Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Teachers Are Right to be Concerned

The attempt to base all personnel decisions on student test results

Governor Jindal and his state superintendent John White believe that basing all school personnel decisions on student performance as measured by state tests will produce dramatic improvements in student performance. The legislation that was recently passed is based on the incorrect assumption that the quality of teaching is the most important factor in the academic performance of students. In one of its descriptions of the Act 54 evaluation system, the LDOE makes the following assertion:
 “Research has shown that teacher effectiveness is the greatest determinant of student outcomes followed closely by principal effectiveness.”
This statement is patently incorrect! It ignores or severely underestimates the influence of socioeconomic factors that can have a dominant impact on the education process. Click here to view the Educators for All analysis of this potentially harmful  misinterpretation of research on student performance.  In addition, many education researchers question the accuracy and validity of the value added formulas in setting expected academic gains for both high performing and low performing students.

In basing school reform efforts on major distortions of education research, the new legislation chooses to target large numbers of professional educators for extreme sanctions based on student test scores. The legislation mandates that personnel decisions including layoff, dismissal, and merit pay will be based on an untested value added system that may often produce invalid results. (Click on this link to read about invalid results in other states) Such misguided and punitive policies could cause general demoralization of teachers in Louisiana resulting in many dedicated educators leaving the profession. Teachers should be concerned about the following mandates of HB 974:
  • The use of seniority will be banned in the selection of teaching personnel for dismissal in the event of layoff. The primary criteria for layoff, once categories of personnel are identified for layoff, will be the performance of teachers on the Act 54 evaluation. Serious budget shortfalls in many local school systems caused by the Governor's freeze in the MFP and unfunded State mandates may force layoffs of significant numbers of teachers. Erratic and inaccurate results of the new evaluation could result in the dismissal of many competent, dedicated, experienced teachers who happen to be fall victim to errors in this untested system.
  • For 80% of all school systems in the state (any school system rated C or below) employment and retention of all professional staff from superintendents to teachers, must be based upon the achievement of student performance targets. The renewal of local superintendent's contracts will be contingent upon the achievement of goals which include the percentage of teachers who are rated effective or highly effective and student performance and graduation rates. Principals will be rated based partly on the number of teachers on their faculties who are rated effective or highly effective. The new law is designed to encourage dismissal of significant numbers of teachers based upon the Act 54 evaluation.
  • The Act 54 evaluation plan was supposed to base 50% of the teacher's evaluation on the Principal's qualitative evaluation, and 50% on the value added quantitative measure. Yet in certain circumstances, the evaluation is automatically skewed toward producing an “ineffective” evaluation. The following rule is part of the present Act 54 evaluation plan:  “As a final check on evaluator bias and assurance that no educator in need of assistance is overlooked, educators receiving an Ineffective rating in either measure [qualitative or quantitative] will be rated overall as Ineffective and provided intensive support.”  This arbitrary rule violates the requirements of Act 54 for the teachers who happen to fall into this particular category. The real “bias” of the evaluation seems to be in favor of classifying  teachers as ineffective.
  • The present plans for implementation of the Act 54 evaluation require that 10% of the teachers evaluated in the state tested subjects and grades must be rated ineffective just as 10% must be rated highly effective. The 10% rated ineffective are to be placed on a path to possible dismissal and the 10% rated highly effective are to be placed on a pathway to tenure and merit pay. It is not clear how or if this 10% rule applies to teachers of non-tested grades or subjects. It is also not clear whether or not the 10% ineffective factor will be continued for one year, two years , several years, or without limitation. If the system continues to classify 10% of teachers as ineffective for several years, there could be a very large number of teachers targeted for dismissal. However, if it is assumed that the evaluation system should result in improvement in the overall performance of teachers over time, it is not logical that the system would continue to find a particular percentage of teachers unsatisfactory over an extended period of time. Such inconsistencies in the evaluation plan leads educators to believe that the system has not been carefully thought out.
  • HB 974 mandates that all teacher salary schedules be revised by January 2013 to go into effect for the 2013-14 school year based on three factors:  effectiveness, demand, and years of experience. By law no one factor of the three can account for more than 50% of the salary calculation. All teachers rated effective or above would have their present salary grandfathered at at least at their 2012-13 level, but regular step increases may no longer be guaranteed. Advanced degrees would become part of the demand factor and may have lower weights in the new schedules. These mandatory revisions of salary schedules may result in teachers having salaries frozen for several years or for the remainder of their teaching career. The new salary schedules may result in teachers who have worked for years to obtain advanced degrees not being compensated as expected according to previous policies. School boards under pressure from budget limitations may be tempted to provide only minimal weighting to years of experience and advanced degrees. Such salary revisions may actually result in the lowering of average Louisiana teacher salaries in the next few years.
  • As discussed in my post of last week, the revision of the tenure law makes this designation nothing more than a status symbol. It provides almost no real protection to teachers who are recommended for dismissal.
Teachers are right to be concerned!