teacher evaluations

Obama still would use tests to evaluate teachers


Although the Obama administration is partially retreating on standardized testing, it is not giving up on the discredited idea of tying student test scores to teacher evaluations, at least not entirely. The administration’s “Testing Action Plan” calls only for “reducing the reliance on student test scores” for evaluations.

This was pointed out by Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss, who also reminded us that as recently as last year the Education Department pulled Washington state’s No Child Left Behind waiver because that state’s legislature didn’t require its teachers to be evaluated by test scores.

The administration won’t let loose of that bad idea despite the fact that assessment experts, including the American Statistical Association, have said the so-called “value added-measurement,” which includes test scores, is an unreliable, invalid tool for evaluating teachers. That means test scores shouldn’t be used in evaluations at all.

This reinforces the importance of educators and parents making themselves heard, loudly and clearly, when the new Texas Commission on the Next generation of Assessments and Accountability is appointed and begins its work. As I noted in my previous blog post, this commission will be appointed by the governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House to make recommendations to the 2017 Legislature on a new school accountability system.

The panel will include at least two parents and two educators, but it needs to hear from thousands of Texans who are weary of the testing regime. This is critical because, believe me, the panel also will hear from the privatization interests that have a huge financial stake in preserving testing.




When a perfect test score hurts a teacher


The absurdity (and that is putting it mildly) of using computerized interpretations of student test scores to evaluate teachers is on display once again, this time in New York, where a suit brought by a veteran, highly regarded teacher against New York state education officials was scheduled to be argued this week before the state’s Supreme Court in Albany.

Sheri G. Lederman, a fourth-grade teacher in the Great Neck public school district, is a highly regarded educator whose students consistently score higher than the statewide average on standardized math and English Language Arts tests. Yet, she has run afoul of the value-added, or VAM, model, a concept that has been repeatedly trashed by educational experts but which New York persists in using to help evaluate its teachers.

The Washington Post story, linked at the end of this post, presents a good account of the lawsuit and the problems with VAM. The article is long, so here are some highlights (or lowlights):

# Lederman’s record is “flawless,” according to her superintendent. But a complex computer program used to measure and adjust student test scores for various factors determined that she was “ineffective” in promoting student growth. Her attorney called the process “a statistical black box which no rational fact finder could see as fair, accurate or reliable.”

# A teacher in Florida, which also uses VAM, saw his evaluation hurt because a computer ruled that his four top-scoring students – to demonstrate “progress” – had to score higher than the maximum number of points that could be earned on an exam. One of his sixth-grade students, for example, had a computer-predicted score of 286.34 on the exam. In reality, the highest score the student could earn on that particular test was 283. She scored a 283, a perfect score but not good enough for the VAM computer, which counted it as a negative toward the teacher’s evaluation. (Sounds like something from the “Twilight Zone.”)

# Because high-stakes tests were administered only in math and English language arts, an art teacher in New York City was evaluated on his students’ math test scores and saw his evaluation drop from “effective” to “developing.”

And, don’t forget, taxpayers are spending millions of dollars on this nonsense, dollars that should be spent directly on the classroom.




Making teachers an afterthought


While political leaders throughout the United States continue to heap high-stakes tests on 8-year-olds and wring their hands over less-than-magical scores, many of these same leaders – if you want to call them that — persist in neglecting the teachers at the heart of the educational process. And, I am not just talking about Texas, although our state ranks right down there with the most neglectful.

Now, those of you who think teacher pay isn’t a valid educational issue can go back to sleep. If you think teachers are overpaid because most of them get two months off during the summer, even if they cram about 12 or 13 months’ worth of work into a typical school year, you may find the Cartoon Network or the Disney Channel more to your level of comprehension.

But if you believe that teachers should be paid as professionals at a level that recognizes and rewards the value of their work, read on to learn just how far off the mark the United States has fallen in this age of “accountability.”

Pay for teachers in the United States is now only sixth highest in the world, according to a new report by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. This ranking is based on daily pay of teachers in public primary schools, adjusted for purchasing power parity. The UNESCO report is summarized in HR Exchange, a publication of the Texas Association of School Boards, linked below.

Since 2000, the purchasing power of teachers has increased significantly in many countries, while increasing by less than 5 percent in the United States. This means that average teacher pay in the U.S.  – unlike, say, the pay of hedge fund managers and other business billionaires who are some of our public schools’ biggest critics – has only slightly outpaced inflation. In Texas, according to TASB, the purchasing power for the average teacher in Texas has declined by $1,000 since 2000.

The UNESCO study also found that the United States, on average, rewards experienced teachers less for their years of service — compared to starting teachers’ salaries — than most other industrialized countries. And, the pay disparity between teachers and other people with similar educational backgrounds is greater in the U.S.

Teachers in the United States, according to the report, are paid between 66 percent and 70 percent of the average salaries of other people with bachelor’s degrees. Teachers in the 34 countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which include many countries with much smaller economies than the U.S., earn, on average, between 80 percent and 89 percent of the salaries of other individuals with bachelor’s degrees.

That comparison may be worse in Texas, where teacher pay is more than $7,000 below the U.S. average. And, now, state Education Commissioner Michael Williams, prodded by the Obama administration, wants to add insult to injury by imposing a teacher evaluation system that would potentially link teacher pay to student test scores.

Williams needs to get a clue, and, unfortunately, he isn’t the only one.


Appreciate teachers, not high-stakes tests


Leave it to state Education Commissioner Michael Williams to “celebrate” Teacher Appreciation Week by giving teachers the back of his hand. Admittedly, that may sound a bit hyperbolic, but my characterization will be mild compared to what some parents may start saying once they realize the commissioner has fed a testing frenzy in their school districts.

Williams this week released a new, pilot teacher evaluation system that will be partly based on student test scores. The emphasis on test scores was not unexpected because that was a requirement from the federal government for granting Texas a waiver from some provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. But the testing emphasis, nevertheless, flies in the face of increasing parental outrage over the standardized testing culture for which NCLB and its champion, former President George W. Bush, are largely responsible.

Now, the Obama administration has misguidedly taken up the testing banner, and Texas officials who go out of their way to disagree with President Obama on just about everything else are all too eager to heap more high-stakes tests on students and teachers. A couple of weeks ago, you may recall, Attorney General Greg Abbott proposed giving teachers – in lieu of a pay raise — a bounty for students who pass Advanced Placement tests.

Beginning with the next school year, the new evaluation system will be introduced in as many as 72 school districts and charter schools, Williams announced. Unless the Legislature steps in and says otherwise, the commissioner plans to expand the system – or a version of it – to all districts during the 2015-16 school year.

Teachers also will be evaluated on other factors, such as self-assessments, classroom observations and professional feedback. But 20 percent of an evaluation will be based on test scores for those teachers who administer standardized tests.

Thanks to pushback from parents, most legislators have started to realize that high-stakes testing and the teaching-to-the-test syndrome that it encourages are interfering with the real learning process. That is why they took a first step toward testing sanity last year by reducing the number of end-of-course exams that high school students have to pass to graduate. Now, tying a teacher’s evaluation and, potentially, pay level to test scores will encourage more teaching to the test.

Some people just don’t get it. You can count Commissioner Williams, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama among them.