Taking Stock

Few principals statewide gave teachers low marks in first round of evaluations

A New York City Principal takes notes on her computer during classroom observation for new teacher evaluations. New state data, excluding New York City teachers, show that teachers performed better on observations than student test-based portions.

Few principals across New York state gave their teachers low scores in the 2012-13 school year as they implemented a new evaluation system that calls for in-depth classroom observations, according to data released by the state on Thursday.

Ninety-eight percent of teachers statewide received top ratings, “effective” or “highly effective,” on the 60 percent of their evaluations made up primarily of observations, the data shows. Less than 1 percent of teachers earned the lowest rating on their observations.

Nearly nine times as many teachers, or about 4 percent, received low ratings on the 40 percent of their evaluations that use a combination of state and local tests. The difference is likely spark a debate over what parts of an evaluation should be used to measure teacher quality—and what parts are the most accurate.

Overall, more than 123,000 teachers and 3,000 principals received ratings in the 2012-13 school year. The results did not include New York City’s 75,000 teachers and 1,100 principals because of a labor dispute that caused the city to implement its system a year late.

In total, 94 percent of teachers and 92 percent of principals earned one of the top two ratings and the high marks quickly drew criticism from supporters of stronger accountability measures.

The data, which includes a breakdown of how teachers and principals were rated based on their districts and schools, as well as their subjects and grades taught, is the fullest picture yet of how one of the state’s biggest efforts to improve teacher quality played out in its first year. The release does not include data from New York City, which was was the only district that did not implement teacher evaluations until the 2013-14 school year.

The average statewide distribution masked the fact that there was a far more variable mix in urban districts, according to Capital New York, which reported that poor urban districts Rochester and Buffalo rated 40 percent of teachers in the lowest two categories of “developing” and “ineffective.”

The new teacher evaluation system was meant to better distinguish teacher quality, and its supporters said that the evaluations would help resolve the disconnect between teachers’ almost uniformly high ratings and the low number of students who graduate high school prepared for college-level coursework. The evaluations’ proponents also said they would also help districts root out the lowest-performing teachers by allowing districts to use ratings to fire or deny job protections.

Whether schools are any closer to achieving either goal remains unclear.

Teachers unions have fought the use of student test scores in the evaluation system, arguing that they aren’t an accurate reflection of teaching skills. Critics have said scores earned in recent years are especially unreliable because they’ve come as the state has adopted tests aligned to new learning standards.

“The data does not support any valid conclusions about teachers, students, schools, or school districts because of the flawed implementation of the Common Core,” New York State United Teachers spokesperson Carl Korn said.

But supporters of tougher teacher evaluations said the data was proof that state test scores should play an even bigger role in evaluations. Many districts had no teachers who were rated ineffective or developing, a sign that the State Education Department should have greater oversight in determining how districts structure the evaluations, StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis said.

“Any part of the teacher evaluation system that finds zero percent of teachers to be ineffective, when less than a third of students are on grade level, raises serious questions,” Sedlis said.

State Education Department spokesperson Dennis Tompkins did not say in a statement if the results reflected an accurate look of teacher quality across the state. He noted that since 80 percent of evaluation plans were negotiated between school districts and their local union, the results could be subject to variety.

“It is important to remember that each APPR plan is locally negotiated and unique,” he said.

 

Election Forum

Tennesseans are about to get their first good look at candidates for governor on education

PHOTO: TN.gov
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks as his successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, listens during a 2017 forum hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Tennesseans will elect their next governor in November.

For almost 16 years, two Tennessee governors from two different political parties have worked off mostly the same playbook when it comes to K-12 education.

This year, voters will choose a new governor who will determine if that playbook stays intact — or takes a different direction from the administrations of Bill Haslam, a Republican leaving office next January, and Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who preceded him.

Voters will get to hear from all but one of the major candidates Tuesday evening during the first gubernatorial forum televised statewide. Organizers say the spotlight on education is fitting since, based on one poll, it’s considered one of the top three issues facing Tennessee’s next governor. Both K-12 and higher education are on the table.

Candidates participating are:

  • Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet and former Tennessee state senator;
  • Randy Boyd, a Republican from Knoxville and former commissioner of Economic and Community Development and a Republican from Knoxville;
  • Karl Dean, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville;
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley and minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Rep. Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County

The seventh major candidate, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Gallatin, is in the midst of a congressional session in Washington, D.C.

The next governor will help decide whether Tennessee will stay the course under its massive overhaul of K-12 education initiated under Bredesen’s watch. The work was jump-started by the state’s $500 million federal Race to the Top award, for which Tennessee agreed to adopt the Common Core academic standards for math and English; incorporate students’ scores from standardized tests in annual teacher evaluations; and establish a state-run turnaround district to intervene in low-performing schools at an unprecedented level.

Tennessee has since enjoyed steady student growth and watched its national rankings rise, but the transition hasn’t been pain-free. Pushback on its heavy-handed turnaround district led to changes in school improvement strategies. Leaders also ordered new academic standards due to political backlash over the Common Core (though the revised standards are still basically grounded in Common Core).

A major issue now is whether the next governor and legislature will retain Tennessee’s across-the-board system of accountability for students, teachers, schools and districts. Snafus and outright failures with TNReady, the new standardized test that serves as the lynchpin, have prompted some calls to make the assessment just a diagnostic tool or scrap it altogether. Haslam and his leadership team have stood firm.

“We as Tennesseans made the right call — the tough call — on the policies we’ve pursued,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat recently. “Nearly every other state has compromised in some way on some of these core foundational components of policy work, and we have not.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that works closely with Tennessee’s Department of Education, is a co-host of Tuesday’s forum. Known as SCORE, the group has sought to shape the election-year conversation with priorities that include teacher quality, improving literacy, and developing school leaders — all outgrowths of learnings during Tennessee’s Race to the Top era.

SCORE President David Mansouri said the goal is to maintain the momentum of historic gains in student achievement from the last decade. “The next administration’s education policy decisions will be crucial in determining whether Tennessee students continue to progress faster than students in other states and whether they graduate ready for postsecondary success,” he said Monday.

The one-hour forum will delve into a range of issues. College and career readiness, education equity, and school funding will be among the topics broached before each candidate is allowed a one-minute closing statement, according to David Plazas, a Tennessean editor who will help moderate the discussion.

“It will be really exciting,” Plazas promised. “We’re hoping the candidates are prepared to talk substantively on the issues and to avoid slogans.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT at Nashville’s Belmont University. Along with SCORE, it’s being co-hosted by USA TODAY NETWORK and Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. You can livestream the event here and learn more about attending or watching here.

Tennessee’s primary election is set for Aug. 2, with the general election on Nov. 6.

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.