Monday, February 11, 2013

A Special Message to School Principals

I have been spending a lot of time visiting schools and meeting with principals lately. I have concluded that school principals are really caught in the middle of Louisiana's school reform movement and are often being unfairly blamed for and expected to cure all of the perceived educational ills of society right now or else!

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.

My next blog post will address what we can do as a profession and particularly what school principals and other local administrators can do to lead the fight for survival of our public schools. Please watch for this special call to action in my blog later this week. For now I want to discuss with principals and teachers critical concerns I have with the Act 54 teacher and principal evaluation system.

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.

State law now requires that 50% of a teacher's evaluation be based on student performance and 50% on the observation of his/her classroom professional practices. Yet some principals are being told that their observation score should be generally in line with the VAM score or the Student Learning Target score. Also there is an assumption by some individuals that teacher evaluation scores should correlate to their school's performance score. In other words, it is expected by some that more teachers in low SPS schools will get an “ineffective” rating while those in high SPS schools will get the best teacher ratings. I believe that such expectations are contrary to state law.

In my discussions with teachers and principals I keep hearing that some school systems somehow expect principals to adjust their observation score for a teacher to make it compatible to the projected VAM score of the teacher. My research indicates that such a practice may already be occurring in other states. One such system is the Houston Independent School District. I believe there are serious problems with this approach. I believe that such an adjustment may be unethical and in violation of Act 54. Here is my reasoning:

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.

My question to the COMPASS team: “Is it true that in the case where a teacher gets a low observation score but a high VAM score, his/her observation score can be adjusted upward by the DOE? (I thought I saw something to this effect in the first live presentation) What about adjusting a teacher's observation score downward because of a low VAM score?

The answer from the COMPASS team: “Observation scores are not adjustable to a VAM score. However, new policy revisions will allow Compass evaluators to consider both value-added and student learning target data when calculating a teacher's final growth score if that teacher's value-added score placed them within the 21st to 79th percentile (which corresponds to an effectiveness rating of Effective Emerging or Effective Proficient).”

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.

Thanks in advance for your opinions and suggestions,

Michael Deshotels


Anonymous said...

Nothing about the entire evaluation program is logical or objective. It's disheartening to watch so many wonderful teachers leaving the classroom because each one refuses to be labeled failures based upon their students' performance on a single test or a contrived observation system that requires elements that may not appropriately fit either the lesson or the level of the students. This idea of "building the plane as we fly it" is just not fair nor safe. Too many of us are ending up casualties of a nonsensical, "gotcha" system of evaluating teachers. Thanks Michael for shining the light on its flaws.
Debbie Meaux, LAE VP and Teacher (who is leaving the Classroom)

Lee Barrios, M.Ed., NBCT said...

It is my understanding that White's new policy adjustment was made to compensate in some way for teachers of high performing students who had not met their SLTs ( students can actually top out on test scores). They were receiving poor evaluations. That being the case, the door is open for a plethora of situations or questions as to what teachers and what students would be included in those determinations I.e. gifted classes, honors classes, regular Ed mixed classes with gifted, high performing, low performing?

Regardless, it would seem that whether one "adjusts the observation score to a VAM score" or "adjusts the final growth score in response to a VAM score" it is still an adjustment to falsely raise the teacher's final evaluation. That seems to be as invalid and unfair as the COMPASS system itself and the use of standardized test scores to evaluate teachers.

Then when one considers that Act 54 states that if a teacher scores below a certain number (I believe it is 1.9) on the VAM portion that the observation component which is supposed to be 50% is void. In other words the two components are not averaged, the VAM component overrides. Am I incorrect in any of this?

The COMPASS needs to be eliminated and successful and appropriate evaluation methodologies using multiple measures need to be adopted. Test scores are useful for analysis of student performance though standardized test provide little usefulness in that way. The use of high stakes standardized tests to measure teacher effectiveness or student learning has been shown by real education experts to be invalid and should not be used for those purposes. NCLB mandate for testing began as a mosquito bite but that itch was scratched until it has bled and infected education . Our best hope is for Congress to eliminate what we now know to be destructive education policy gone rogue.

Independent Thinker said...

As an administrator, I have mixed emotions about Compass. Used appropriately, it has the potential to help improve a teacher's skill in the classroom. It is very time consuming but not difficult to administer. There must be a basic trust by teachers that their administrators use it appropriately. If a teacher does not trust and respect an administrator as an evaluator, then it will not be successful. It shouldn't be used as a tool to "get rid of" teachers, but as a tool to improve instruction. What concerns me is the fact that our DOE will track my evaluations and compare them to VAM scores. I refuse to change any teacher's scores to match VAM. From what I have read VAM is not a trustworthy predictor. It is a market based business tool to evaluate production of goods. It is time for parents and tax payers to be told the truth about VAM. I hold our legislators responsible for this madness. They need to be held accountable for their actions. I would like an opportunity for administrators, teachers, parents, to have a face to face meeting with our legislators. They are responsible for passing these ridiculous laws that are harming our children. If we want to improve education in our state, then educators and academics need to be part of the discussion. Their disrespect for us is unacceptable. I want a VAM score for Mr. White, and for the governor, and legislators. What data do you suppose we could use to evaluate them?

Unknown said...

To Lee Barriois I would like to make one clarification. We need to all understand that Act 54 does not provide for an exception to the rule that the VAM and observation portions each count for 50% of the teacher's overall evaluation score. The requirement that an ineffective score on the VAM nullifies the principal's observation score was added by the DOE and BESE. I believe such a rule to be in violation of Act 54.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher, I am willing to try almost any new program to help my students. My problem is that when we have documentation that we have done this, an irratiaonal administrator can choose to "punish" teachers who speak their minds and "reward" her friends. We also feel that older teachers are targeted. What recourse to we have??? So many superior educators are choosing sanity over stress and leaving.