On Teacher Evaluation: Slow Down And Get It Right

One of the primary policy levers now being employed in states and districts nationwide is teacher evaluation reform. Well-designed evaluations, which should include measures that capture both teacher practice and student learning, have great potential to inform and improve the performance of teachers and, thus, students. Furthermore, most everyone agrees that the previous systems were largely pro forma, failed to provide useful feedback, and needed replacement.

The attitude among many policymakers and advocates is that we must implement these systems and begin using them rapidly for decisions about teachers, while design flaws can be fixed later. Such urgency is undoubtedly influenced by the history of slow, incremental progress in education policy. However, we believe this attitude to be imprudent.

The risks to excessive haste are likely higher than whatever opportunity costs would be incurred by proceeding more cautiously. Moving too quickly gives policymakers and educators less time to devise and test the new systems, and to become familiar with how they work and the results they provide.

Moreover, careless rushing may result in avoidable erroneous high stakes decisions about individual teachers. Such decisions are harmful to the profession, they threaten the credibility of the evaluations, and they may well promote widespread backlash (such as the recent Florida lawsuits and the growing “opt-out” movement). Making things worse, the opposition will likely “spill over” into other promising policies, such as the already-fragile effort to enact the Common Core standards and aligned assessments.

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The Educational Path of Our Nation

Education plays a fundamental role in American society. Here we take a look at school enrollment, costs and educational outcomes. How does school enrollment today compare with 1970, when the baby boom generation was in its prime years of school attendance (age 6 to 24) and made up 90 pecent of all student enrolled in schools? The American Community and other Census Bureau survey provide us with information to answer these other valuable questions. Education statistics are vital to communities in determining funding allocations and guiding program planning.

education infographic image [Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

Education News for 04-23-2012

Statewide Education News

  • Ohio's education leaders want to overhaul 12th grade so students are ready for college, training (Plain Dealer)
  • Ohio's top education leaders want to "reinvent" the senior year of high school so that instead of cruising through their final year, students get involved in technical training, apprenticeships or college classes. "We want to have no distinction between the senior year of high school and the first year of college," said Stan Heffner, superintendent of the Ohio Department of Education, at a meeting this week of the Ohio Board of Regents, which oversees higher education. Read More…

  • Ready for college? (Warren Tribune Chronicle)
  • Tim Saxton said he's not surprised by the number of high school graduates who need to take at least one remedial course when they get to college to "catch up." Although Saxton, superintendent at Brookfield Schools, said he's not sure how many students graduating from his school district need remediation he realizes there's definitely a gap between high school and college. "I know it's a concern and we need to work on closing that gap," he said. Read More…

Local Issues

  • 2 charter schools, TPS mend relations (Toledo Blade)
  • Frayed relations between Toledo Public Schools and two charter schools it sponsors appear improved and the schools’ once-possible defection to the Ohio Department of Education apparently is off. Phoenix and Polly Fox academies’ boards have approved agreements to keep them affiliated with TPS until 2014. Read More…

  • Special-needs students seeking new vouchers (Dispatch)
  • Special-needs students from 11 of Franklin County’s 16 school districts have applied for new taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools. That includes Bexley, Dublin, Hilliard, Upper Arlington and Worthington — suburban districts where most students haven’t been eligible to use a private-school voucher before. Twenty students who live in the Westerville district applied. In Columbus, 32 did. Read More…

  • Funding, school jobs linked to state tests (Dayton Daily News)
  • During the next three weeks, every third- through eighth-grader in Ohio will take state-mandated tests that are increasingly impacting every level of public education — student achievement and retention, school and district state report card ratings and, as early as next year, teacher evaluations. Read More…

  • Cuts force schools to nix gifted programs (Hamilton Journal News)
  • Although school districts are mandated to provide a variety of services for students with disabilities, and are given funds by the state and federal government to provide those services, there is no requirement to provide services to gifted students. An examination by the JournalNews found some Butler County school districts provide specific programs for gifted students, but others, because of budget constraints, don’t provide specific programs. Read More…

  • District saves thousands by using college tutors (Springfield News Sun)
  • Springfield City School District is saving thousands of dollars on afterschool tutoring by using work-study or volunteer college students from local colleges as tutors to staff the program. “There is no more money, so you’ve got to use what we have,” said Springfield City School District Superintendent David Estrop. “You can re-purpose it or you can find a different way of doing something. But you can’t say we need to spend more money doing this because there is no more money.” Read More…

  • It's almost summer: New teachers near end of first year (Chillicothe Gazette)
  • It's usually during this time of the school year -- the home stretch -- that the weather improves, students become restless and the world outside their classroom has a greater appeal. Summer vacation was looming large over Bishop Flaget School on Friday, where the signs of the season were visible on the school uniforms of students in the computer lab. One boy's blue khakis were torn and smeared with dirt from kickball. Another boy's white shirt sported a bright-green grass stain. Read More…

  • Paying more attention to printed word pays off for youngsters learning to read (Akron Beacon Journal)
  • When preschoolers gather on the rug for story time to hear a storybook such as I Stink! about a New York City garbage truck, they mostly focus on the pictures and the sound of the teacher’s voice telling the story. “They’re most likely looking at the pictures on the page,” said Shayne Piasta, assistant director of the Children’s Learning Research Collaborative at Ohio State University. “They may not understand where the words are coming from because they haven’t yet made that connection between the printed words on the page and the words that you are speaking.” Read More…

  • Budget Challenge teaches kids finance (Cincinnati Enquirer)
  • As an undergraduate environmental science and public policy major at Harvard University, Palmira Buten found herself in credit card debt, mismanaging her cash flow and bouncing checks. Dave Buten was a chemical engineering student at Purdue University when he first bounced a check. “How could that happen when the ATM said he had money in his account?”, he questioned. “I was smart,” Palmira Buten says. “But you just don’t know this stuff.” Read More…

  • Students avoiding healthful lunches (Dispatch)
  • Grandview student Kyle Modlich’s meal, left, is from a restaurant while Trevor Voelker chows down on his packed lunch. Schools across the state have ditched deep fryers and high-calorie meals this school year in favor of foods the state deems nutritious. But in some districts, as calorie levels have dropped, so have lunch sales. Particularly in schools where students can leave for lunch, sales have declined sharply as students pass up entrees such as pita and hummus for lunches packed at home or bought at restaurants. Read More…

  • TPS students rally, rev up for Ohio academic testing (Toledo Blade)
  • It's testing season again in Toledo. Thousands of students in grades three through eight will immerse themselves in test booklets starting Tuesday, as Toledo Public Schools administers the state mandated Ohio Achievement Assessments. The math, reading, science, and social studies exams provide the bulk of data used to rate schools on the state's report cards and under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Read More…

  • More riding on state-mandated tests (Middletown Journal News)
  • During the next three weeks, every third- through eighth-grader in Butler County will take state-mandated tests that are increasingly impacting every level of public education — student achievement and retention, school and district state report card ratings and, as early as next year, teacher evaluations. Read More…

Editorial & Opinion

  • Don’t wait (Dispatch)
  • Protests from school officials and teachers who want a reprieve from tougher grading standards are predictable, but that doesn’t make them valid. The Ohio School Boards Association, teachers’ unions and others are asking for a delay in applying new performance standards proposed by Gov. John Kasich for school grade cards to be issued this summer. The new system, which places more emphasis on whether poor, minority, special-education and other categories of students are catching up to mainstream students in test-passing rates, is likely to lower the overall grade for most districts and charter schools. Read More…

  • Ohio bottoms out in preschool funding: Brent Larkin (Plain Dealer)
  • Gov. John Kasich wants Ohio to become a winner in the federal government's Race to the Top competition for public schools. But in funding for one key component to educational success, Ohio has tumbled to the bottom. Rock bottom. The positive impact that quality preschool programs have on learning is no longer a theory. Read More…

  • Measuring performance (Dispatch)
  • If teachers are to be evaluated based in part on how much academic progress their students make in a year, schools need a fair way to measure that progress. That’s the central challenge of a state-law provision that requires teacher evaluations by 2014 to be at least 50 percent based on student growth, and it ought to be a top priority for education experts throughout the state. Read More…

Swing state education survey

Some poll results were released recently that delved into the minds of voters in swing states, and their attitudes towards various education topics. There was a lot of positive views expressed, that perhaps run counter to many of the news stories one reads in the local papers.

Here's some select findings

  • Education is a top tier issues. 67% say education will be extremely important to them personally in this year’s elections for president and Congress.
  • Education is a major economic issue. 34% of voters select “improving education at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels” as one of the top two priorities for getting America’s economy back on track, which ranks in the top tier with “reducing our dependence on foreign oil” (39%) and “reducing the federal budget deficit” (32%). These goals rank as higher priorities than reducing taxes and regulations on business, addressing trade issues, or modernizing transportation infrastructure.
  • In light of the previous topic, law makers should note that 78% of voters say that increased funding for education is necessary, including 44% who say it is definitely necessary. Just 21% say it is not necessary.
  • 55% say they would be willing to pay $200 more per year in taxes to provide increased education funding
  • A note to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, at least half of voters feel it is extremely important to make sure schools continue to provide arts, music, and physical education classes for all students (59% extremely important)
  • And a note to the union bashers. When asked which one or two of seven groups have the greatest responsibility for improving education, slightly more than half (52%) of voters hold parents of students most accountable. This notably surpasses the proportion who place responsibility on the shoulders of teachers (31%), elected officials (26%), and society in general (22%). School administrators (15%), students (13%), and teachers unions (5%) are cited least often.
  • 90% of voters feel it is extremely (69%) or fairly (21%) important for their governor and state legislature to address the issue of education as a matter of state policy.
  • 44% of voters say that the Democratic Party reflects their priorities on the issue of education very or fairly well, while 31% feel the same way about the Republican Party. Among the crucial bloc of independent voters, 40% feel that the Democratic Party reflects their priorities, while 26% feel that way about the Republican Party.

You can read the entire survey below.

College Board Education Survey Key Findings

Parents Agree – Better Assessments, Less High-Stakes Testing

Educators aren’t alone in being fed up with narrow, punitive student accountability measures. Parents also want well-designed, timely assessments that monitor individual student performance and progress across a range of subjects and skills. That’s one of the key findings in a new study by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).

NWEA, a non-profit educational services organization headquartered in Portland, set out to find how the views of parents – often ignored in the debate over the direction of public education – stacked up against those of teachers and administrators.

After conducting online surveys of more than 1,000 respondents, NWEA found that these stakeholders essentially want the same thing. Large majorities say that, although year-end tests might provide some sort of useful snapshot, they strongly prefer more timely formative assessments to track student progress and provide educators with the flexibility to adjust their instruction during the school year.

“The research reinforces the notion that no one assessment can provide the breadth and depth of information needed to help students succeed,” explained Matt Chapman, president and CEO of NWEA. “For every child we need multiple measures of performance.”

As the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) slowly moves on Capitol Hill, redefining how student progress is measured will be a key debate. The National Education Association believes it is time to move beyond the No Child Left Behind Law (the 2001 revision of ESEA), scrap the obsession with high-stakes testing and enter into a new phase of education accountability.

“Well-designed assessment systems do have a critical role in student success,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “We should use assessments to help students evaluate their own strengths and needs, and help teachers improve their practice and provide extra help to the students who need it.”

“I use different types of assessments because all students are different,” explained Krista Vega, a middle school teacher in Maryland and NEA member who participated in the NWEA survey. “I use quizzes, games, teacher-made tests, computerized tests, portfolios, and alternative assignments.”

“What I’m looking for is, first, are they mastering the skill I’m trying to teach, or did they not master the skill? I’m looking to see if there is an area of weakness. I’m looking to see if they have background knowledge sometimes. There’s just a whole range of things that I’m looking for,” Vega said.

Source: Northwest Evaluation Association and Grunwald Associates

According to the survey, it is the types of formative assessments Vega identifies, such as quizzes, portfolios, homework and end-of-unit tests that provide timely data about individual student growth and achievement. Respondents cited these types of assessments as providing educators with the necessary information to pace the instruction and ensure students learn fundamental skills.

Parents are also worried about the narrowing of the curriculum. Large majorities believe it is important to measure students in math and English/language arts but also say it is important to measure performance in science, history, government and civics, and environmental literacy.

The students who are often hurt the most by a restricted curriculum are those who don’t have the opportunities, because of their socioeconomic background, to diversify their learning outside the classroom.

Beyond subject matter, parents and educators believe so-called “higher order” thinking skills such as creativity, communication, problem-solving, and collaboration – so critical in the modern economy and workplace – aren’t being properly measured by current assessment systems.

“It is really, really important,” Vega says “that we prepare students for when they enter the workforce to compete in the 21st century.”

Read the NWEA Report ”For Every Child, Multiple Measures”

More on NEA’s Position on Student Assessments (Word Document)

NCLB’s 10th Anniversary No Cause For Celebration

Via NEA, to mark today being the 10th anniversary of No Child Left Behind.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was signed into law by former President George W. Bush 10 years ago this Sunday. NCLB changed the focus of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), from emphasizing equal access and closing achievement gaps in education, to focusing on high stakes testing, labeling, and sanctions.

NEA believes the 10th anniversary of NCLB is no cause for celebration and that drastic changes should be made before students and educators are forced to mark yet another anniversary living with this flawed law.

“I meet with thousands of educators as I travel around the country, and the concern I hear most often is the overwhelming burden NCLB presents in classrooms and schools,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “From high-stakes testing to narrowing of the curriculum, this law has missed the mark. Instead of creating a generation of critical thinkers, we are graduating a generation of test takers. Let’s get back to the core purpose of public education and let’s re-balance the federal role: ensuring every student has access to a great education that prepares them for lifelong learning and success in the 21st century.”

School progress cannot accurately be measured by a snapshot of test scores from one test, given on one day in the school year. These high-stakes tests are leaving behind too many students. As members of Congress prepare to consider reauthorization this year, NEA is urging them to get it right this time by listening to those affected most by the law—students, teachers and parents.

NEA’s priorities for ESEA reauthorization are:

  • Promote innovation, high expectations, and encourage development of 21st century skills in public schools.
  • End the obsession with high-stakes, poor-quality tests, by developing high-quality assessment systems that provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned.
  • Provide great educators and school leaders for every student.
  • Promote public education as a shared responsibility of parents, students, educators, and policymakers.
  • Provide increased funding to all states and school districts to meet the growing demand for educating U.S. students to be globally-competitive.

“The time and funds spent on complying with NCLB red tape should be used to promote teacher collaboration, identifying and addressing students’ individual needs and restoring great programs that have been slashed from school offerings because of a focus on math and reading and dwindling funds,” said Van Roekel. “Our students and educators have been calling out to Congress for years now to invest in classroom priorities that build the foundation for student learning.”