Destroying what works for what doesn't

The NYT reported over the weekend on the decade long successful teacher evaluation system employed in Maryland

The Montgomery County Public Schools system here has a highly regarded program for evaluating teachers, providing them extra support if they are performing poorly and getting rid of those who do not improve.

The program, Peer Assistance and Review - known as PAR - uses several hundred senior teachers to mentor both newcomers and struggling veterans. If the mentoring does not work, the PAR panel - made up of eight teachers and eight principals - can vote to fire the teacher.

In the 11 years since PAR began, the panels have voted to fire 200 teachers, and 300 more have left rather than go through the PAR process, said Jerry D. Weast, the superintendent of the Montgomery County system, which enrolls 145,000 students, one-third of them from low-income families. In the 10 years before PAR, he said, five teachers were fired.

This successful system now seems to be unraveling. Struggling for funding the state participated in the Federal Race to the Top program, a condition of which was to abandon the PAR system and replace it high stakes student testing as a means to evaluate teachers.

So here is where things stand: Montgomery’s PAR program, which has worked beautifully for 11 years, is not acceptable. But the Maryland plan — which does not exist yet — meets federal standards.

Dr. Weast said a major failing of Race to the Top’s teacher-evaluation system is that it is being imposed from above rather than being developed by the teachers and administrators who will use it. “People don’t tear down what they help build,” he said.

The disaster this has caused is picked up in the Washington Post

Bogged down by political infighting, large gaps in technical know-how and regulatory hurdles, Maryland recently applied for a year’s extension to fully execute the evaluation system it has yet to develop.

“We knew this was going to be very difficult,” said state Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick, who is requesting that the evaluations not carry consequences for teachers and principals until 2013-14, so schools will have more time to train and experiment. “If it rolls out too soon, it won’t be done well, and there will be reactions from teachers that this is a half-baked idea.”
But the group quickly encountered the kind of questions that are vexing school systems nationwide: What is an effective teacher? Can standardized tests for students be fair measures for teachers? What can be used in place of tests in classes like kindergarten and music that don’t usually have them? And how do you isolate the impact of one teacher when students work with specialists or outside tutors?

These issues, and more, we have discussed at length here at JTF, as the Republican controlled Ohio General Assembly pushes to include similar SB5 mirroring policies into the State's budget. On top of the questionable application of high stakes testing as a means to evaluate teachers, the true cost of such a folly is becoming apparent

In 2003, the development of those tests would have cost the state $83.6 million. Look for that amount in Kasich’s or Batchelder’s budget — you won’t find it. This would be the kind of thing we might use one-time money on, if only that was something that was appropriate to do in a budget.

And that amount is chump change compared to the annual cost of administering the assessments. The current allocation to implement those 17 existing tests is approximately $56 million, an amount equal to approximately $25 per student – the amount charged to a district for a replacement test.

If you’ve started to calculate how that adds up, you’ll need to know the number of students taking these tests — 1,744,969 in 2009-2010. Now we can start calculating the total cost:

1,744,969 students x $25 per test x 7 tests = $305,369,575

So, the Ohio proposed solution is expensive to implement, has highly questionable outcomes, little support from professionals in education, embroiled in partisan politics, ill-though,t all with little consultation and rushed.

What could go wrong?