Who Is In Charge

Union pushing more ‘authentic’ assessments in teacher evaluations

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew.

When the dust settled after this year’s legislative session, New York state’s 2015 teacher evaluation law had been effectively dismantled.

That evaluation system, designed to give more weight to standardized test scores, could no longer include grades 3-8 math and English state tests — and districts were given an extra few months to figure out how to fill that gap.

Now, details are emerging about what that might look like in New York City.

In an email sent to United Federation of Teachers chapter leaders, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the union is currently negotiating with the city to add more “authentic” measures of student learning in teacher evaluations.

“Our goal in the current negotiations is to have as many options as possible of authentic student learning not based on standardized test scores,” the email reads.

Mulgrew reiterated that point at a UFT meeting last week, where he reportedly told UFT chapter leaders he would not agree to a new teacher evaluation system until he had secured more such “authentic” student learning measures. (Chapter leader Arthur Goldstein blogged about it after the meeting.)

The union did not comment further on what those assessments might include, since they are still hashing out the details of the new evaluation system with the city. The new evaluations must be finalized by the end of December, but in Mulgrew’s email to chapter leaders, he said he hopes to finish earlier in the school year.

New York City already has a system of exams, beyond the state’s traditional standardized tests, that schools can choose to factor into their teacher evaluations. These exams are called “Measures of Student Learning” or MOSLs, and they take a number of forms, including essays, oral reading assessments, or performance-based music exams. In the email to chapter leaders, Mulgrew indicated that MOSL options might expand before the end of negotiations.

In an April op-ed in City & State, Mulgrew called for more semester-long assessments. “As New York weans itself off its reliance on fill-in-the-bubble tests, it should be looking at strategies like projects and portfolios that cover an entire semester or even a year of work and offer a real assessment of what students can do,” he wrote.

Jake Jacobs, an art teacher at New Directions Secondary School in the Bronx, said assessments that show learning over time would be a more “authentic” way to measure a teacher’s work.

“What ‘authentic’ assessments mean in my department is actual student work, sometimes with teacher feedback on it, sometimes showing progress,” Jacobs wrote in an email. “Maybe in a portfolio, digitally, or on display where it can be analyzed to determine what’s going on in that classroom over time.”

Experimenting with new types of assessments is in line with the State Education Department’s priorities. Commissioner MaryEllen Elia wanted New York to participate in a pilot that will allow seven states to experiment with new types of assessments, though that project may be derailed by a lack of funding.

State officials have to approve any new assessments used to evaluate teachers, but so far they seem open to more creative options. Officials said they welcome applications that include more authentic measures of student learning, as long as those assessments are valid and reliable.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: