Bill Gates Dances Around the Teacher Evaluation Disaster He Sponsored

No one in America has done more to promote the raising of stakes for test scores in education than Bill Gates.

Yesterday, Mr. Gates published a column that dances around the disaster his advocacy has created in the schools of our nation.

You can read his words there, but his actions have spoken so much more loudly, that I cannot even make sense out of what he is attempting to say now. So let's focus first on what Bill Gates has wrought.

No Child Left Behind was headed towards bankruptcy about seven years ago. The practice of labeling schools as failures and closing them, on the basis of test scores, was clearly causing a narrowing of the curriculum. Low income schools in Oakland eliminated art, history and even science in order to focus almost exclusively on math and reading. The arrival of Arne Duncan and his top level of advisors borrowed from the Gates Foundation created the opportunity for a re-visioning of the project.

Both the Race to the Top and the NCLB waivers processes required states and districts to put in place teacher and principal evaluation systems which placed "significant" weight on test scores. This was interpreted by states to mean that test scores must count for at least 30% to 50% of an evaluation.

The Department of Education had told the states how high they had to jump, and the majority did so.

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HB555 FAQ for teacher evaluations

We've just got our hands on this document put out by the Ohio Department of Education. It's an updated framework for teacher evaluations based on the changes that were slipped into HB555 in the dead of night.

Is there a more ridiculously convoluted and complex framework for evaluating any other professions job performance? How is any teacher expected to understand all this enough to know where to focus improvement efforts, especially since the Value-added formula itself is secret and proprietary.

HB 555 FAQ with regard to teacher evaluations by

ODE shifting rhetoric in wake of scandal

It's hard not to feel dizzy with all the spinning that is occurring in the wake of the brewing attendance scrubbing scandal ODE is embroiled in. Stan Heffner, the State Superintendent appears to have taken a new position, when the fallout from the high stakes are pointed at his department

With all the mania about improving student test scores, and now the apparent cheating on school-attendance reports, state schools Superintendent Stan Heffner says there’s too much emphasis on district report cards.

“If you focus on doing right by kids, you’ll do OK on your report card. But if you worry about doing well on your report card first, there is no guarantee that your kids are getting what they need,” Heffner said yesterday following remarks about Ohio’s education system before the Columbus Metropolitan Club.

“The report card over time has just taken on way too much importance.”

Just a little over 2 months ago, he had quite the opposite view, in testimony to the House education committee

We should not let the failure of Congress to reauthorize ESEA stop us from seizing the chance to secure a waiver to implement common sense reforms. The new system will change the standard by which schools are judged – moving from mere minimum competency to needed college and career readiness for all students. This means raising the bar, and some schools and districts may initially not look as high performing in the new system. Change can be difficult, especially when districts and schools have been told for years that they are "Excellent" or "Effective." Last year, over half of Ohio’s schools were rated "Excellent" or "Excellent with Distinction.” Yet, 40% of Ohio graduates entering our public universities required remediation before taking first-year, credit-bearing courses in English and mathematics.

It is unfair to students and their families not to provide them with a complete assessment of their academic progress. And, it is unfair to fault local educators who are working hard and have responded to the current system that the state has given them. When the new Local Report Cards are released, parents and the community will have a clearer and more comprehensive view of how their schools impact student performance.

Not a word uttered about the report card taking on too much importance, indeed, he was testifying in order for the report card to take on even more importance. Why the sudden change of heart? Toledo Public Schools might be hinting at the answer

When TPS officials first acknowledged the test score manipulation, they argued that state direction was unclear. Don Yates, president of the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel, said Friday that the test reporting process has been confusing for years, with rules at times unclear or directions inconsistent.

"I don't have any indication that TPS has done anything that was not fully communicated back and forth with folks within ODE, and certainly internally," Mr. Yates said. "I don't think [ODE direction] has been clear, and I don't think it's been consistent."

District officials point to past publicity about removals of test scores, called scrubbing, that they say failed to produce inquiry or direction from the education department, as evidence the department never clearly opposed the practice.

Has ODE, yet again, been asleep at the switch when it came to oversight responsibilities, or worse still, allowing the scrubbing with a wink and a nod?

Whatever all the ongoing investigations discover, Stan Heffner is not the only one having second thoughts about the shift to high stakes, Rep Stabelton, the chair of the House education committee is too

Rep. Gerald Stebelton (R-Lancaster), who is leading the process to develop the report card change, said he agrees with Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner's comment earlier this week that the report card might be becoming too important and is pressuring districts to achieve a high ranking.

"I don't disagree with that," he said in an interview. "I think what we need to focus on is educating these children and educating them to the best of our ability using a maximum amount of school time to do that as opposed to, perhaps some districts are choosing to direct their focus primarily to achieving a good score on a test. That's probably not a good idea.

"I think if you're directing, especially in elementary grades, if you're directing your attention to achieving a passing grade on a test, you're probably losing the culture of an excellent classroom where the culture breeds creativity and breeds a desire for learning as opposed to repetition."

Every policy prescription being passed or proposed over the last two years has been focused on the high stakes need to pass one form of test or another. Whether it's for a 3rd grade reading guarantee or a teachers career impacting evaluation.

Now we need to wait and see whether this new change of heart when it comes to school ratings is going to be reflected in new legislature, or whether policy makers and their enablers are going to have short memories, and long brooms with which to sweep the current imbroglio under the rug.

Education News for 07-12-2012

Statewide Education News

  • Ohio links teacher pay to test scores (CNN blog – Schools of thought)
  • At a time when test scores are used to determine everything from district funding to whether schools can stay open, they’re taking on even broader meaning in Ohio.
    Gov. John Kasich has signed legislation that will partially link scores to what teachers are paid.
    In Ohio – and many other states throughout the country – teachers have traditionally been evaluated by observers who’ve determined whether the instructors are satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Read more...

  • Teachers learn ways to keep students’ attention, but are brain claims valid? (Beacon Journal)
  • NORTH CANTON: When Chris Biffle called out the word “Class!” Wednesday morning at Walsh University, 450 teachers and administrators yelled back, “Yes!”
    “Class class?” he said.
    “Yes! Yes!” they replied.
    “Classity classity,” he said.
    “Yessity yessity,” they chanted back.
    Biffle, one of the co-founders of Southern California-based Whole Brain Teaching LLC, is leading a two-day conference at Walsh about his method. He calls the technique “Class-Yes.” Read more...

Local Issues

  • Teachers detail efforts to improve academics (This Week News)
  • The continuous improvement plan for Herbert Mills Elementary School is expected to help improve its academic focus and create a safe and secure learning environment for students.
    Principal Pamela Bertke and teachers Alisa Limbers and Jane Stephenson described the plan to Reynoldsburg Board of Education members at a meeting June 19.
    "Last year we made some overall goals to improve our academic focus and increase parent engagement at Herbert Mills," Bertke said. Read more...

  • Akron Public Schools cut 84 teachers (West Side Leader)
  • DOWNTOWN AKRON — Akron Public Schools (APS) will open with 84 fewer teachers this fall.
    That’s about two-and-a-half to three teachers per school building, said Board of Education President Jason Haas.
    The school board voted to make the staff reductions at its July 9 meeting in an effort to reduce its deficit. School districts are required by law to balance their budgets.
    The 84 cuts were necessary even after the usual end-of-year retirements, Haas said. “These 84 are not retirements — we just can’t afford them,” he said. Read more...

Choosing blindly

As we continue to explore areas of education reform currently under discussed, we wanted to bring this recently released study from the Brookings Institute's Brown Center on Education Policy, titled "Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core", to your attention.

Students learn principally through interactions with people (teachers and peers) and instructional materials (textbooks, workbooks, instructional software, web-based content, homework, projects, quizzes, and tests). But education policymakers focus primarily on factors removed from those interactions, such as academic standards, teacher evaluation systems, and school accountability policies. It’s as if the medical profession worried about the administration of hospitals and patient insurance but paid no attention to the treatments that doctors give their patients.

There is strong evidence that the choice of instructional materials has large effects on student learning—effects that rival in size those that are associated with differences in teacher effectiveness. But whereas improving teacher quality through changes in the preparation and professional development of teachers and the human resources policies surrounding their employment is challenging, expensive, and time-consuming, making better choices among available instructional materials should be relatively easy, inexpensive, and quick.

Administrators are prevented from making better choices of instructional materials by the lack of evidence on the effectiveness of the materials currently in use. For example, the vast majority of elementary school mathematics curricula examined by the Institute of Education Sciences What Works Clearinghouse either have no studies of their effectiveness or have no studies that meet reasonable standards of evidence.

Not only is little information available on the effectiveness of most instructional materials, there is also very little systematic information on which materials are being used in which schools. In every state except one, it is impossible to find out what materials districts are currently using without contacting the districts one at a time to ask them. And the districts may not even know what materials they use if adoption decisions are made by individual schools. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which has the mission of collecting and disseminating information related to education in the U.S., collects no information on the usage of particular instructional materials.

This scandalous lack of information will only become more troubling as two major policy initiatives—the Common Core standards and efforts to improve teacher effectiveness—are implemented. Publishers of instructional materials are lining up to declare the alignment of their materials with the Common Core standards using the most superficial of definitions. The Common Core standards will only have a chance of raising student achievement if they are implemented with high-quality materials, but there is currently no basis to measure the quality of materials. Efforts to improve teacher effectiveness will also fall short if they focus solely on the selection and retention of teachers and ignore the instructional tools that teachers are given to practice their craft.

The full report can be read here.

Science Fact

Corporate education reform science fiction, is having an unintended(?) science fact effect.

First the science

If VAM scores are at all accurate, there ought to be a significant correlation between a teacher's score one year compared to the next. In other words, good teachers should have somewhat consistently higher scores, and poor teachers ought to remain poor. He created a scatter plot that put the ratings from 2009 on one axis, and the ratings from 2010 on the other axis. What should we expect here? If there is a correlation, we should see some sort of upward sloping line.

There is one huge takeway from all this. VAM ratings are not an accurate reflection of a teacher's performance, even on the narrow indicators on which they focus. If an indicator is unreliable, it is a farce to call it "objective."

This travesty has the effect of discrediting the whole idea of using test score data to drive reform. What does it say about "reformers" when they are willing to base a large part of teacher and principal evaluations on such an indicator?

That travesty is now manifesting itself in real personal terms.

In 2009, 96 percent of their fifth graders were proficient in English, 89 percent in math. When the New York City Education Department released its numerical ratings recently, it seemed a sure bet that the P.S. 146 teachers would be at the very top.

Actually, they were near the very bottom.
Though 89 percent of P.S. 146 fifth graders were rated proficient in math in 2009, the year before, as fourth graders, 97 percent were rated as proficient. This resulted in the worst thing that can happen to a teacher in America today: negative value was added.

The difference between 89 percent and 97 percent proficiency at P.S. 146 is the result of three children scoring a 2 out of 4 instead of a 3 out of 4.

While Ms. Allanbrook does not believe in lots of test prep, her fourth-grade teachers do more of it than the rest of the school.

In New York City, fourth-grade test results can determine where a child will go to middle school. Fifth-grade scores have never mattered much, so teachers have been free to focus on project-based learning. While that may be good for a child’s intellectual development, it is hard on a teacher’s value-added score.

These teachers are not the only ones.

Bill Turque tells the story of teacher Sarah Wysocki, who was let go by D.C. public schools because her students got low standardized test scores, even though she received stellar personal evaluations as a teacher.

She was evaluated under the the D.C. teacher evaluation system, called IMPACT, a so-called “value-added” method of assessing teachers that uses complicated mathematical formulas that purport to tell how much “value” a teacher adds to how much a student learns.

As more data is demanded, more analysis can be done to demonstrate how unreliable it is for these purposes, and consequently we are guaranteed to read more stories of good teachers becoming victims of bad measurements. It's unfortunate we're going to have to go through all this to arrive at this understanding.