Eval FAQ

Here’s what you need to know about the latest teacher evaluation changes

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty

This week marked the end of teacher evaluations as we know them — at least for now.

On Monday, the state Board of Regents voted to suspend the use of state standardized test scores in evaluations for four years.

What does that mean for educators? Here’s what you need to know.

What changed?

Evaluations are based on two measures: student performance on various assessments and teacher observations. The observations aren’t changing, but the student performance measures are.

The new temporary regulation changes them in two ways.

First, it switched the tools used to measure student performance, by swapping in local for state tests. Second, it changed how student performance will be calculated, by replacing a state formula for measuring academic growth with locally created goals.

Who does this affect?

About 20 percent of teachers across New York teach subjects that are tested annually by the state. Those teachers will definitely see their evaluation systems change, since those tests can no longer be used.

But teachers beyond the tested subjects will also see their evaluations change.

That’s because teachers’ ratings often factor in the scores of students they don’t teach, since some subjects don’t have state tests and some schools decided to use one set of test results for everybody. However, it’s not clear how many teachers fall in that category.

What are these local tests?

They are assessments approved or created by the city.

They include some common ones like “Running Records,” which are oral reading assessments for young students, and Advanced Placement tests for high schoolers. They also include some technical-skill exams for older students in areas like plumbing or computer repair, and performance-based assessments in music, theater, dance, and visual arts.

But the majority of the approved local tests are New York City-crafted assessments in a variety of subjects, including math, reading, history, and science. Some teachers have been using them since the current evaluation system went into effect two years ago.

The assessments go beyond basic multiple-choice questions. For instance, an accounting test had students create a balance sheet, while a 12th-grade English test asked students to read two texts then write an essay about which one best illustrated the horrors of World War 1.

Some teachers think the assessments are too challenging. Teresa Ranieri, a first grade teacher at P.S. 11 in the Bronx, said the city’s first grade exam asks students to read at a second grade level.

“That’s a full academic year difference,” she said. “The instrument you’re using needs to be fair.”

Eventually, teachers may have even more of these local assessments to choose from: The teachers union said the regulations open the door to creating new ones. In the meantime, the city is still figuring out what combination of local measures to use.

How will student performance be calculated?

The evaluations try to calculate a teacher’s impact on a given student.

They do that by using one of two methods: applying a “growth model” that measures how much the student improved on an assessment from one year to the next compared to similar students, or by tracking whether the student met a specific goal.

Until now, the city and state each used their own growth models: the state compared a given student to peers across districts, while the city only compared local students. The new regulation bans the state model, but allows schools to still use the city model.

Schools that used goals can continue to.

Goal-setting requires teachers and principals to create targets for student performance at the beginning of each year. For most assessments, the education department provides suggested goals, then teachers and principals tweak them based on their students.

According to the union, most teachers choose the growth model over goal-setting.

What about Regents exams?

The regulations are clear about the grades 3-8 exams: they can’t factor into evaluations. But they leave some wiggle room for the Regents.

What they say is that evaluations can’t incorporate Regents scores that have been run through the state’s growth model. But, according to the union, that still might leave open the possibility of using Regents scores — as long as student growth is measured using the city’s model or goals.

What can these ratings do?

Teachers can still be fired if they receive “ineffective” ratings two years in a row.

The regulations also leave the rules for tenure and retention in place.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that teachers more often choose the growth model than the goal-setting model, according to union officials.

strike vote looming

Denver district, board members frame teacher contract negotiations as debate over values

PHOTO: Eric Gorski/Chalkbeat
Denver school board members get the latest on negotiations that have hit a turning point.

With time running out to strike a deal with the teachers union, Denver school district officials in a special board meeting Wednesday portrayed the unresolved issues in contract negotiations as a clash over values.

The hastily called meeting was primarily a briefing for school board members from the district’s chief negotiators and Superintendent Susana Cordova. But it was also a chance for the district — and a board that generally supports its positions — to seize the narrative.

Cordova framed the district’s stance as honoring core district values, including getting teachers into hard-to-staff jobs and high-poverty schools, and keeping them there.

Under negotiation is the district’s pay-for-performance system, called ProComp. It offers teachers a base salary and allows them to earn bonuses and incentives for things like high student test scores or working in a hard-to-fill position. The union would like to take some incentive money and put it toward higher base pay to lift the salaries of all teachers.

The district’s general counsel, Michelle Berge, on Wednesday said the union wants to take $10 million being used now to incentivize teaching in high-poverty schools and spread the money around “like peanut butter.”

Talks hit a sticking point Tuesday, with the union insisting the district embrace a salary table with its preferred structure for paying teachers by “steps” corresponding to a teacher’s experience and “lanes” representing education. 

The two sides have bargaining sessions scheduled for Thursday and Friday, and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association has pledged to hold a strike vote Saturday if an agreement isn’t reached.

Denver teachers have long said the pay-for-performance system is too complicated and unpredictable.

Cordova acknowledged the two sides are far apart on money. The money on the table for teachers now, she said, “is not enough.” But she said the two sides should reach an agreement, then work together to “fix the core of the problem” — how the state funds schools.

Wednesday’s meeting gave board members a platform as Denver inches closer to what would be its first teachers strike in 25 years.

Board member Jennifer Bacon said a system in which teachers don’t know what they are going to be paid — it can vary from year to year under ProComp — is “crazy.” 

“What are we really negotiating on to make teaching an idolized profession?” said Bacon, one of two board members who often push back against the district’s policies.

Member Happy Haynes said she put a higher priority on rewarding teachers who take hard-to-fill jobs and work in high-poverty schools.

“It isn’t just simply numbers moving around on cells on a spreadsheet,” she said. “There are values that we are articulating here.”

A teachers union representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Union President Henry Roman, however, has previously cited values in articulating the union’s stance.

“We know the district has the money to pay teachers a living wage,” Roman said in a statement last week, “and it’s time that they get serious about budgeting their stated values, so that we can have a deal by the 18th and prevent further stress on educators, students, and the community. Any further delay in getting a fair and transparent compensation system will only serve to aggravate the situation.”

On Friday, district officials presented a new proposal that would put an additional $6 million into teacher pay. That’s on top of the additional $17 million the district had already proposed, for a total of $23 million more. Taking into account a previously promised cost-of-living raise, the $23 million would increase teachers’ base pay by 10 percent from this school year to the next on average, district officials said.

Board member Carrie Olson, a former teacher, indicated the school district has more work to do to describe its offer.

“When I sit here, I know it sounds good, but I know that is not translating into the teachers in our schools,” Olson said. “The feeling isn’t, ‘This is a great deal.’”

That doesn’t appear to be lost on district officials. Cordova fielded teacher questions for an hour late Wednesday afternoon during a “telephone town hall” with educators after the district blasted them with robocalls informing them of the opportunity.

Teachers, meanwhile, organized informational community meetings at no fewer than three Denver schools Wednesday afternoon or evening, part of an effort to engage parents, said union vice president Christina Medina. In some cases, school administrators took part in those or previous meetings to discuss implications of a strike and explain the district position, she said.

“No one is more invested than parents,” said Medina, a teacher at Academia Ana Marie Sandoval elementary school in northwest Denver. “So connecting with them is important because they love our kids and we love our kids. It’s making sure we are on the same page. Making sure that teachers stay and we have great teachers in Denver.”

First Person

Why I won’t strike: Denver teachers in high-poverty schools, like me, deserve real bonuses

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

I’m in my eighth year teaching in Denver Public Schools. I have spent my career teaching in Montbello, where a majority of my students qualify for free and reduced lunch. I have a master’s degree in English, and at High Tech Early College, I teach primarily concurrent enrollment classes, for which students receive both high school and college credit.

For the last five years, I have been rated “distinguished,” the district’s highest evaluation rating for teachers. That rating, plus my degree and the fact that I teach at a high-poverty school, means I benefit from many aspects of our current pay system, known as ProComp.

So I’m watching the Denver teacher’s union negotiations for a new pay scale closely. And I’m concerned.

For one, I believe that my distinguished rating reflects my hard-earned successes in the classroom. The union has advocated successfully to end bonuses tied to evaluations under the new contract, which is disappointing. I see that change as funding less effective teachers at the expense of others, and I worry they could drive strong teachers from the district.

But far more important to me are the existing bonuses for teachers who work in high-poverty schools. The union is advocating to shrink bonuses for teachers in Title I schools to $1,500 from $2,500, and redistributing the rest to increase everyone’s base pay.

I can tell you from experience that schools where many students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch — an indicator of poverty — face complex and often painful challenges. We don’t talk enough about how, all over America, most poor kids go to school with poor kids and rich kids go to school with rich kids. That means teachers in schools like mine aren’t working with a few students arriving with challenges — behavior problems, unaddressed trauma, worries about being undocumented, for example — but often entire classes of students who need special attention for those reasons.

If those bonuses keep shrinking, what incentivizes teachers to teach at schools like ours? If it’s the same pay at two schools, what will bring teachers into the places where we need them the most? A sense of vocation and moral purpose, for sure, but that ignores reality. Turnover at my school is relatively high, and evening out teacher pay could make it worse. Students at those schools deserve great teachers who stick around.

To be clear, I love High Tech, and I’m not going anywhere. And I’m not anti-union. All teachers should be compensated for the hard and important work that they do, and I’m excited to see pay rise for everyone. I don’t believe that strong base pay and bonus money for qualified educators are mutually exclusive.

But the union’s stance on high-poverty schools is indefensible. I hope it reconsiders.

Alison Corbett is a teacher at High Tech Early College and was a 2017-18 Teach Plus Colorado Fellow.