Interstate View

In New Haven's experience, validators don't lead to teacher firing

The city’s new process for managing low-rated teachers might result in more of them leaving the system — but not because they have been fired, if New Haven’s experience using a similar model is any indication.

When city and union officials announced a deal on a key sticking point in teacher evaluations talks, the appeals process for teachers who get low ratings, both said they had been inspired by a system in place since 2009 in New Haven, Conn.

A key component of that system is the use of third party “validators” to observe teachers considered ineffective and either corroborate or contradict the principal’s assessment. In New York City, validators would work with teachers in the year after they receive a low rating according to a not-yet-finalized evaluation system.

New York City officials said they expected the new process to result in more teachers being terminated. If the validator supports a principal’s assessment of a teacher, they note, the teacher would enter termination hearings under a presumption of incompetence — a major shift from the current system, in which the city must prove that the teacher is not up to par.

But New Haven’s system has not produced many firings. Instead, officials there say it has encouraged teachers to leave on their own. Thirty-four New Haven teachers designated “in need of improvement” — less than half of whom had tenure — exited the system last year, but they had chosen either to retire or resign, according to the officials.

“They came to an understanding once they saw that it wasn’t just one person saying that they weren’t performing, that the validator was also seeing the same thing,” said Michele Sherban-Kline, who oversees New Haven Public Schools Teacher Evaluation and Development. “Most of them came to the realization that it was better that they not fight it because all of the evidence was there.”

Sherban-Kline said the separation agreements happened after both school administrators and the validators held extensive conversations with the teachers. She called these opportunities for teachers to leave on their own terms – instead of being terminated – a “respectful and professional way” of treating people.

This year, of the 50 New Haven teachers targeted as “In Need of Improvement,” five have already put in for retirement or resignation.

“Some of them don’t want to put in or don’t have the capacity to put in the amount of work that is necessary to improve the amount that we’re looking for,” Sherban-Kline said.

According to Sherban-Kline, validators have been a well-received addition to the evaluation procedures, especially by teachers who participated in developing the system through a collaborative process.

“They’re finding it useful in that it gives the teachers more of a sense that the process is fair. The most objective part of the whole process is the observation of classroom practice,” Sherban-Kline said.

David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, agreed that teachers have bought into the process and feel assured by the independent set of eyes.

“We’re not looking to fire people, in fact it’s just the opposite,” Cicarella said, noting that the goal is to help teachers improve and to ensure that all teachers are meeting certain standards. ”It’s a protection for the teacher and it’s a protection for the school district.”

New Haven’s validators visit teachers under their watch at least three times, the same number as New York City’s validators will observe teachers, and some of those visits are unannounced. Both the administrator and the validator observe the lesson together and submit a written evaluation to Sherban-Kline after each visit.

At the end of the year, if both the administrator and validator agree that there has been improvement, all is good. If they both agree that the teacher is still “In Need of Improvement,” a strong case is made for termination. If there is a discrepancy, then there is further investigation into the quality of the teaching and the supports that were provided.

There are key differences between the system that exists in New Haven and the one proposed for New York City. Here, validators will be appointed when a teacher actually receives an ineffective rating. But in New Haven, they are assigned when a principal deems a teacher likely to get a low rating — and termination proceedings can start at the end of the same year.

Also, New Haven doesn’t reserve validators for just the most struggling teachers. Ones who appear likely to be headed for “exemplary” status are also observed, to judge whether they might be promoted to leadership positions.

And New Haven’s experience doesn’t answer a major open question here in New York: whether the system can afford the contractor fees for a large number of validators to visit potentially large numbers of teachers with low ratings. Fewer than 1,900 teachers received evaluations in New Haven last year.

 

study says...

In new study of school-district effectiveness, New York City falls just below national average

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

Each year, state test scores offer a snapshot of how much New York City students have learned. But they say little about how the city’s schools stack up against other districts’, in part because the raw scores largely reflect student demographics — wealthier districts tend to have higher scores.

Now, a major new analysis of several years of test scores from across the country provides a better way to judge and compare districts: Instead of looking at a single moment, it shows how well school systems help students grow their skills over time.

Based on that measure, New York City falls just below the middle of the pack: In the five years from third to eighth grade, its students collectively make about 4.6 grade levels of progress — landing New York in the 35th percentile of districts nationally. By contrast, Chicago students advance the equivalent of six grades within those five years, giving the district one of the highest growth rates in the country.

Still, New York is slightly above average when compared to other large districts with many students from low-income families. And it trounces the state’s other urban districts — including Yonkers, Syracuse, and Rochester, which have some of the nation’s worst growth rates.

“Among big poor districts, it’s better than average,” said Sean Reardon, the Stanford University researcher who conducted the analysis. “In the grand scheme, it’s pretty middle-of-the-road.”

Reardon’s analysis — based on 300 million standardized tests taken by students across more than 11,000 school districts from 2009 to 2015 — is the largest of its kind. It looks both at student proficiency on third-grade math and English tests (that is, what share of students earned a score deemed “proficient”) and student growth between grades three and eight (how much their scores improved over time). Reardon’s research was supported by several foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which also provides funding to Chalkbeat.

The analysis controls for the differences in tests across states and over time by converting scores into a common scale that measures growth in grade levels, making it possible to compare nearly every district in the country to one another. (It excludes New York’s scores from 2015 and some grades in 2014 because of the high number of students who boycotted the state tests those years. However, each district’s five-year growth rates is actually an average of its year-over-year growth, so Reardon was still able to calculate a five-year rate for New York.)

Experts generally prefer growth rates over proficiency as a way to evaluate school quality, since growth measures the progress students make in school rather than where they started. Even if a district enrolls many poor students who are less likely than their affluent peers to hit the “proficiency” benchmark, its schools can still help them advance at a rate comparable to or even better than schools filled with wealthier students.

“Growth is way better than achievement,” said Douglas Ready, an education and public policy professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. “We know low-income students start school behind — the question is what do school districts do with the kids they get?”

New York’s growth rate falls just below the national median of 4.8 grade levels. Among big districts, its students made gains similar to those in Dallas and Detroit, and greater than students in Los Angeles, Miami, and Indianapolis.

By contrast, Rochester ranks rock-bottom nationally. In that high-poverty district, where the median income among families with children in the public schools is $26,000, students advanced about three grade levels in five years. Yonkers’ $48,000 median income is much higher, yet its schools barely do better, with students moving just 3.5 grade levels. (Among New York City public-school parents, the median income is $42,000.)

Reardon emphasized that test scores provide an important but incomplete picture of student learning, and growth rates are an imperfect measure of school effectiveness since factors outside of the classroom also influence how much students learn over time.

Still, he argued that officials who rate schools and parents who choose them would do much better to look at a school’s growth rate over its average test scores. In fact, he said, a focus on growth rates could theoretically drive down socioeconomic segregation since higher-income parents might be willing to enroll their children in schools with many poor students and low overall test scores if the schools nonetheless had outstanding growth rates.

Ready, however, pointed out that even when schools and districts are highly effective at helping students make progress, they are still unlikely to close the yawning achievement gaps that separate most poor and wealthier students from the time they start school. Reardon came to the same conclusion.

“The large gaps in students’ academic skills between low- and higher-[socioeconomic status] districts are so large,” Reardon’s analysis says, “that even the highest growth rate in the country would be insufficient to close even half of the gap by eighth grade.”

In response to the analysis, New York City education department officials pointed to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a standardized test taken by a representative sample of students in each state and certain districts, including New York. Only one other district among the country’s 10 largest cities performed better in reading and math than New York, which had the highest share of low-income students reach the proficient level on the reading test.

“Our schools are the strongest they’ve ever been, with record-high graduation and college enrollment rates, and improving state test scores,” said the district’s spokesman, Will Mantell.

boosting literacy

A new Memphis nonprofit sees training teachers in dyslexia therapy as key to closing literacy gap for all

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Memphis Delta Preparatory charter school is one of four schools working with ALLMemphis to develop stronger literacy curriculum.

A new nonprofit organization says educators must be better trained to recognize and teach students with learning disorders like dyslexia if they are to raise reading proficiency throughout Memphis.

Michelle Gaines and Krista L. Johnson founded ALLMemphis in June to boost overall reading comprehension and fill a gap they see in local classrooms — the lack of training for teachers in approaches proven to help students with dyslexia, a disorder from which many Memphis students are likely struggling.

The pair now work, for free, with about 500 students in four Memphis elementary charter schools and have trained 29 educators.

About one in five children in Tennessee are dyslexic, but until last year, early screenings weren’t required in local schools. Students with dyslexia have difficulty recognizing words and sounds and spelling, but can learn how to read with a specific multisensory approach that combines touch, sound and sight.

But even when the disorder is caught early, schools often don’t have the proper training or tools to address it. Gaines and Johnson say their organization can change that and even benefit students who aren’t dyslexic.

Specifically, ALLMemphis trains teachers in the Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory approach to reading that is common in dyslexia therapy but is rarely a part of public school curriculum in Tennessee.

“This approach is the gold standard when it comes to dyslexia therapy, but we believe it can benefit children’s reading ability regardless whether or not they are dyslexic,” Johnson said. “Our mission is to impact the third-grade reading crisis, and we believe this can do it.” 

PHOTO: Darius Williams
Krista L. Johnson

The latest data shows that two out of three Memphis third-graders aren’t reading on grade level. Shelby County Schools officials have set a goal of to have 90 percent of students reading on grade level by 2025.

ALLMemphis trained teachers and coaches in Orton-Gillingham over the summer and works with the educators throughout the year. Gaines and Johnson also work with individual students in the classrooms. The organization will be tracking student data throughout the year, and the initial results are encouraging.

While working for the Bodine School in Memphis, a private school that serves students with dyslexia, Gaines and Johnson piloted their teacher-training model at KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary for the last two years. They left Bodine to form ALLMemphis in June and brought on Megan Weinstein shortly after to oversee data evaluation.

Johnson said ALLMemphis will work with their current four schools for the next three years, with hopes of adding new schools every year. Eventually, the plan is to charge schools a minimal fee.

Gaines said the initial data after two years showed that KIPP students who worked with ALLMemphis showed more growth overall on MAP score data than their peers, especially in first and fourth grades.

PHOTO: Darius Williams
Michelle Gaines

“What’s so exciting is that the data shows this can work in an urban, whole-class setting,” Gaines said. “We know that as we grow, we want to continue offering supports that are relevant to teachers. We write and give teachers lesson plans and we work with coaches on assessments. The point is for our program to be an asset, not a burden.”

Catherine Norman, a teacher at KIPP Collegiate, said the training changed the way she thought about literacy and armed her with strong lesson plans, too.

“What I appreciate most about Orton-Gillingham is that it incorporates lots of different learning styles in one lesson,” Norman said. “The training is really expensive when a teacher does it on their own, but the fact they (ALLMemphis) have trained every K-3 teacher at our school is crazy in a good way. It makes me really excited because it provides a lot of opportunities that our kids wouldn’t get otherwise.”  

Schools currently working with ALLMemphis are KIPP Memphis Academy Elementary, Collegiate Elementary and Preparatory Elementary and Memphis Delta Preparatory.