Thursday, February 12, 2015

Punitive Education Reforms Collapsing

Fourteen Louisiana School Districts so far are asking BESE for a waiver of the BESE policy that punishes schools and districts for students whose parents choose to opt them out of taking the PARCC test this spring!

The house of cards that is the Bill Gates Common Core along with punitive education reform is beginning to fall apart.

In fact the entire tapestry of the Blame and Shame education reform movement that attempts to punish educators for problems over which they have no control is beginning to unravel.

The debate that occurred this week in the Act 240 subcommittee which is charged with making improvements to the teacher evaluation system made clear that you can't really use VAM based on PARCC to evaluate teachers if you have students opting out and getting a zero on the test.

See John St Julien's opinion piece below for why VAM will never work.

Why are so much of the Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, David Coleman, John White plans for dramatic reform of education falling apart? Here are just a few of the reasons:
  • These people are not real educators and they don't have a clue about what really works.
  • The Common Core Standards were developed by a bunch of academic elites who had never set foot in a real K-12 classroom, so how could they possibly know what would work?
  • The CCSS were never field tested so no one knew just how really bad they were until they were rammed into thousands of classrooms in the country.
  • Some of the language of the CCSS looks good on paper, but early childhood experts, highly qualified math teachers and parents can tell you that they are not practical and should never have been mandated for all students.
  • The PARCC test is a joke. The wording of questions is so confusing, the math test depends too much on sophisticated reading comprehension, it does not work at all for special education, etc. etc. These tests are just flat invalid!
On top of all the problems with CCSS, PARCC and VAM, ASCD, the most highly respected professional organization of supervision and curriculum development in this country has just released a report calling for a two year moratorium on high stakes testing.

The letter grading system for rating schools in under attack. The National Education Policy Center is recommending against the A-F school grading system pushed by presidential candidate Jeb Bush and adopted here in Louisiana. Noel Hammatt, former president of the Louisiana School Board's Association has pointed out that the letter grading system for schools in Louisiana simply measures the poverty level of each school. It tells us almost nothing about the actual expertise, dedication and hard work of the educators in a school. The letter grading system discourages top educators from making the commitment to work with the most at-risk students in our society----- just the opposite of what should be happening.

About the spring PARCC test ----- it's time to opt out!

St Julien Explains Why VAM Will Never Work

John St Julien holds a doctorate degree in curriculum from LSU. He responded to The Advocate story this week about a proposed continued suspension of VAM for the evaluation of teachers. His comments appear at the end of the story in the Comments section and are reprinted below.

 The problems with judging teachers using "Value Added Measures," VAM, are not fixable. To be blunt: it was always a stupid idea.

First, the portion of the achievement of a student on standardized achievement tests that a teacher can affect hovers somewhere in the range of 15 to 20%. That is so small that really large numberscertainly more than most teachers teach in a yearare needed to distinguish between a real effect and pure chance at any level of confidence that could be used to make a fair policy decision about a teacher's competence or lack of competence. The INEVITABLE consequence of having such an unreliable measure is that unacceptably large numbers of teachers will be labeled incorrectly. Because of its unreliability it will never serve as a decent signal to guide instruction; any measure that shows you incompetent one year and quite competent the next with no changes on your part will get ignored when it comes to practical changes. Which is not to say that the punishments won't be meted outjust that they will be unjustified and not useful for guiding change.

The VAM is also just not valid. It doesn't measure what it claims to measure: a teacher's contribution to a students' eventual abilities and success. More than a few studies have shown that teachers can have a large effect on student outcomes that are NOT measured on a standardized test and which have a huge effect on their eventual life chances and satisfaction. Teachers instill confidence, they challenge, they open new worlds. Teachers CARE and that alone is a hugely powerful factor. Most of a teacher's efficacy lies outside what is taught for and measured on a test that is taken by every student. Teachers do their real work by touching students' lives as individualsand research generally confirms this by tying life outcomes such as college graduation to this class of factors. That special band teacher. The English teacher you had in the 9th grade who insisted that you THINK about what you'd just written in that essay. The steely-eyed history teacher whose unflinching vision changed the way that you saw yourself in the world. The science teacher whose passion for biology was catching. We do our children no favors by distracting our teachers from their real jobs with a series of standardized achievement tests.

The whole idea is absurd.

And it is made more ridiculous by the fact that we only really apply achievement-test VAM to a minority of teachers whose subject matter is easily testedencouraging teachers to flee the very subjects policy-makers claim to think is most important. This policy and the associated punishments also discourage teachers from taking on the challenges of teaching underachieving students. The pious claim is often made that public policy to aid underachieving students requires disciplining teachers in order to fix one or another "achievement gap." Nonsense. The VAM does not reliably and validly measure what a teacher does; instead, it encourages teachers to do what is best for the mass of their students rather than to spend any time or effort on those who are least likely to make at least the average amount of "progress" on achievement tests. Those low achievers will be reliably those students whose families have an an income gap, a health-care gap, a housing gap, a safety gap, a confidence gap, physical challenges, and unique learning issues. All those factors will continue to affect the 80-85% of the "achievement test gap" that is due to things no teacher can fix in their students' lives. If public policy succeeds in making teachers care more about tests and less about the non-testable areas of needy kids in their classes, it will be precisely these children who suffer most.

VAM is poorly conceived policy that never had a chance of working and whose major effects are to worsen the very problems that it was supposed to fix.

It is past time to end VAM.

John St Julien

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

VAM May be Suspended for Another Year

Responding partly to growing uncertainty and declining support for PARCC, the Act 240 subcommitee made a wise recommendation that VAM be suspended for at least one more year.
This could remove much apprehension by ELA and Math teachers for next school year if the recommendation is approoved by BESE.

One of the key arguements in winning the extended delay was made by Louisiana Association of Principals  Executive Director Debbie Schum. Schum pointed out that in school systems where parents opt their children out of taking the PARCC, teachers could be saddled with unfair VAM scores and poor evaluations based on the zeros assigned to such students for the purpose of accountability.

The original motion for the suspension was made by State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, the original sponsor of the VAM system. Hoffmann has always insisted that he would try to stop the program if it turned out to be unfair, unworkable or innaccurate. In my opinion it failed on all three counts.

LAE president Debbie Meaux and LAP Exec. Schum succeeded in getting approval of several other motions to fine tune varioius aspects of the COMPASS evaluation system. LFT representatives also participated in formulating key proposals for improvements in the evaluation system.

Other major improvements are being recommended for VAM and COMPASS including the appointment of a special committee of principals, teachers and other educators with the responsibility of fixing the many flaws in the observation rubric.

Watch this blog for a more complete report as soon as I can review the committee actions.

This is good News!

Monday, February 9, 2015

LDOE Proposals to Revamp Teacher Evaluation

The LDOE has sent the teacher evaluation subcommittee a total of four recommendations for changing the teacher evaluation program for Louisiana. The subcommittee meets tomorrow, Feb. 10 at 1:00 PM and is expected to consider the proposals. These recommendations contain vary little of the changes proposed by over 200 educators who sent emails to the subcommittee. Here is a summary of the proposals and my best analysis of the probable results of such changes.

#1 Support for Leaders. This would include two initiatives.
(a) Expand TAP program by recommending TAP Best Practices be adopted by schools (in part or in whole). Comment: The Teacher Advancement program is presently used in several parishes, and involves the use of teacher leaders who are relieved of some teaching responsibilities so that they can assist other teachers in improving student performance. This was not recommended by any of the teachers or principals sending recommendations to the subcommittee. Adding more personnel could be a costly unfunded expense for school systems that are already suffering from numerous other unfunded mandates. In addition, some of the TAP best practices require teachers to spend many uncompensated hours in meetings reviewing student progress and planning test prep activities.

(b) The LDOE wants to establish a Fellowship Program to help principals and other school leaders use the Compass tool.  Comment: According to many of the recommendations from educators, the Compass tool is defective. It needs to be fixed before principals are required to attend more training sessions often run by persons who have little experience in managing a school or even evaluating teachers.

#2 Leader Goal Setting: The LDOE wants to recommend to every principal, specific school learning targets or goals based on historical performance of similar schools. Comment: None of the 200 educators responding to the subcommittee recommended this change. This is an attempt by the LDOE to base the entire evaluation of every principal strictly on student test score improvement. Superintendent White announced last fall that there were too many principals of low performing schools getting good evaluations. He suggested at that time that he would ask the Act 240 subcommittee to fix this problem. This is apparently part of his solution.
See the 2014 Compass Report (Page 6) where this statement appears: "The Department will make recommendations regarding principal accountability for student learning and principal capacity to assist teachers in professional learning." 

Even though White apparently does not recognize it, the job of a principal includes much more than raising student test scores. Just a few of these critical duties include supporting teachers in maintaining student discipline, parental involvement, and a healthy positive learning environment that responds to the needs of all students and provides arts, PE, extracurricular activities, good role models, career planning etc. This recommendation if adopted would allow the LDOE to bully all principals into doing nothing but test prep in their schools from August to April each year.

#3 Compass and Leader Empowerment: Leaders would consider multiple measures to determine teacher ratings. Comment: This was recommended by many of the educators to the subcommittee, but the LDOE proposal focuses on only SLTs and VAM. That’s only two measures not multiple measures.

Recommendation #3 would also remove the override provision that required an ineffective rating if either half of the evaluation was rated as ineffective. Comment: Educators also recommended this. This is a positive step forward.
Allow the principal to increase or decrease the VAM score by up to one point if student learning target data contradicts the VAM. Comment: This is a step in the right direction but keeps the VAM as a significant part of the evaluation of some teachers even though both national statistical experts and local educators do not support it.

#4 Observation and Rubric Support: The LDOE would convene a workgroup of principals to consider best practices for making the observation process as efficient and effective as possible. The LDOE and Louisiana Association of Principals would release guidance on alternative rubric process and tools and more effective observations. Comment: This process apparently would not include teachers and there is no suggestion of altering the rubric for different education specialties and for teachers whose jobs now are not adequately addressed by the present COMPASS.
This looks like a weak process that may not change much about the COMPASS. The Principals and teachers on the Act 240 subcommittee have recommended the appointment of a committee of experienced principals and teachers that could make any changes needed to address these concerns.

Even though there are some positive changes proposed, I do not believe that the four proposals recommended by the LDOE would greatly improve the teacher evaluation process. But in my opinion, they would further force all of our educators to do nothing but rehearse students for the annual state tests. I believe we are killing all the joy of teaching and learning.

There were however six solid recommendations for improving the evaluation system made by principal and teacher leaders at the last subcommittee meeting. If these were adopted instead, I believe the evaluation system could improve and both educators and students would benefit!

They are the following:

1. Remove the override provision mandating a teacher be declared ineffective if either the qualitative or the quantitative part of her/his evaluation is rated as ineffective.

2. Suspend the VAM for the quantitative component of the teacher evaluation, indefinitely.

3. Require student learning targets (SLTs) be developed only between the teacher and her/his immediate supervisor.

4. Remove all quotas for various levels of teacher ratings.

5. Revamp COMPASS to allow for different education specialties, as well as different teaching styles and techniques. (Note: This was to be done by a committee composed of experienced teachers and principals)

6. Reduce the amount of time principals must spend evaluating teachers who achieve effective status in their first observation.

The LDOE recommendations do nothing to address items 3, 4, 5, and 6.

I believe these are sound proposals and should be voted upon by the subcommittee before the LDOE recommendations since subcommittee members introduced them at the last meeting.

Here are the email addresses for all subcommittee members. Please try to communicate your concerns to them by tomorrow:;;;;; burnsj@REGENTS.LA.GOV;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;