to change the way that transient and chronically absent students are counted, an issue that has divided some school districts as they craft their education evaluation systems.

Last year, 16 percent of students statewide weren’t counted in growth models because they were not enrolled in a single school for the entire year. This year, students who enter just before the halfway point will be counted, meaning that the scores of an addition 150,000 students — who often have high needs — would count in teachers’ ratings.

Students with low attendance will also be counted, but only by the same rate at which they attended school, according to the proposal.

The description of the State Education Department’s advisory groups has been clarified since this story was originally published.

Here’s the slide from the State Education Department’s PowerPoint presentation that shows the new factors that could become part of the state’s value-added teacher evaluation formula. The full presentation is below.
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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.”

Gold standard teachers

Tennessee adds nationally certified teachers but continues to trail in the South

PHOTO: Ruma Kumar/Chalkbeat

Twenty Tennessee educators have earned a national certification that’s considered the profession’s highest mark of achievement, although the state continues to lag in the South in growing that community.

The state Department of Education on Tuesday released the list of new educators designated as National Board Certified Teachers.

Their addition brings Tennessee’s number of NBCT educators to more than 700, with another 63 pursuing certification. By comparison, Kentucky has 3,600, Virginia 3,400, and Georgia 2,600.

“We know that teachers are the biggest factor in the success of our students, and it is an honor to celebrate educators who are helping their students grow, while serving as an example of what it means to be a lifelong learner,” Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Nationally, 5,470 teachers earned the designation in 2016-17, raising the total to more than 118,000 through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The certification takes from one to three years to complete and includes a performance-based peer-review process. Successful candidates must demonstrate a proven impact on student learning and achievement.

In Tennessee, at least 36 school districts offer at least one type of incentive for achieving the certification. The most common is a salary bonus.

North Carolina continues to lead the nation in certification, with 616 more teachers gaining the endorsement last month from the Arlington, Va.-based organization.

Earning their certification in Tennessee were:

  • John Bourn, Franklin Special School District
  • Christy Brawner, Shelby County Schools
  • James Campbell, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Kimberly Coyle, Sumner County Schools
  • Suzanne Edwards, Williamson County Schools
  • Anastasia Fredericksen, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Theresa Fuller, Kingsport City Schools
  • Amber Hartzler, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System
  • Jennifer Helm, Williamson County Schools
  • Deborah Higdon, Franklin Special School District
  • Karen Hummer, Franklin Special School District
  • Heather Meston, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Melissa Miller, Franklin Special School District
  • Kelsey Peace, Sumner County Schools
  • Lindsey Pellegrin, Franklin Special School District
  • Andrea Reeder, Williamson County Schools
  • Jordan Sims, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Susanna Singleton, Williamson County Schools
  • Melissa Stugart, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Drew Wilkerson, Franklin Special School District

To learn more, visit the website of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.