Michelle Rhee and the unproven teacher evaluation

Via the LA Times

The debate -- and that’s putting it nicely -- over the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations has always confused me, because the answer seemed so simple. One of the things we ask of teachers -- but just one thing -- is to raise those scores. So they have some place in the evaluation. But how much? Easy. Get some good evidence and base the decisions on that, not on guessing. The quality of education is at stake, as well as people’s livelihoods.

Much to my surprise, at a meeting with the editorial board this week, Michelle Rhee agreed, more or less. As one of the more outspoken voices in the school-reform movement, Rhee is at least as polarizing as the topic of teacher evaluations, and her lobbying organization, Students First, takes the position that the standardized test scores of each teacher’s students should count for no less than 50% of that teacher’s rating on performance evaluations.

But asked where the evidence was to back up that or any other percentage figure, Rhee agreed quite openly that it’s lacking.

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No laughing matter

Hearings on the education MBR, in the Ohio House and Senate, took place yesterday. The hope for some relief from the draconian budget cuts enacted last year faded, according to a report from Gongwer

Much of the MBR debate centered on a failed Democratic amendment to provide $400 million for schools and additional funds for local governments, as the minority party continued the argument that the bill does nothing to address communities hit hard by the Kasich Administration's decision to slash local government funds to help balance the state's coffers.

Rep. Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster), chair of the House Finance & Appropriations Committee and the sponsor of the bill "by request," kicked off the debate by stating that the measure is in keeping with the restrained spending in the biennium budget passed last spring (HB 153).

"Clearly, we are steady as she goes, which is a good thing," he said. "Because we are on track, we are able to deal with a bill here today that doesn't make further difficult decisions."

It's a strange world we live in where thousands of teachers, support professionals, cops and firefighters are losing their jobs, weakening communities is considered "a good thing", but the Governor's reaction was even more shocking, Mr. Kasich bursts out laughing when asked about the push for more spending and what he thinks is an appropriate level for the Budget Stabilization Fund. He also suggested that any attempt to add significant appropriations to the measure would be vetoed.

It's no laughing matter. The rhetoric is about improving educational achievement, the means appears to be by slashing budgets. Headlines from just this week include

We're in a funding crisis. The legislature needs to step up and fulfill its constitutional responsibilities.

In other news, the proposed A-F grading system came in for a lot of questions

Mr. Cohen said feedback to ODE on the proposal so far has focused on four topics:

  • The value-added component should carry more weight than others in the final grade.
  • The scale of grades for the student progress component is unfair given a grade of "C" is assigned for districts that have "met" value-added expectations for two consecutive years.
  • The threshold for "A" grades should be lowered and traditional rounding rules should be applied.
  • Pluses and minuses should be applied to the grades.

Sen. Sawyer said that because many districts will go to the ballot seeking a levy this fall, the new scores, which are expected to be lower than previous ones, could be difficult for the districts to deal with as they ask voters to support their work to improve student performance.

Mr. Cohen said the current scores, which show a large portion of districts as "excellent" or better, will lose their meaning for the public. The simulation of what schools' grades would look like under the new scoring was merely that, and it is unclear how the public will react to the actual grades.

Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D-Canfield) asked if there is a score for things such as extracurricular activities offered and the like, which some people would attribute to whether a school system is a good one.

Mr. Cohen said ODE has considered looking at other measures, such as remediation rates; but the report card largely reflects assessment-based metrics.

Sen. Lehner asked if a report card could be developed for charter school authorizers in the same way school districts have report cards based on the performance of students in all the district's school buildings. Mr. Cohen said that would be possible.

If we had to guess, we expect that the technicals of the grade will see some minor modifications, and the implementation date will be pushed back a year to coincide with the introduction of common core.

Teach the Books, Touch the Heart

FRANZ KAFKA wrote that “a book must be the ax for the frozen sea inside us.” I once shared this quotation with a class of seventh graders, and it didn’t seem to require any explanation. Related in Opinion

We’d just finished John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” When we read the end together out loud in class, my toughest boy, a star basketball player, wept a little, and so did I. “Are you crying?” one girl asked, as she crept out of her chair to get a closer look. “I am,” I told her, “and the funny thing is I’ve read it many times.”

But they understood. When George shoots Lennie, the tragedy is that we realize it was always going to happen. In my 14 years of teaching in a New York City public middle school, I’ve taught kids with incarcerated parents, abusive parents, neglectful parents; kids who are parents themselves; kids who are homeless or who live in crowded apartments in violent neighborhoods; kids who grew up in developing countries. They understand, more than I ever will, the novel’s terrible logic — the giving way of dreams to fate.

For the last seven years, I have worked as a reading enrichment teacher, reading classic works of literature with small groups of students from grades six to eight. I originally proposed this idea to my principal after learning that a former stellar student of mine had transferred out of a selective high school — one that often attracts the literary-minded offspring of Manhattan’s elite — into a less competitive setting. The daughter of immigrants, with a father in jail, she perhaps felt uncomfortable with her new classmates. I thought additional “cultural capital” could help students like her fare better in high school, where they would inevitably encounter, perhaps for the first time, peers who came from homes lined with bookshelves, whose parents had earned not G.E.D.’s but Ph.D.’s.

Along with “Of Mice and Men,” my groups read: “Sounder,” “The Red Pony,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Lord of the Flies,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Macbeth.” The students didn’t always read from the expected perspective. Holden Caulfield was a punk, unfairly dismissive of parents who had given him every advantage. About “The Red Pony,” one student said, “it’s about being a dude, it’s about dudeness.” I had never before seen the parallels between Scarface and Macbeth, nor had I heard Lady Macbeth’s soliloquies read as raps, but both made sense; the interpretations were playful, but serious. Once introduced to Steinbeck’s writing, one boy went on to read “The Grapes of Wrath” and told me repeatedly how amazing it was that “all these people hate each other, and they’re all white.” His historical perspective was broadening, his sense of his own country deepening. Year after year, ex-students visited and told me how prepared they had felt in their freshman year as a result of the classes.

And yet I do not know how to measure those results. As student test scores have become the dominant means of evaluating schools, I have been asked to calculate my reading enrichment program’s impact on those scores. I found that some students made gains of over 100 points on the statewide English Language Arts test, while other students in the same group had flat or negative results. In other words, my students’ test scores did not reliably indicate that reading classic literature added value.

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Linking Student Data to Teachers a Complex Task, Experts Say

As more and more states push legislation tying teacher evaluations to student achievement – a policy incentivized by the federal Race to the Top program – many are scrambling to put data systems in place that can accurately connect teachers to their students. But in a world of student mobility, teacher re-assignments, co-teaching, and multiple service providers, determining the roster of students to attribute to a teacher is more complicated than it may sound.
Jane West, vice president of policy, programs, and professional issues for the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, stressed that while there's a need to track the performance of teacher-education graduates, "we have a long way to go" before the data can be considered reliable.

Teachers who leave the state, teach out-of-field, or move to private schools are nearly impossible to track, she said. And teachers in non-tested subjects and grades are out of the mix as well. Last year, the University of Central Florida was only able to get student-achievement data for 12 percent of its graduating class, yet that information was reported publicly. "What's the threshold?" West asked. "Where's the check to ensure that's a valid and reliable measure? It needs to be more than 12 percent."

In all, the Data Quality Campaign’s conference was tightly managed and left little opportunity for audience participation, offering attendees a controlled (though still controversial) takeaway: that improved student achievement hinges on improving the teacher-student data link.

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