if it looks like a duck

State to use a "value-added" growth model without calling it that

State test scores won’t count more toward the evaluations of elementary and middle school teachers next year, according to an amended proposal that a Board of Regents committee passed unanimously on Monday.

The proposed model, which was formally approved on Tuesday, included a methodology to calculate student growth that was nearly identical to the “value-added” model that State Education Commissioner John King brought to the board in April. Both models add new data points to the formula used to approximate how much each teacher has contributed to students’ growth.

But under state law, any model termed “value-added” would have required, controversially, that its weight increase from 20 to 25 percent on some teacher evaluations. King’s alternative this month was for the state to adopt an “enhanced growth model” that adds virtually all of the same data points but doesn’t have the value-added moniker. Spurning the name allows the state to avoid increasing the weight of test scores until all districts have at least one year of implementation under their belts, something the state teachers union has asked for.

“I would have thought that adding all these factors would qualify as ‘value-added,’ but this distinction was always opaque,” said Jonah Rockoff, a Columbia University economist who advised the state on its methodology “If the commissioner wants to keep the weight at 20 percent for another year then staying within the ‘student growth’ framework seems like the simplest way to do it.”

Both models will factor in more complex student and classroom characteristics to calculate learning on those state tests. But the April proposal was met with resistance from members who questioned the methodology’s reliability and opposed increasing the weight from 20 percent to 25 percent. The increase was one that lawmakers envisioned would take place for the current school year when they enacted the teacher evaluation legislation in 2010.

King’s proposal would stay in effect through end of the 2013-2014 school year, until New York City, which lags behind the rest of the state, has a chance to implement its teacher evaluation system for the first time.

With barely a peep of opposition, the board voted to adopt the “value-added” model at 25 percent beginning in the 2014-2015 school year. The changes affect only elementary and middle school teachers who teach English and math, who together make up less than 20 percent of the state’s teachers.

Chancellor Merryl Tisch first signaled that King’s proposal in April was in jeopardy last week, saying that forgoing the added weight of state test scores was a concession the Regents were willing to make.

“This is not the stuff that I feel we go to war over,” Tisch said.

The state teachers union was quick to claim credit for the amended proposal, issuing a lengthy statement that praised Tisch and the Board of Regents. In a sign that the chilly relations between the union and the State Education Department have not thawed, the statement does not mention King.

“NYSUT, as the voice of teachers across the state, remains committed to working as partners with the Regents and other policymakers toward our shared goal of raising standards and improving outcomes for all students,” said Dick Iannuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers.

New York City Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said the city did not stake out a strong position on the issue.

“Honestly, it makes no difference,” he said. “I know this was a big issue for the state teachers union, but it really makes no difference between 25 and 20 [percent]. It isn’t what’s going to impact the teacher’s final score. It doesn’t change the data in a substantive way, so we don’t have strong opposition or support for the change.”

The state teacher’s union release refers to the “untested, unreliable Value-Added Model,” but the growth model that the Board of Regents formally approved today isn’t all that different. The basic growth model in place currently takes into account just four individual student variables: previous years’ test scores, whether a student is learning English, whether he has a learning disability, and whether his family is in poverty.

The “enhanced” growth model — as with the value-added model — takes into account many new and more complex variables. Now, the test scores of a student who was held back a year or who is new to a school will be weighted differently. Previous test scores in other subjects will also be considered.

Growth ratings will also be weighted based on how many special education or English language learning students a teacher has in her classroom.

The state will also count the test scores of students who were in attendance at least 60 percent of the school year, a change from the 2011-2012 school year that could account for nearly 150,000 students. Their scores will be weighted in part based on their rate of truancy.

Two factors that were part of the “value-added” proposal that got nixed from the newer version were a teacher’s class size and the number of overage and under-credited students. Those factors will be considered in 2014-2015 when state tests incrase to 25 perent. King said that there might be other data points to review with its contractor, American Institute of Research, to further refine the growth model.


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.