IN THE NEWS:  Some officials question teacher evaluations

Some officials question teacher evaluations

Almost all schoolteachers again receive high marks, leading some officials to question the evaluations

By Nanea Kalani

POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 26, 2015

The majority of Hawaii public school teachers — 98 percent — were deemed highly effective or effective educators, and fewer teachers received marginal ratings for the 2014-15 school year, marking the second year of ratings on a high-stakes evaluation system that ties performance to pay raises, tenure and termination.

The high ratings for most of the teaching force mirror results from the previous school year, when 98 percent of teachers received “effective” or “highly effective” ratings — the highest of four categories — and have prompted concerns from some Board of Education members that the methodology may not be rigorous enough and might be producing “false returns.”

Under what’s known as the Educator Effectiveness System, or EES, half of a classroom teacher’s annual rating is based on student learning and growth, measured by standardized test scores and data-driven academic goals. The other half is based on teacher practice, measured through classroom observations and student surveys.

Only teachers rated as effective or highly effective are eligible for collectively bargained pay increases in the year after the evaluation. Marginal teachers are given an opportunity to improve, while an “unsatisfactory” rating is cause for termination.

Evaluations questioned
For the 2014-15 school year, 4,206 teachers were deemed highly effective, representing 35 percent of teachers rated, according to results released last week by the state Department of Education. Some 7,478 teachers were rated effective, representing 63 percent of teachers rated.

“That’s a high percentage, which is great, but I’m just wondering what does this reveal about the evaluation system itself — do you think it’s rigorous?” BOE member Patricia Halagao asked DOE officials at a recent meeting of the board’s Human Resources Committee.

“I think it’s a reflection of how good our teachers are in the classroom, and I really do believe that the vast majority of our teachers do a great job,” schools Deputy Superintendent Stephen Schatz said. “To what degree this is an accurate representation of the workforce and how we’re doing, I think that’s a question that we continually wrestle with.”

He added that the system is still a work in progress and that the department regularly receives feedback on its design and implementation from teacher and principal groups.

Some board members questioned the rating methodology, given that the matrix used to determine an overall rating allows a teacher who gets a marginal score in one of the two areas measured — student growth and learning or teacher practice — to still receive an “overall effective” rating.

“I have serious questions about the effectiveness of those teachers. I don’t think it’s asking too much to be at least effective in one of the two areas,” BOE member Jim Williams said. “You can go through all of the 50 percent (student) growth and the 50 percent teacher practice, and the observations and the portfolios, and that can be very rigorous, but in terms of ratings, rigor is really reflected in this matrix. … You can have a rigorous system, but if your matrix is not rigorous, then I think we will get some false returns.”

In the lower categories, 69 teachers were marked as marginal — a significant decrease from the 233 teachers who were rated marginal in the previous school year. Meanwhile, 18 teachers were found unsatisfactory, compared with 24 teachers the year prior. Those 18 teachers have either left the DOE or are challenging the rating through their union, Barbara Krieg, assistant superintendent for human resources, told the committee.

Testing criticized

Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said the results validate the work of Hawaii teachers, but he takes issue with the idea of tying teacher pay to standardized test scores, which, he argues, teachers have little control over. He said teachers support evaluations but favor a model that is “collaborative versus evaluative” and fosters positive interaction between teachers and administrators.

“Teaching cannot be boiled down to a number. Teaching is an art,” Rosenlee said in an interview. “For example, if you want to try to measure teaching by students’ test scores, what research shows is that test scores are highly correlated with socioeconomic status and not necessarily a teacher’s ability. They use student growth when the American Statistical Association has said that that’s an invalid measurement because it fluctuates so heavily … and it also penalizes special-education and (English Language Learners) teachers.”

He added that using test scores often leads to an overemphasis of tested subjects. “As long as teachers believe that student test scores are being tied to their evaluations, then they start teaching to the test, and we deprive our children of a well-rounded education,” he said.

Hawaii is among 18 states rated as having a strong policy for requiring that student achievement be the “preponderant criterion” for teacher evaluations, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Overhauling teacher evaluations was a key commitment in the state’s application for its $75 million federal Race to the Top grant, which Hawaii won in 2010 after pledging education reforms, including plans to turn around its lowest-performing schools, boost student achievement and improve teacher and principal effectiveness. The commitment to adopt evaluations that rate teachers on student learning and teacher practice was subsequently folded into BOE policy and the board-department joint strategic plan.

Under the state’s former Professional Evaluation Program for Teachers, or PEP-T, teachers were not evaluated annually and only classroom observations were used.

“The default was that every five years our teachers were evaluated,” said Schatz, the deputy superintendent. “The highest you could be was satisfactory, (and) the tool itself didn’t reflect any values or any clear expectations for the field.” He said the EES, by contrast, was designed to do two things: raise student achievement and enhance teacher effectiveness.

Workload ‘untenable’
The HSTA, in its 2013-2017 labor contract, agreed to annual performance-based evaluations. But the statewide rollout two falls ago proved controversial among teachers who said they didn’t understand its complex design and were overwhelmed with the work required to prepare for the areas measured by the evaluations. Principals also decried the initial implementation, saying the evaluations were extremely time-consuming and negatively affecting morale.

“In our first year of implementation, we had a really heavy lift for our teachers and principals,” Schatz said. “We expected numerous observations every year for every single teacher, and it became pretty clear pretty quickly that we weren’t able to keep up with the workload and it was a burden on both teachers and principals that was kind of untenable.”

The DOE last summer announced more than a dozen changes to essentially cut in half the workload required to prepare for and perform the annual reviews. Schatz said annual surveys of teachers, jointly commissioned by the DOE and HSTA and administered by Ward Research, show more educators have a better overall understanding of the EES and its individual measures and received better training this year compared with last year.

“Quite honestly, in the first year it showed that there was a lot of confusion and there was a lot of frustration, and we committed to taking some serious actions,” he said. “In this year’s survey we saw pretty dramatic improvement both in understanding of the components but also some pretty significant changes in teachers’ perceptions of the value of the components.”

Kauai High School English teacher Jonathon Medeiros, who received a “highly effective” EES rating, said he believes the evaluation is an improvement over the old system.

“I feel like the intent of the EES system is to provide a space for teachers to reflect on their own practice based on all of these different data points to hopefully become a better teacher, adjust and grow,” he said in an interview. “So in that sense I feel like it’s a positive step forward. If a teacher wants it to be useful, it can be very useful, and it was for me.”

NEA President reacts to Obama administration announcement on over testing

WASHINGTON - October 24, 2015 -
As part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the National Education Association has pushed for limits on time spent on standardized tests, as well as eliminating high stakes that accompany standardized tests while preserving diagnostic assessments that help students and inform educators.

The following statement can be attributed to NEA President Lily Eskelsen García on U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s announcement that the Obama administration will work to limit over testing:

“We are optimistic that President Obama and Secretary Duncan have learned from the students, parents and educators who see first-hand that over testing acts as a barrier to student success and takes away time to learn. But that’s just the first lesson. With a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on the horizon, we hope this decision leads the administration and all policy makers also to address the high-stakes that too often accompany these standardized tests.

“We need real solutions that close opportunity gaps for students, and that begins with listening to the people who know the names of the children in their schools and classrooms to develop assessments that come from educators and work for students. Only then can we create the kind of schools that promote success for every child, regardless of his or her ZIP code.”

Obama Administration Declares That Student Testing Has Gone Too Far

Shannon Doyne

October 26, 2015 4:30 am

Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools, the Obama administration declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.
Specifically, the administration called for a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests. It called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.

“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, who has announced that he will leave office in December. “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.”

“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he continued. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

Teachers’ unions, which had led the opposition on the left to the amount of testing, declared the reversal of sorts a victory. “Parents, students, educators, your voice matters and was heard,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

And even some proponents of newer, tougher tests said they appreciated the administration’s acknowledgment that it had helped create the problem, saying it did particular damage by encouraging states to evaluate teachers in part on test scores.

But the administration’s so-called “testing action plan” — which guides school districts but does not have the force of law — also risks creating new uncertainty on the role of tests in America’s schools. Many teachers have felt whiplash as they rushed to rewrite curriculum based on new standards and new assessments, only to have politicians in many states pull back because of political pressure.
Some who agreed that testing has run rampant also urged the administration not to throw out the No. 2 pencils with the bath water, saying tests can be a powerful tool for schools to identify weaknesses and direct resources. They worried that the cap on time spent testing — which the administration said it would ask Congress to enshrine in legislation — would only tangle schools in more federal regulations and questions of what, exactly, counts as a test.

“What happens if somebody puts a cap on testing, and to meet the cap ends up eliminating tests that could actually be helpful, or leaves the redundancy in the test and gets rid of a test that teachers can use to inform their instruction?” asked Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, an organization that represents about 70 large urban school districts.
Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and one of the most vocal proponents for higher standards and tougher tests, said, “There’s plenty of agreement that there’s too much testing going on.” But, he added, “we have to be careful, as with anything federal, that it doesn’t lead to unintended consequences.”

The administration’s move seemed a reckoning on a two-decade push that began during the Bush administration and intensified under President Obama. Programs with aspirational names — No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top — were responding to swelling agreement among Democrats and Republicans that higher expectations and accountability could lift the performance of American students, who chronically lag their peers in other countries on international measures, and could help close a chronic achievement gap between black and white students.
States, led by the National Governors Association and advised by local educators, created the so-called Common Core standards, which outlined the skills students should have upon graduation, and signed on to tests tied to those standards.

But as the Obama administration pushed testing as an incentive for states to win more federal money in the Race for the Top program, it was bedeviled by an unlikely left-right alliance. Conservatives argued that the standards and tests were federal overreach — some called them a federal takeover — and called on parents and local school committees to resist what they called a “one size fits all” approach to teaching.

On the left, parents and unions objected to tying tests to teacher evaluations and said tests hamstrung educators’ creativity. They accused the companies writing the assessments of commercializing the fiercely local tradition of American schooling.

As a new generation of tests tied to the Common Core was rolled out last spring, several states abandoned plans to use the tests, while others renounced the Common Core, or rebranded it as a new set of local standards. And some parents, mostly in suburban areas, had their children opt out of the tests.
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Mr. Duncan’s announcement — which was backed by his designated successor, John B. King Jr. — was prompted in part by the anticipation of a new survey from the Council of the Great City Schools, which set out to determine exactly how much testing is happening among its members.

That survey, also released Saturday, found that students in the nation’s big-city schools will take, on average, about 112 mandatory standardized tests between prekindergarten and high school graduation — eight tests a year. In eighth grade, when tests fall most heavily, they consume an average of 20 to 25 hours, or 2.3 percent of school time. The totals did not include tests like Advanced Placement exams or the ACT.

There was no evidence, the study found, that more time spent on tests improved academic performance, at least as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a longstanding test sometimes referred to as the nation’s report card.

“Because so many actors are adopting and requiring tests, you often find a whole portfolio of tests not being very strategic,” said Mr. Casserly, the council’s executive director. “It’s often disjointed and disconnected and incoherent in many ways, and it results in a fair amount of redundancy and overlap.”
Still, he said: “We don’t think tests are the enemy. We think there’s an appropriate place for them.”

The administration said it would issue “clear guidance” on testing by January. Some of the language of the announcement Saturday was general; it said, for example, that tests should be “worth taking” and “fair.” Like new guidance from many states, it stressed that academic standards and curriculum are to be fleshed out locally.
But it also said that tests should be “just one of multiple measures” of student achievement, and that “no single assessment should ever be the sole factor in making an educational decision about a student, an educator or a school.”

Still, it emphasized that the administration was not backing away entirely from tests: The announcement said tests should cover “the full range of relevant state standards,” and elicit “complex student demonstrations or applications of knowledge and skills.”

A version of this article appears in print on October 25, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: White House Moves to Limit School Testing