one step forward...

Still no word from city on final details of teacher evaluation plan

The city submitted its proposal for a key piece of teacher evaluation this week — a list of ways to measure students’ learning that aren’t standardized tests. But one month before schools need to finalize their plans for evaluating teachers, it’s still unclear what the alternative measures will look like.

If approved by State Education Commissioner John King, the list of alternative assessment options is what principals and teachers will have to choose from by Sept. 9, the first day of school, when teacher evaluation plans must be finalized.

The alternative assessments’ measure of how much a teacher helps students learn represents 20 percent of each teacher’s evaluation. The measures are one of the details that weren’t finalized back in June, when State Education Commissioner John King imposed a system on the city.

King gave the city Department of Education two months to come up with the list of choices for the measures, which can include both assessments the city develops on its on and third-party assessments developed by outside vendors.

On June 21, the city published a guide for the committees who will devise teacher evaluation plans at each school. The guide said the list of alternative measures would be finalized by today, but a Department of Education spokesman declined to share the list, saying the city is still waiting for King’s approval.

A department official working on the evaluations, Joanna Cannon, said that the submission was “almost identical” to options provided in slideshow presentation to committees at elementarymiddle and high schools.

One set of options draws from performance assessments by third-party vendors, including some that city schools already use to track students’ learning gains. The guide mentions a list of options, including Scantron’s Performance Series assessments, which are administered on a computer, graded in real time, and adjust difficulty for the remainder of the task. Others include Discovery, a math assessment, Degrees of Reading Power, and, for high school, Advanced Placement tests.

Another option mentioned in the presentation is the district’s own performance assessments, which officials began creating nearly three years ago as a collaboration between teachers and the Stanford Center for Assessment Learning and Equity.

The assessments involve tasks, such as essays, that students will complete at the beginning and end of the school year. Students’ improvement on the tasks, which are set to a common set of rubrics, will count toward a teacher’s score on his evaluation.

But teachers and officials who have helped designed the assessments said the process of building them is challenging.

“They’re hard to create,” David Weiner, the deputy chancellor in charge of teacher quality, said in June. “We’re still working on them now to find out if they’re valid, if they’re reliable.”

At the time, Weiner said he hoped the performance assessments would be completed for all grades in English and math, but was less certain about other core subject.

According to the options presented to evaluation committees later in the month, performance assessments for all elementary school grades except third still need to be developed. The city also said it intended to develop assessments for non-core subjects, including physical education, health, arts and foreign languages.

King’s evaluation decision called on the city to also use the assessments for the state component of student growth for teachers of subjects without state tests. For instance, an assessment would be used in place of standardized state tests to measure student learning for a sixth-grade science teacher’s evaluation.

Principals said this week that they planned to wait until they receive a final list of options before meeting with their evaluation committees to make a choice. Once the options are approved, schools have until Sept. 9, the first day of school, to make a selection.

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.