Saturday, June 25, 2011

Update on Value Added Teacher Evaluation

I attended part of the most recent meeting of the ACEE (Advisory Committee on Educator Effectiveness) on June 21. This is the committee that is charged with proposing a plan for implementation of the value added component of teacher evaluation mandated by Act 54 of the 2010 Louisiana Legislature. According to the legislation  50% of a teacher's evaluation should be based upon growth in student achievement. It turns out that while the concept sounds simple, implementation is sure to be a b____. Or as my old boss used to say: "The big ideas come easy, its the details that kill you."

The major issue being tackled at the meeting last week was how to apply the evaluation system to the 65% of teachers and other certified personnel whose assignment does not include subjects or duties that have readily available student test results. LEAP, ILEAP and Graduation Exit Exam results are the main source of student testing data that could theoretically be used as the value added component of a teacher's evaluation. It could be very expensive for the state or local school systems to develop equally rigorous test materials and procedures to test courses in foreign languages, PE, music, art, various technical and vocational subjects, special education, guidance services, library services, higher level math and science as well as advanced placement and dual enrollment courses.

In addition, there are problems in applying the same value added system to elective and advanced subjects that may be applied to the basic skills subjects that are now tested by LEAP. Such a high stakes system when applied to the evaluation of teachers can cause all sorts of unintended consequences. Let me give you a personal example.

Many years ago in my first year of teaching, I had so much confidence in my teaching ability and such a strong belief in my favorite subject (Physics) that I actually recruited additional students to sign up for Physics in the coming year. It was easy to do. The small country school (Zachary High School) where I taught was only big enough to support one class of Physics. In my first year only 14 students had signed up for Physics, but I was convinced that this course was so valuable (Physics in my opinion is the purest of all sciences. It is the basis of all other sciences. The more Physics you know, the greater understanding you have of the laws and workings of the Universe) that as many kids as possible should be exposed to it. So before the end of my first year, I spoke to the students in my two 11th grade Chemistry classes about the importance and beauty of Physics and its value as a basic component of every student's education.

I was rewarded the following year with a total of 32 students enrolled in my Physics class. The result was a very tough year for a lot of my students and for me as a young teacher. But to this day I believe it was very rewarding for all of us. The problem is that about half of that big class had trouble with the advanced math that was a major component for the understanding of Physics. To be honest I had to assign numerous extra point projects and reports to help some of those struggling students pass the class. In succeeding years I may not have recruited as heavily as my first over-confident year, but I always had a significant percentage of my Physics class that struggled with the math and made up for low test scores with extra work projects.

Why is the above little story relevant today? Because if Louisiana were to implement a strict application of the principles of value added evaluation, to all elective subjects such as Physics, a teacher would be very wary of encouraging weaker students to enroll. Because then the teacher would be evaluated by the test measured success of the students. Extra point projects would not count. There would be absolutely no benefit to the teacher to recruit weaker students to such a course. Also, such a system may encourage teachers to fight over who will teach the AP classes where the best students are attracted. There are a thousand unintended consequences of value added teacher evaluation that are not good for students or for teachers.

Here's another one. The ACEE committee reported to BESE in a progress report last month that they were not able to reach consensus on using free/reduced lunch percentage of students as a factor to consider in teacher evaluation. This should have been a no-brainer. There are years and years and mounds of data that show the clear impact that poverty has on student performance. See my post of April 21, 2011. If the final evaluation plan ignores the influence of poverty, another unintended consequence will be a major migration of experienced and effective teachers away from high poverty schools. How will that improve the education of those students?

The unintended consequence mentioned above is the most dramatic reason why value added teacher evaluation cannot work and will actually be counterproductive. It undermines the most critical strategies that are needed to help close the learning gap for at risk students. Statistics show that nationwide and statewide we have no problem educating the non-poverty students. International rankings have our non-poverty students scoring near the top of the rankings of the developed nations. So why do we want to spend all this money and energy to fix a system that "ain't broke"? Instead of spending millions on developing more tests and counterproductive teacher evaluation schemes, we should be directing that money to attracting the most effective teachers (at addressing the needs of underprivileged students) to the schools serving those students. We should be extending the school day and the school year for students who need it, assigning the strongest principals to high poverty schools, and we may even want to use bonuses or pay enhancements as incentives to attract teachers and administrators who are willing to work the extra hours needed to bring these students up in basic skills.

Real education reform means doing the things that work in real classrooms, not untested, half-baked, wishful thinking schemes promoted by the Gates and Broad Foundations!


Carey said...

Michael, I can't tell you how queasy this news makes me feel.

"Education reform", especially on the basis of attempting to "standardize" education, needs to be flushed down the toilet and then served as "lunch" to the legislators who place their personal political ambitions over real, meaningful educational reform.

It's sickening that "education" in the US has come to be defined as "test-taking proficiency" and measured by the performance of teachers, instead of by the acquired abilities of their students to think and reason critically.

Critical thought? Is that what they fear our children may learn?

Anonymous said...

I want more info on the Board Fellowship and its connections to politics, since both the Federal and State DOE are pushing John White for our state.