delayed arrival

NYC's evals include scoring fix that districts lacked this year

The State Education Department is hoping to mend holes in its evaluation regulations, and it’s using the evaluation plan that Commissioner John King imposed on New York City as its model.

The changes are aimed primarily at eliminating the possibility that teachers could receive final ratings that do not reflect their performance.

One issue revolves around how scores on three subcomponents of evaluations turn into a single rating. Under the state’s scoring rules, there are some scenarios where a teacher could be rated ineffective overall despite scoring “developing” or higher on each subcomponent.

A teacher needs a composite score of at least 65 out of 100 points to be rated developing or higher. But when the state set scoring ranges based on student growth measures, there were a small number of scenarios where a teacher could receive as few as six points out of 40 and still get rated developing on those subcomponents. Any point total under 59 that that teacher received on the remaining 60 points would not meet the 65-point threshold and result in an overall “ineffective.”

“They never took the time to run through all the permutations,” said Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Long Island, who has written about versions of the scoring quirk since the state adopted new teacher evaluation requirements in 2012.

The parties involved in negotiating those requirements — teachers unions, State Education Commissioner John King and Gov. Andrew Cuomo — have never conceded to Burris’s criticism publicly. But when King imposed an evaluation on New York City last month, he tacitly acknowledged it by using different scoring rules.

The new rules for New York City increase the range of points that teachers receive when they are rated “ineffective” on either of the two student growth components. Under the scoring system used throughout the state, teachers rated ineffective receive between 0 and 2 points. But in New York City, teachers who are rated ineffective can get up to 12 points. The result is that teachers who score “developing” in either category are unlikely to net overall “ineffective” ratings.

State officials say the changes won’t result in more teachers being rated ineffective. Instead, the changes will ensure that only teachers whose performance merits ineffective ratings will get them.

“The cut scores in force throughout the rest of the state are the problem,” UFT researcher Jackie Bennett wrote on the union’s Edwize blog. “The NYC cuts are actually the fix.”

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A look at the new scoring ranges for New York City.

The second set of changes has to do with the “subjective” evaluation measures, which for New York City next year are based entirely on observations. Under the scoring rules in place across the state, teachers who score higher than “ineffective” rack up 50 points or more. But in New York City, teachers who are rated ineffective get no more than 38 points.

The result is that scores of teachers with a wide range of performance on their observations would all receive similar point totals, meaning that their scores on the objective measures would make the difference in their final ratings.

“When you create such a narrow band from developing to highly effective, it means that most of the variation is going to come from the measures of student learning,” said Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, who argued for more proportional ranges during state arbitration. “In those versions, it actually created more weight than the law intended on measures of student learning.”

Polakow-Suransky said it would also allow principals to have greater control over how teachers in their schools are evaluated.

“The measures of student learning should be potent,” he added, “but it shouldn’t be determinative of most of the evaluation.”

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The scoring ranges that many districts this year adopted to convert scores from observations and other subjective measures.

The scoring quirks that the state is addressing are products of the state’s approach to combining evaluation data into a final rating.

New York uses a “numerical” approach, which some consider easy to communicate with stakeholders. Evaluations in Washington, D.C., and Tennessee also use the approach.

“Many states and districts look at the numerical approach and consider it to be more transparent because the numbers and formulas are more clearly articulated,” said Lisa Lachlan-Haché, a researcher at the American Institute of Research who studied the subject for a white paper she co-wrote last year. New York hired AIR to develop its student growth models for state assessments.

In two other widely used approaches to convert evaluation components into final ratings — “profile,” which is used in New Haven, and “holistic,” which is used in Massachusetts  — there is no conversion to points. Instead, raters translate information more impressionistically.

Lachlan-Haché said that New York State was taking advantage of the flexibility of the numeric approach, which allows policymakers to make changes when they see some things aren’t working.

“We should expect to see pioneers like New York adjust their cut points and summative rating approaches in the first few years of implementation,” Lachlan-Haché said. “States are generally going into evaluation design with the understanding that these systems will not be perfect.”

The New York City model could be on the table for other districts when they renegotiate their evaluation systems.

“That is a topic we can come back to in July,” King said last month, referring to the July 17 Board of Regents meeting.



To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Spokane, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.