State authorities are dictating that school principals and their faculties bring up their school performance scores every year even though almost nothing is being done to address the other major factors affecting students' school performance. At the same time school resources dedicated to the classroom are shrinking while more and more is being spent on testing and accountability.
Some principals report that pressure is being put on principals to reduce student suspensions and often to keep disruptive students in the regular classrooms even though this relatively small number of students often interfere with the learning process and are preventing other students from getting the best instruction possible. At the same time, evidence is mounting that many charter schools that are not under the same rules and scrutiny are dumping disruptive and low performing students off to traditional public schools, so that they can improve their own performance scores. This is in addition to the fact that such schools are not being required by the state to accept the same percentage of students with disabilities as are being enrolled in regular public schools.
To make things worse, the new state law on charters will now allow charter schools to be started anywhere to compete directly with regular schools for the highest performing students. They can even use part of their MFP money to advertise for their school in an effort to recruit the best students, often using misleading claims. Two statewide virtual charter schools are now agressively recruiting students from all local systems. Some of the charters are shifting legacy retirement costs to the public schools while hiring non-certified teachers and providing staff with minimal benefits. At the same time, some top administrators of these non-profit charters are paid relatively high salaries.
There is also a growing push to convert existing schools that are high SPS schools into charters. These schools may also siphon off some of the highest performing students from local systems. A good example is the current effort by community members in the Monroe City system to convert the highest performing high school (Nevelle High School) into a charter school. This school has the most advantaged demographics of any school in the system. If this effort is successful, it will guarantee that the district performance score for Monroe City schools will soon go down! Don't let anyone tell you that student demographics have nothing to do with school performance! See this amazing newspaper report about BESE president Chas Roemer's support for this and all other privatization efforts.
A major thrust of the new teacher evaluation system ranks the value added performance of teachers on a statewide basis and designates the VAM teachers ranked in the bottom 10% as ineffective. These teachers immediately lose tenure and are placed on an intensive assistance plan with the possibility of dismissal if their performance does not improve sufficiently. This value-added ranking is to be applied to the state tested portion of the teacher population every year without regard to any improvements in student or school performance state-wide. My post today will explore some of the potential problems with this new system.
Let us first assume that the Charlotte Danielson teacher observation rubric which was adapted for Louisiana is a valid method of measuring teacher performance. Let us also assume that on the average, the practices of effective teaching being measured by the rubric will produce generally better student learning outcomes. However, neither of these assumptions are justification for a principal adjusting the score he/she is assigning on the observation component to line up with the VAM score. The reason is simple: All of the teacher observations are done prior to receiving the final data on the teacher's VAM score. Either the principal observed the components of effective teaching in the classroom of a particular teacher or he/she did not observe these components. Also, the principal is required to document the professional practices of the teacher in the classroom. Either they happened or they did not. I believe it is wrong for the principal to adjust the observation to match what is believed to be the VAM score. If that was the intent of the legislature, there would be no need for the observation portion of the evaluation. Just base all teacher evaluations strictly on VAM or on the attainment of SLTs.
Even more indefensible, is the idea that teachers who are teaching in a low SPS school should automatically get low evaluation scores. The evaluation system is supposed to be designed to give teachers who teach in all schools an equal chance to get a good evaluation. VAM is designed to take into account the past learning history and the challenges faced by each student in adding to his knowledge base. The same could be said of SLTs. Therefore it is wrong to conclude that most or even many teachers in a low SPS school will score poorly on the evaluation system in any particular year. It is theoretically possible for the majority of teachers in a low performing school to get a good rating on the teacher evaluation system in a particular year. Again, either the evaluator has observed the proper professional practices by the teacher or he/she did not. The observation score should not be twisted to match some preconceived notion that teachers in low SPS schools are generally bad teachers.
In one of my previous posts on this blog I stated that I thought the LDOE guidelines allowed a teacher's observation score to be adjusted to match better with the VAM. But I was not certain of this conclusion, so I posed a question using an email to the COMPASS team at the DOE. The following is my question along with the answer I got from the DOE. Based on this response from LDOE, I stand corrected. The teacher's observation score cannot be adjusted to match the VAM or the SLTs.
According to the state COMPASS team, I would assume there should be no pressure brought on principals to adjust their observation score to the expected VAM score. The new rules do allow the principal instead to adjust the VAM or “growth” score for teachers in the mid-range based upon other evidence of student progress. However in the video presentations explaining the recent changes in the evaluation system approved by BESE, it is explained that the DOE will send a report to all local school systems showing how various evaluations align with the VAM scores. One may question how such an analysis will affect the future observation scores. In the Houston Independent School District there is evidence that observation scores in future observations are being aligned to more closely match the VAM score. My concern is this: I am just not sure that the VAM system is accurate enough in identifying effective teaching that administrators should put more reliance on VAM than on their own professional judgment.
I am not certain about exactly how local school systems should deal with the comparisons of VAM and observation scoring being sent out by the DOE. I am simply pointing out my concerns and encouraging principals and teachers to explore this issue and to use their professional judgment. Please let me know what you think by either adding a comment to this blog post or by sending me a confidential email. I always respect any request not to reveal the identity of any persons sending their comments or suggestions.