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!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

NCLB: A False Promise

When Congress passed the No Child Left Behind law ten years ago it was just another example of  a "Mission Accomplished" moment. That is; proclaiming that our government could create educational success for all children by edict just as they thought the U.S. could win a quick, clean victory in Afghanistan and Iraq. Neither goal has been accomplished because they were based on false assumptions and unrealistic expectations.

Education Secretary Duncan is now scrambling around trying to get Congress to revise the NCLB so that it will not continue to punish schools that are addressing the needs of our most at-risk students. More and more schools are failing to meet "Adequate Yearly Progress" as the states are required to accelerate school performance toward the elusive goal of proficiency for all by 2014. Such schools are then required to undergo radical restructuring in order to maintain their federal funds. Duncan testified recently before Congress that up to 82% of all public schools could fail to meet "Adequate Yearly Progress" this year and would begin to be punished by federal guidelines. It is not clear how Duncan plans to reverse this collision course with insanely unscientific and unrealistic standards, because he has not yet admitted that Congress was wrong.

The same is true at our State Department of Education here in Louisiana. The first Superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery District has left the state just in time to avoid taking the blame for numerous unacceptable schools in the RSD. The new Superintendent is continuing to resort to using distorted data to continue to claim success for the RSD. See the recent analysis by Charles Hatfield  of Research on Reforms which shows that such claims are bogus.

BESE has chosen to abdicate its duty to be an independent governing body over education and instead has adopted policies dictated by Superintendent Pastorek to perpetuate the control of RSD over an increasing number of schools. BESE policy now allows charter schools that perform at an acceptable level to remain independent of their original school board as long as they choose to do so. For RSD schools that continue to perform below acceptable levels, the result is basically the same. School boards are now told they will have to apply to BESE to recapture schools that were taken from them but which continue to be classified as "failing".

When the Recovery District was created it was explained to the public that the purpose was to improve struggling schools and return them to the local school systems. Charter schools were supposed to be opportunities to try new approaches to improving schools and then sharing best practices with regular public schools. The RSD and the charter schools were not supposed to be the enemies of local school systems.

Accountability in Louisiana has come down to mindless requirements that force schools to focus most of their energies toward teaching the (LEAP) test. In the social sciences, there is an oft-repeated aphorism called Campbell’s Law, named after Donald Campbell, the psychologist who pioneered the study of human creativity: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” In short, incentives corrupt. Daniel Koretz, the Harvard education professor recognized as the country’s leading expert on academic testing, writes in his book Measuring Up that Campbell’s Law is especially applicable to education; there is a preponderance of evidence showing that high-stakes tests lead to a narrowed curriculum, score inflation, and even outright cheating among those tasked with scoring exams.

Diane Ravitch points out in her recent column the following:
The National Research Council of the National Academies of Science just released a major report about the value of test-based accountability and incentives. It appeared right before the Memorial Day weekend. It says that the train is on the wrong track.

The report contains two major conclusions: First, "Test-based incentive programs, as designed and implemented in the programs that have been carefully studied, have not increased student achievement enough to bring the United States close to the levels of the highest-achieving countries. When evaluated using relevant low-stakes tests, which are less likely to be inflated by the incentives themselves, the overall effects on achievement tend to be small and are effectively zero for a number of programs."

Referring to No Child Left Behind, now in effect for nine years, the committee held that there were some school-level effects, "but the measured effects to date tend to be concentrated in elementary grade mathematics, and the effects are small compared to the improvements the nation hopes to achieve."

The second major conclusion of the report is that high school exit examinations, as currently implemented in the United States, "decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement."

Why do I say that No Child Left Behind is a false promise? Because as the Louisiana Education system moves to more privatization, more vouchers, letter grading of schools, and Value Added Models of teacher evaluation, the most at-risk students will have less of a chance than ever at closing the gap. The following are happening now:

Charter schools are becoming increasingly exclusive of problem students as is demonstrated by a recent report by Dr Barbara Ferguson of Research on Reforms. Such "undesirable" students are dumped into direct run or regular public schools. Private schools will soon learn to be selective of the best and most motivated students for voucher awards. The most experienced and effective teachers will be pushed out of the most challenging schools by the stigma caused by the new letter grade rating of schools and the VAM evaluation.

The most at risk students will increasingly be left behind in so called failing schools. This is the opposite of what No Child Left Behind was supposed to accomplish.