Tag Archives: Teacher Evaluation

The Failed Logic in Removing Student Growth and Achievement from Teacher Evaluation Systems

During the 2016 legislative session, several states’ bills attacked the use of student growth as part of teachers’ evaluations. While many of those bills failed to make it over the finish line, a few became law. In particular, bills in Oklahoma and Hawaii officially remove student growth requirements.

Photo Credit: EngageNY

Photo Credit: EngageNY

The reason each of these states dropped requirements is different, but the justifications echo rhetoric from education leaders across the nation who have flip-flopped on including student growth in teachers’ evaluation. According to Oklahoma bill sponsors, now that student growth and achievement is optional, more emphasis can be placed on teacher professional development. And in Hawaii, bill supporters are hopeful that the change in the teacher evaluation system will help address the state’s teacher shortage.

Bill sponsors and supporters in Oklahoma and Hawaii have a point. There is no doubt that emphasis on improving teacher professional development is direly needed in many states and districts. And areas affected by teacher shortages (note: this is not a national issue, but rather a targeted one) need policy changes to address the shortages. However, there is no evidence that removing student growth and achievement from teacher evaluation systems is the solution to these problems. Continue reading

When Soundbites are Technically True but Terribly Misleading [UPDATED]

UPDATE [May 20, 2016, 10:29 a.m.]: On May 18, Governor Wolf vetoed the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act.

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Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania state legislature passed a bill, the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act, which would base teacher layoffs on performance rather than seniority. The bill isn’t going any further, because Governor Wolf pledged to veto it, but that hasn’t stopped proponents and opponents from dropping not-quite-accurate-but-very-quotable soundbites.

Sen. Dave Reed says that the current seniority-based policy “forces schools and districts to lay off teachers based solely on date of hire,” and that the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act would give districts the ability to “hire and keep the best teachers.”

But Wythe Keever, a Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman, says the bill would do the exact opposite: “Experience in education has been demonstrated through years of research to have a correlation with students’ academic achievement.”

So…which is it? Would this bill help or hurt the teaching force?

The answer is both and neither. Reed and Keever’s comments are technically true, but also terribly misleading.

Despite what Sen. Reed suggests, the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act wouldn’t ensure that only the best teachers stay in the classroom. In 2013-14, only 1.8 percent of Pennsylvania teachers—220 teachers in all—were rated unsatisfactory. This bill could allow districts to fire every unsatisfactory teacher, and yet the overall teaching force would remain largely the same.

Wythe Keever isn’t right, either. On average, teachers with decades of experience are better than teachers with no experience, but they’re only slightly better than teachers with a handful of years of experience. And there’s significant variation within and across every experience level. That’s a very different conclusion than what he—and the current layoff policy—suggests, which is that more experienced teachers are always better than less experienced teachers.

Indignant soundbites are much more fun than the full truth, but as I’ve said before, context and nuance are crucial for any real policy decision.

“High-Stakes” Tests are Hard to Find

young students working at computersThis spring, in schools across the country, standardized testing season is in full swing, and opponents are once again crying out against “high-stakes testing.” But that phrase can be misleading. In many states the stakes are much lower than you might think for students, teachers, and schools, and they’re likely to stay that way for a while.

Student consequences tied to tests are fairly low or nonexistent in most states. Graduation requirements and grade promotion policies tied to tests vary greatly between states and most have more holes than Swiss cheese. As of 2012, half of states had some sort of exit exam as a graduation requirement, but almost all these states had exceptions and alternate routes to a diploma if students didn’t pass the exam on the first try. Tying grade promotion to tests is less common, though some states have emulated Florida’s 3rd grade reading retention policy.  Now, just as tests become more rigorous, states are rolling back their graduation and promotion requirements tied to those tests, or offering even more flexibility if requirements are technically still in effect:

  • California eliminated graduation requirements tied to their exit exam in fall 2015.
  • Arizona repealed graduation requirements tied to testing in spring 2015 prior to administering the new AzMERIT tests.
  • Georgia waived their grade promotion requirement tied to new tests in grades three, five, and eight for the 2015-16 school year.
  • Ohio created new safe harbor policies this school year, which, among other things, prevents schools from using test results in grade promotion or retention until 2017-18 (except in the case of third grade reading tests).
  • New Jersey has had exit exams since 1982, but students can now fulfill the requirement using multiple exams, including the SAT, ACT and PARCC, and a proposed bill would pause the requirement altogether until 2021.

Continue reading

Teacher Evaluation After ESSA: A Conversation With NCTQ’s Sandi Jacobs

Did states and districts move on teacher evaluation policy because of readiness or was movement a response to federal pressure? What will come of teacher evaluation now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is law and federal pressure is gone? Specifically, which components of teacher evaluation may be up for debate? What should state policymakers be thinking about this legislative session when it comes to teacher evaluation? 

As part of our forthcoming work on teacher evaluation, Bellwether convened policy influencers, state and district leaders, and researchers to discuss these and other current issues, questions, and opportunities with teacher evaluation policies. Sandi Jacobs, Senior Vice President of State and District Policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), attended our convening. The below transcript is an e-mail exchange between Jacobs and Bellwether’s Kaitlin Pennington that transpired after the meeting between late January and mid-February. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Staff pictures for Bellwether Education, in Washington, DC, 10-27-2015. Photo by Toby Jorrin.

Staff pictures for Bellwether Education, in Washington, DC. Photo by Toby Jorrin.

Kaitlin Pennington: At the end of last year, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was reauthorized. The new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) strips all federal requirements on teacher quality issues. When it comes to teacher policy, it’s hard to say how states may react to new flexibility or how quickly for that matter. However, shortly before ESSA passed, I predicted that under the new law, new teacher evaluation policy in states and districts would be especially vulnerable to attack. Then, barely one week after reauthorization, leaders in New York and Oklahoma altered the teacher evaluation systems in their respective states.

It’s no coincidence that both New York and Oklahoma quickly pulled back on using student achievement in teacher evaluation. If I was a betting person, I’d place money on the fact that there are likely several states lining up behind New York and Oklahoma to do the same thing. It’s not that I think teacher evaluation as we’ve known it for the last five to eight years will be a thing of the past, but I doubt student achievement will be a component—and definitely not a significant component—in the majority of states and districts due to the lack of federal oversight in ESSA.

NCTQ is known for all things teacher policy, and your most recent State of the States provides a comprehensive look at how states are evaluating teachers. So what do you think? What’s going to happen to teacher evaluation policy post-ESSA?

Sjacobs_HeadshotSandi Jacobs: I’m just not sure that the reauthorization of ESSA is going to have much impact on states’ teacher evaluation policies. There is a perception that ESSA has done away with requirements for teacher evaluation that were in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and that is just not the case.  No version of ESEA has included a set of mandates around teacher evaluation.

Of course it is true that there was were some serious federal carrots and sticks around teacher evaluation, coming first with Race to the Top (RTT) and then with the ESEA waivers. And especially through the waivers, the feds certainly “encouraged” some states to move farther and faster on teacher evaluation than they really wanted or were ready to do. But it just isn’t my sense that that is the case for most states.

In our most recent scan in late 2015, we found just five states (California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska and Vermont) that had no formal state policy requiring that teacher evaluations take objective measures of student achievement into account in evaluating teacher effectiveness. And only three states – Alabama, New Hampshire and Texas – had evaluation policies that existed only in their waiver requests. It was far from a secret that there were states doing nothing on teacher evaluation; Texas was far from quiet about it. Yet most states kept moving.

It is a certainty that states are going to continue to fine-tune their teacher evaluation requirements.  (Appendix B of our State of the States report attempts to capture the considerable amount of changes states have made just to the weight of student growth measures over the last five years; within all those changes we only found three states that no longer appeared to require it as a significant factor.) What remains to be seen is whether there will be wholesale backpedaling.

I’m cautiously optimistic. There will certainly be political pressure to roll back requirements in some states. The simultaneous implementation of new college- and career-readiness assessments and new teacher evaluation systems has been a significant challenge, one that has unfortunately amplified the pushback to each issue individually. But while much work remains on implementation, the policy landscape around teacher evaluation is completely transformed in this country, and that’s not going to be easy to undo.

And one more note – a teacher evaluation bill is currently moving in the Alabama legislature, one of the eight states that currently does not require student achievement to be part of teacher evaluations.

Kaitlin Pennington: I hear what you’re saying, but I’d like to push on a couple of things. Continue reading

State Legislatures Attack Student Growth in Teacher Evaluation

As many 2016 state legislative sessions move into full swing, my hunch that teacher evaluation legislation would be up for debate due to the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act is proving to be true in several states.  While we can’t directly attribute causality to ESSA, the surge in activity in the current legislative session is highly suggestive.

Below are several states’ proposed bills that would notably change teacher evaluation policy:

  • Colorado: Senate Bill 16-105 would allow school districts to eliminate the use of student academic growth data in teacher evaluations and would give districts discretion to drop annual ratings for effective or highly effective teachers.
  • Florida: House Bill 903 delays the use of student growth scores in teacher and principal evaluations. Specifically, the bill would prohibit the use of statewide English and language arts and math assessments in evaluation ratings until the 2017-2018 school year.
  • Georgia: Senate Bill 364 and Senate Bill 355 both decrease the percentage of student growth scores in teachers’ evaluation ratings. Senate Bill 364 decreases the percentage from 50 percent to 30 percent. Senate Bill 355 would require that student growth scores count for no more than 10 percent in teachers’ evaluation ratings.
  • Oklahoma: Just days after ESSA became law, the Oklahoma State Board of Education voted to allow new options for how districts can measure student growth in teacher evaluations. This legislative session, HB 2265 would remove references to qualitative and quantitative components altogether and require that districts choose additional measures based on a list approved by the State Department of Education. HB 2269 would prohibit the use of value-added as a measure of student academic growth in evaluation systems.
  • Tennessee: House Bill 1453 waives the use of student growth data in teacher evaluations for two school years.

A quick scan of these proposed bills highlights one glaring commonality: the suspension, reduction, or elimination of student growth in teacher evaluation systems. Ironically, the attack on using student growth in teacher evaluation targets the heart of the teacher evaluation movement of the last five to eight years.  It’s too early to tell if proposed bills will go anywhere this session. But the mere existence of the proposals – particularly in states that have been working on performance-based teacher evaluation the longest like Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado – speaks volumes about where states may head with teacher evaluation policy now that federal requirements are gone.