Thursday, April 29, 2010

Value Added Teacher Evaluation Bill Approved by Committee

Strong support by the Governor's office was instrumental in gaining approval of HB 1033 by the House Education committee Wednesday. Prior to approval, the bill was amended by the author to specify that student scores would be limited to 50% of the teacher's evaluation. This had been proposed in the past but had not been in the original bill. Also the legislation was amended by the author, Rep. Hoffman, to provide for a 2 year trial period where the evaluation system would be tested in a limited number of local school systems. Testimony by State Dept. officials indicated that the two year trial period would apply to approximately 27 parishes and the Recovery District and Charter schools.

Expected performance by a particular classroom of students would be calculated using an index that would take into account such factors as free lunch participants, prior student attendance, and discipline or suspension records. The apparent aim of the program is to put in the hands of each administrator evaluating a teacher a report showing the average growth of student performance during the year they were in the charge of that particular teacher.

Even though the legislation would make the evaluation of all teachers and administrators theoretically based on student performance, there are many teachers at present for which such a system could not be applied. All teachers with self-contained classes where basic skills tested by LEAP are taught would be included, but many teachers particularly at the Middle and High School level who do not teach LEAP or GEE tested subjects would not initially be affected. Superintendent Pastorek testified in committee, that Federal funding may make it possible to develop testing or methods of applying student performance to these other areas.

Part of the support for the bill from the education community came from TAP school principals who have been using value added student performance as part of their teacher evaluation and promotion system. “TAP” stands for The System for Teacher and Student Advancement. As I understand it, TAP schools are schools supported by the Milken Foundation who adopt an extensive faculty and student improvement model that includes mentoring and assistance of beginning or regular teachers by successful Master and Mentor teachers. This system seems to be producing good student performance results by using a team approach that constantly focuses on strategies for finding and fixing student deficiencies in the basic skills.

It remains to be seen if using primarily one element of the TAP program (student growth as a teacher evaluation tool) can be fairly and successfully applied in regular schools that have not had the benefit of the other teacher supports included in the TAP program.

There is no question that the technology now exists for tracking and correlating student performance directly with each individual teacher. My experience has been that when technology exists it will be used whether for good or for bad.
My biggest concern continues to be that particularly in schools serving economically depressed communities, the outside factors may have a greater effect on student performance than that of individual classroom teachers. These teachers and principals may be punished for low student performance even though they may be working harder than staff in more privileged schools.  These schools need a broader approach focusing on positive parental involvement to change the entire educational climate of the school if the teachers are to be successful. Another major concern is that when teacher evaluations depend heavily on student performance on state tests, we will see an increasing trend of simply teaching the test .... or worse. Many teachers complain that the emphasis on teaching for the test has resulted in more superficial teaching of subject matter with less emphasis on in depth knowledge. Under these pressures teaching and learning can become a grueling, boring process that destroys creative teaching approaches. There is evidence of this in recent testing results of Louisiana public schools. Even though student test scores have steadily improved on LEAP, the NAEP test (which is the National test measuring basic skills) has shown almost no improvement for Louisiana in the last 6 to 8 years.