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.

 

student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.

surprise!

Teachers in Millington and Knoxville just won the Oscar awards of education

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Millington English teacher Katherine Watkins reacts after learning that she is the recipient of a 2017 Milken Educator Award.

Two Tennessee teachers were surprised during school assemblies Thursday with a prestigious national teaching award, $25,000 checks, and a visit from the state’s education chief.

Katherine Watkins teaches high school English in Millington Municipal Schools in Shelby County. She serves as the English department chair and professional learning community coordinator at Millington Central High School. She is also a trained jazz pianist, published poet, and STEM teacher by summer.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Paula Franklin learns she is among the recipients.

Paula Franklin teaches Advanced Placement government at West High School in Knoxville. Since she took on the course, its enrollment has doubled, and 82 percent of her students pass with an average score that exceeds the national average.

The teachers are two of 45 educators being honored nationally with this year’s Milken Educator Awards from the Milken Family Foundation. The award includes a no-strings-attached check for $25,000.

“It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who attended each assembly. “Paula Franklin and Katherine Watkins should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce.”

Foundation chairman Lowell Milken was present to present the awards, which have been given to thousands of teachers since 1987.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Students gather around Millington teacher Katherine Watkins as she receives a check as part of her Milken Educator Award.

The Milken awards process starts with recommendations from sources that the foundation won’t identify. Names are then reviewed by committees appointed by state departments of education, and their recommendations are vetted by the foundation, which picks the winners.

Last year, Chattanooga elementary school teacher Katie Baker was Tennessee’s sole winner.

In all, 66 Tennessee educators have been recognized by the Milken Foundation and received a total of $1.6 million since the program began in the state in 1992.

You can learn more about the Milken Educator Awards here.