How the war on teachers is changing the profession

Posted By Levi

January 30th, 2012 8:02pm

Category: Education

For better or worse, public education is changing. New reforms are being implemented at such a rapid pace that it is hard to keep up. Anthony Cody, a veteran teacher, does a good job in keeping us up to date. In a recent post, he looks at how new evaluation systems being implemented across the country is going to affect teachers. The post is a lengthy one but it well worth reading. I extracted below some of the more important points. 

“Teachers will now pay the price – be declared successes or failures, depending on the rise or fall of their students’ test scores. Under NCLB it was schools that were declared failures. In states being granted waivers to NCLB, it is teachers who will be subjected to this ignominy. Of course we will still be required to label the bottom 5% of our schools as failures, but if the Department of Education has its way, soon every single teacher in the profession will be at risk for the label. . .

According to the Wall St. Journal, as of last fall, nearly half the states now link teacher evaluations to student test scores. This week Connecticut became the latest to make the move.

I do not think teachers in many states quite understand how the profession is being transformed. And our unions are, in some cases, negotiating these agreements into place. Tennessee has been ahead of the curve, and may offer us a preview of what may be in store. There, the state has had an extensive data collection system for years, and, in order to gain Race to the Top funds, implemented a comprehensive system that rates teachers using test scores.

Michael Winerip wrote about Tennessee in the New York Times:

“Teachers have it worse. Half of their assessment is based on their students’ results on state test scores, a serious problem for those who teach subjects with no state test. To solve that, the state is requiring teachers without test results to be evaluated based on the scores of teachers at their school with test results. So Emily Mitchell, a first-grade teacher at David Youree Elementary, will be evaluated using the school’s fifth-grade writing scores.”

These “reforms” have been created to give principals more authority, so they can fire bad teachers. But even principals are questioning the new model. Carol Corbett Burris has been outspoken, and has rallied more than 1,278 principals in the state of New York to object to the new evaluation system there.

 In a New York Times column posted yesterday, Principal Corbett Burris writes:

 “The right question to ask, however, is not whether this evaluation system is good or bad for adults, but rather whether it is good or bad for students. Numerical evaluations of educators, 40 percent of which is based on student test scores and achievement, will damage the relationship between teachers and students, a relationship at the heart of student success. It will accelerate teaching to tests instead of teaching to the needs of kids.  It will put teachers in the terrible position of wondering whether the performance of their weakest students on a test might be a threat to their careers. It will make principals hesitate to lead schools where test scores are low.”

This is a good summary of the bad effects of this shift. In the brave new world of teacher evaluations based on test scores, every teacher, every year, will be subject to the vagaries of chance. Every teacher will have to decide how that class of English Language Learners will affect their livelihoods. Every teacher will live in fear of being assigned special ed students, likewise difficult to move on the VAM charts. We are moving from the time when schools were blamed to a new time of the toad, when individual teachers will be vilified, their careers ruined over their scores.

 To drive the point home more forcefully, Cody cites specific results from the Houston Independent School District (HISD).Houston has been evaluating teachers based on value-added student test data (calculated through a widely-used commercial system called EVAAS) for the purpose of both merit pay and dismissal.

In spring of 2011, a number of HISD teachers’ contracts were not renewed, largely due to: “a significant lack of student progress attributable to the educator,” and “insufficient student academic growth reflected by [EVAAS] value-added scores.”A recent research summary included evidence about the value-added scores of several teachers, including this one, who had been a highly-regarded elementary teacher in HISD for more than 10 years. In each year, she “exceeded expectations” across every domain in her supervisor evaluations. She was given a “Teacher of the Month” award in 2010 and a “Teacher of the Year” award in 2008.

Many studies have found that the scores that come from these models are subject to a great many factors, and are highly variable from year to year. In Houston, the study quoted here found that most teachers’ value-added scores were lower in the years when they had a large number of newly mainstreamed English learners, a practice that occurs in grade 4, as shown in this teacher’s case.

This teacher certified for grades 4-8 via HISD’s Alternative Teaching Certificate (ATC) program. She took a full-time position in HISD in 2006. Until 2010-11, she was rated as “exceeded expectations” or “proficient” across every domain in terms of her supervisor evaluations. Like most teachers, she had positive (3 out of 6) and negative (3 out of 6) value-added scores across the years.

In 2009-2010, when she was assigned to teach a large number of English Language Learners who were transitioned into her classroom, her value-added scores went down. This well-regarded teacher has now also left the Houston school district, while those who have stayed are increasingly confused and demoralized by this system.

These teachers report that there is no relationship between their instructional practices and their value-added ratings, which appear unpredictable. As one teacher noted:

“I do what I do every year. I teach the way I teach every year. [My] first year got me pats on the back. [My] second year got me kicked in the backside. And for year three, my scores were off the charts. I got a huge bonus, and now I am in the top quartile of all the English teachers. What did I do differently? I have no clue.”

Read the whole thing here.

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