Monday, August 5, 2013

Important (and somewhat scary) Teacher Evaluation Issues

Introduction: This post will attempt to clarify various issues that my readers have brought to my attention in the past few weeks. I hope this helps inform teachers about some of the pitfalls of the evaluation system as they prepare for another challenging school year.

This is a group of FAQs you will probably never see answered by the DOE!

Q: Does the DOE require that each principal find a certain percentage of teachers at each school “ineffective”?

A: No! The idea of quotas of “ineffective” teachers comes from a highly questionable rule utilized by our DOE for determining VAM scores. According to John White, the number of “ineffective” teachers on the VAM evaluation is determined by ranking all VAM scores statewide and designating the bottom 10% as ineffective. This ineffective rating is not done by school or student type. So theoretically a particular school may have no “ineffective” teachers or a large number of “ineffective” teachers as determined by the statewide VAM ranking. In addition, it is quite possible for a teacher to have a satisfactory or highly effective VAM score and still get an “ineffective” rating on the observation portion of the evaluation. Principals are expected to get a better rating on their evaluation if they have a high percentage of effective teachers or few rated ineffective.

Q: A teacher points out that some teachers are quiting as soon as they get an "ineffective". Does that reduce the 10% statewide that are designated as ineffective?

A: It depends on when they quit. If a teacher is warned before the official ratings are finalized that she/he may get an "ineffective", the teacher may quit to keep this from going on his/her record. But if the evaluation has been finalized, the rating goes into a state data base HCIS, (the Human Capitol Information System) which will theoretically follow him/her for the rest of his/her teaching career. Those are counted as part of the 10% only if the ineffective was because of VAM. There could be even more teachers rated ineffective because of the observation part of their evaluation. (Remember that the 10% mandatory ineffective is only for teachers rated by VAM)

Q: A teacher asked: "Who decides what goes into the intensive assistance plan and how is it determined when an ineffective teacher becomes effective again."

A: When you are determined to be "ineffective", your principal develops your intensive assistance plan (lasting 2 years or less). I assume there would be two types of intensive assistance plans. If your "ineffective" is because of VAM or poor SLT performance it would be designed to get you to score better on student performance and you would get out of intensive assistance when your scores go up. If you get another bad VAM or SLT you could be fired immediately without recourse because tenure rights are terminated when you get only one "ineffective" and since the evaluation itself is considered proof of incompetence. In the case where you failed the observation part, you would get two or less years to improve on the Compass, but if you got a bad VAM or SLT, you would still be in jeopardy.

Q: Since the new law requires new teachers to get 5 highly effective evaluations out of six years before they can be tenured, what happens if they get an ineffective in their 4th year? Will they ever get to their 6th year?

A: The issue of tenure is practically irrelevant since it is almost statistically impossible for a teacher to be rated highly effective for 5 out of 6 years. But to answer the question, even if the teacher trying to attain tenure got an "ineffective" in any one of the 6 years, she/he could still get tenure by getting a highly effective in each of the other 5 years. (except if the ineffective happened in the 6th year, the teacher would have to start all over again) For new teachers and for any teacher who gets one "ineffective", tenure will be very rare.  But the way tenure has now been restructured in the law makes it almost meaningless except as an honorary designation. The hearing process for tenure in Louisiana is now like a Kangaroo court. The whole purpose of the new law on tenure was to do away with due process rights for teachers and to make termination extremely easy.

Q: Since the purpose of teacher evaluation is to produce better student learning, there must be a provision for giving teachers better evaluations as statewide student performance improves. Right?

A: Wrong! The way the evaluation system is designed right now, statewide student performance could improve dramatically from one year to the next and 10% of the VAM rated teachers would still get an “ineffective” VAM score, which automatically gives those teachers an overall “ineffective” rating. Or student performance could dramatically decline statewide and there would still be only 10% of teachers who would get an “ineffective” VAM score. This is an insane policy based on purely arbitrary quotas, not science. I asked White in an email if he would ever lift the 10% ineffective quota and he said that this would be up to BESE.

Q: How is the observation part of the evaluation supposed to relate to the VAM rating?

A: There is nothing in the law (Act 54) linking the two components of evaluation except that the two scores are supposed to be averaged together to give each teacher his/her final rating. But there is a big issue created by the DOE. In the March 1 report to the legislature (which I bet few legislators read) the DOE expressed concern that the teacher observation ratings were too high when compared to VAM ratings. The DOE has decided that the observation score should “align” with the VAM score. The following is the statement by the Department on page 3 of the Compass report to the legislature:

Preliminary data from this year show that 87 percent of teachers have been rated Effective: Proficient or Highly Effective, based upon observations, while only 51 percent of teachers were rated in these categories according to value-added in the previous year. This suggests that there is more work to be done to ensure that teachers across the state are getting the feedback they need to drive gains in student learning.

Herb Bassett has pointed out in his own report to the legislature that the above assumption does not make sense because the 51% from the previous year was totally arbitrary to begin with. But worse than that, it is based on teacher VAM ranking percentiles that stay the same from year to year no matter how student performance improves. This is the same as if a teacher decided before the beginning of the school year that only 51% of a particular class of students could get B or A, even if most of the students got all the questions right on the final test. This results in condemning half of the teachers to a mediocre rating each year and adjusting the observation results to match that pre-determined rating. This is an insult to both administrators and teachers.

Q: Are teachers given the same opportunity to get a high score on the evaluation system whether they teach high performing or at-risk students?

A: That was the original intent of VAM, because prior student performance as well as poverty data, discipline records and other factors are supposed to be taken into account in determining the growth in student performance expected for each class. But as Bassett pointed out, that rule has been invalidated by the latest action by White exempting some teachers of high performing students from VAM while maintaining the VAM rating of teachers of similar students who were rated slightly higher on VAM. The teachers of high performing students who ranked in the 10 to 20 percentile area are still saddled with relatively low ratings. But the exempted teachers can move to the top rating by virtue of their SLTs and their observation rating. Also, the statement made by White in the Louisiana ESEA waiver request for No Child Left Behind claims the following:

In 2009-2010, 98% of educators were rated as Effective despite the fact that over one-third of Louisiana students performed below proficiency on the annual state assessments.”

The implied assumption here is that teachers of low performing students should get lower evaluation ratings. There have been instances of principals this year being pressured to “adjust” the observation portion of teacher evaluations to align with student performance. This of course makes a mockery of the entire observation process.

Q: What will be the unintended consequences of the new evaluation and tenure policy?

A: Experienced teachers will be driven out of state assessed fields and particularly out of schools serving low performing students. VAM is so erratic that some teachers who received highly effective ratings last year got ineffective ratings this year. There is practically no incentive for teachers to risk their careers by teaching the neediest students in state tested areas. Also the way that VAM is calculated puts ethical teachers at risk from the results of cheating or test teaching by the teachers of the previous year. These consequences will make it harder for school systems to assign the best teachers to at-risk and high poverty students. I predict that these perverse incentives will eventually cause an implosion of the entire VAM system, but only after serious damage is done to the teaching profession and to the public education system. Some who are more cynical have proposed that the real purpose of this entire process is to drive the public and the best teachers away from public schools and make it easier to privatize the education system. I think it is more likely just ideologically driven ignorance at the top levels of education policy making.


Anonymous said...

Another unintended consequence is that successful teachers who have been traditionally encouraged to share "what works for them" with other teachers, schools, and districts will want to keep those trade secrets closer to the vest. Every teacher they help raise scores adversely affects their own VAM ranking. VAM is definitely eroding collegiality among teachers.

Anonymous said...

It also creates animosity between elective teachers who are rated only by SLTs they write and score and the core teachers who are evaluated by VAM.
It is hard to help someone to do well on their SLT assessments and developing great SLTs when they will keep their job, unless their write a really horrible SLT. Core teachers live in fear of unemployment and the social, soul destroying shame that occurs when a really caring and wonderful teacher is told s/he is ineffective.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for answering all my questions and getting the best possible information for us. I emailed this to all 62 of our teachers and administrators.
Your efforts on our behalf are so appreciated!


Michael Deshotels said...

Anonymous, I agree with you that this system has created a terrible constant threat aimed at our core teachers. It is not only extremely unfair, it is inhumane. Also Herb Bassett has uncovered a major campaign being waged by the DOE to get principals to "adjust" or "align" their observation ratings of teachers to match the VAM. What is the point of observing the teaching techniques of a teacher if you are being forced to make your observation rating match a VAM score that is extremely erratic from year to year? In addition, the DOE intends to penalize principals in their evaluation based on the number of teachers who get sub par evaluations. Just more insanity coming from our amateur "leaders".

Anonymous said... principal used my VAM from the year before to give me a ranking of Effective: Proficient this year...even though I showed a video (and discussed it intermittently throughout) on the day he came to see me. He said, "I can't Compass this." I said, "I don't care what Compass says, my VAM will bail me out. The video did a better job of teaching my goals/objectives for the day than I could have ever dreamed." The video took the students back to a time and place no project or class discussion could have done justice in the amount of time we had available for such a major event. He came back unannounced and piece-milled an observation that mirrored my VAM from the year before (the students were independently defining vocabulary, ha!). My VAM this year? Highly Effective! I told my principal he really needed to hone his observation skills since it was his observation scores pulling me down...LOL! Just goes to show that VAM is the system we are learning to game...not teaching, learning, or observing. Now, if my principal wanted to get rid of me, he could have given me an eval that resembled what he saw...but he would have looked a fool when the VAM came back Highly Effective. On the other hand, a teacher could be teaching their butt off EVERYDAY and get valid glowing evals, yet the students may not show as much growth as another teacher's students, like mine (where I've nearly mastered the combination to have students score well on the test). It just goes to show the absurdity of the expectations/requirements of this novice leadership. BTW, SLTs are a practical students completed their 120 question pre-test in 10 minutes at the beginning of the year when they knew it wouldn't count against them, and it took them two class periods at the end of the year when they felt it would count towards their grade. Not only that, but if I were so inclined...I could have given them a study guide. Guess which one they did better on? We are determining value of a teacher based on this self-implemented, obviously biased SLT system? Insanity is an appropriate term...