Deeper teacher evaluations are coming, but how much should student performance count?

Jun 23, 2013 by

By JOE ROBERTSON –

The education system’s best chance at changing lives is right here in a third-grade classroom.

It isn’t the latest technology, curriculum, classroom size or instructional theory. It’s Beth McMillan, teacher.

Her students excel. Her school, Carver Dual Language Elementary in Kansas City Public Schools, is thriving.

But here she is in an overall unaccredited school district, in a city where only one-third of the children across multiple districts are reading at grade level in the third grade, in a nation mired in the middle of international performance rankings.

Yet more than 90 percent of teachers, multiple surveys show, are rated effective or better.

They can’t all be Beth McMillans.

There is a reason that some of the nation’s most vigorous classroom reform efforts take aim at teacher quality — and have teachers feeling more pressure than ever.

“Inside the building,” said Sandi Jacobs of the National Council on Teacher Quality, “nothing matters more.”

In Missouri, a showdown is mounting over a proposed constitutional amendment that would radically change the way teachers are evaluated. At the crux of it is a question: Should teachers prove themselves every year predominantly by their students’ test scores, unshielded by tenure?


Millionaire Rex Sinquefield, as promised, has invested in the effort for a constitutional amendment as the latest legislative attempts in Missouri ran aground earlier this year.

From the school districts, superintendents have called for patience. The Missouri and Kansas education departments are joined in a national wave of states creating model educator evaluation systems for school districts, and many education leaders want those systems to be given a chance.

The states have been spurred on at the federal level. The Obama administration has demanded tougher accountability in improving teacher quality in return for federal grants and as part of waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act.

There has been a rush, said Tony Davis at Denver-based McCrel, an education research company that is among several that are busy creating evaluation systems for districts and states.

“People have felt a little panicked and chaotic, but now I think they’re taking a breath and being thoughtful,” he said. “It’s complex. A lot of branches grow out of this tree.”


Kate Casas, like many of the staunch reformers, is tired of waiting.

The former Teach for America teacher from St. Louis is the designated spokeswoman in the campaign to seek reform through the state constitution.

No more waiting for legislators. No more waiting for state models that in Missouri and Kansas require evaluations to include student performance but leave it to districts to decide how much weight to give that data.

The Teach Great initiative wants teachers on limited contracts of three years or less that require all hiring, promoting, dismissing or laying off of teachers to be based on performance evaluations. A majority of each evaluation would be determined by objective and quantifiable student performance data, whether teaching math, art or the English language.

“We want to take it directly to voters,” she said.

A lawsuit by teachers has been filed to challenge the proposed ballot language, saying it does not adequately convey the intentions of the initiative, the potential cost of added exams or the potential impact.

But Teach Great still hopes to be gathering signatures by October.

By then, Missouri districts will have started the first full year of using the state’s model evaluation system. Kansas will be in a full-scale pilot of its program. Districts either are using the state models or have adopted others approved by the states.

In both cases, they are extensive systems that embed professional development guidelines to help teachers reach the “proficient” and “distinguished” levels across multiple standards. Numerous options are provided as potential evidence, including varieties of student test data.

No doubt the evaluation system business is booming. Since 2009, the number of states requiring evaluations that include some objective evidence of student growth has risen from 16 to 32, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Among those states, the number requiring that evidence of student growth be a “preponderant” factor has risen from four to 17, said the council’s Jacobs. “Preponderant” means a teacher could not rate effective overall without rating effective on student test data.

“Most states have been moving along” in creating evaluation requirements, she said. “The big shift has been the inclusion of student learning data.”

Most everyone agrees that evaluations must rely on numerous measures, such as classroom observations, student portfolios, student and parent feedback, and class participation, as well as varying test performances.

Trouble brews, however, when the question turns toward assigning specific percentages on the amount of test data that has to be weighed.

“You don’t want to paint yourself into a corner,” said Bill Bagshaw, the assistant director for teacher licensing and accreditation at the Kansas State Department of Education.

The Kansas evaluation tool stresses the importance of performance data, but it sets no percentage benchmark.

“What if a teacher had a large number of (English-language-learning) students that year?” Bagshaw said. “What if there were budget cuts and you lost a paraprofessional aide?

“Do you want to be put in jeopardy because you missed three growth measures, or do you want someone (to help you improve) in there with you? This is about teachers getting better.”

The companies that create evaluation systems tailor them to the needs of different states and districts, so many have worked in both directions.

The flavor of the evaluation shifts when its aim moves beyond providing a path for improvement and seeks more clearly to rank teachers in a competitive composite score.

The stakes run high. Evaluation designers have to be careful that algorithms and scoring methods are validated, Davis said. That’s why some districts that want to use test data to rank teachers may increase the weight over time.

“You have to be thoughtful,” he said. “You don’t want to run teachers off.”


Jamekia Kendrix is one of those parents who know a lot.

First, she knows McMillan’s classroom, where her 9-year-old daughter spent the third grade.

“She treats students like she’s their mom,” Kendrix said. “She has that ‘evil eye’ that gets kids to straighten right up. She knows what’s best for each child. They love her. Parents are willing to do whatever they can to help.”

She knows that McMillan hasn’t reached her fifth year yet, so she is a probationary teacher in Missouri. She is unprotected in the event of any job reduction.

Kendrix also knows that there is a time during the year when McMillan’s classroom loses some of its unique energy — that last third, when state test preparation overwhelms schools.

The parent doesn’t want to see the strict requirements for test performance in evaluations that are proposed in the initiative petition.


Standardized testing already bears too heavily on classrooms to make it the linchpin of a teacher’s evaluation, Kendrix said.

“I want that test to be less important.”

She has made herself a student of the issues, even visiting with some of the leaders pushing for the more controversial reforms. She thinks that if principals would see to it that the kind of evaluations modeled by the state were given regularly, so administrators knew their teachers’ performance, McMillan and teachers like her would fare well.

StudentsFirst, a national education reform organization started by Michelle Rhee, a former Washington, D.C., school chancellor, thinks most parents will want the reforms.

The organization commissioned a poll of Missouri voters earlier this year. It found that more than seven out of 10 respondents said they favored teacher and principal evaluations based 50 percent on measures of student performance. A similar majority said they favored yearly contracts for teachers that are renewed based on performance evaluations.

“There is strong statewide support,” said Lea Crusey, director of the Missouri chapter of StudentsFirst.

The organization and its allies could not sway enough legislators, however. Supporters could not get it through, not when it included language that would make test score growth 50 percent of the evaluation, nor when it was scaled back to 33 percent.

As it now stands, the Missouri evaluation system too easily becomes just a professional development tool and not a performance indicator to compare teachers with other teachers, said James Shuls with the Show-Me Institute, which supports the proposed reforms.

“It is possible for the evaluation system to be based on valid student performance data,” he said, “but not likely.”

In the end, the large teams of education professionals working on the evaluation systems in Kansas and Missouri determined that schools need flexibility to meet the varying circumstances around every classroom and teacher.

The schools will apply the right degree of performance data measures to identify and promote their best teachers — if they want to increase the overall performance of their school and district —proponents said. And every district’s performance bar remains under an intense watch and heavily dependent on student tests.

Strong teacher performance growth all along has been a core component of Missouri’s statewide school improvement plan, said Paul Katnik, the assistant commissioner of education quality.

The state spent five years on the project. More than 100 districts piloted it.

“We involved almost every professional organization you can think of,” he said. “Music teachers, math teachers, elementary teachers, administrators … high-ed people … and everything in between.”

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/06/22/4307765/deeper-teacher-evaluations-are.html#storylink=cpy

via Deeper teacher evaluations are coming, but how much should student performance count? – KansasCity.com.

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