Eval FAQ

Here’s what you need to know about the latest teacher evaluation changes

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty

This week marked the end of teacher evaluations as we know them — at least for now.

On Monday, the state Board of Regents voted to suspend the use of state standardized test scores in evaluations for four years.

What does that mean for educators? Here’s what you need to know.

What changed?

Evaluations are based on two measures: student performance on various assessments and teacher observations. The observations aren’t changing, but the student performance measures are.

The new temporary regulation changes them in two ways.

First, it switched the tools used to measure student performance, by swapping in local for state tests. Second, it changed how student performance will be calculated, by replacing a state formula for measuring academic growth with locally created goals.

Who does this affect?

About 20 percent of teachers across New York teach subjects that are tested annually by the state. Those teachers will definitely see their evaluation systems change, since those tests can no longer be used.

But teachers beyond the tested subjects will also see their evaluations change.

That’s because teachers’ ratings often factor in the scores of students they don’t teach, since some subjects don’t have state tests and some schools decided to use one set of test results for everybody. However, it’s not clear how many teachers fall in that category.

What are these local tests?

They are assessments approved or created by the city.

They include some common ones like “Running Records,” which are oral reading assessments for young students, and Advanced Placement tests for high schoolers. They also include some technical-skill exams for older students in areas like plumbing or computer repair, and performance-based assessments in music, theater, dance, and visual arts.

But the majority of the approved local tests are New York City-crafted assessments in a variety of subjects, including math, reading, history, and science. Some teachers have been using them since the current evaluation system went into effect two years ago.

The assessments go beyond basic multiple-choice questions. For instance, an accounting test had students create a balance sheet, while a 12th-grade English test asked students to read two texts then write an essay about which one best illustrated the horrors of World War 1.

Some teachers think the assessments are too challenging. Teresa Ranieri, a first grade teacher at P.S. 11 in the Bronx, said the city’s first grade exam asks students to read at a second grade level.

“That’s a full academic year difference,” she said. “The instrument you’re using needs to be fair.”

Eventually, teachers may have even more of these local assessments to choose from: The teachers union said the regulations open the door to creating new ones. In the meantime, the city is still figuring out what combination of local measures to use.

How will student performance be calculated?

The evaluations try to calculate a teacher’s impact on a given student.

They do that by using one of two methods: applying a “growth model” that measures how much the student improved on an assessment from one year to the next compared to similar students, or by tracking whether the student met a specific goal.

Until now, the city and state each used their own growth models: the state compared a given student to peers across districts, while the city only compared local students. The new regulation bans the state model, but allows schools to still use the city model.

Schools that used goals can continue to.

Goal-setting requires teachers and principals to create targets for student performance at the beginning of each year. For most assessments, the education department provides suggested goals, then teachers and principals tweak them based on their students.

According to the union, most teachers choose the growth model over goal-setting.

What about Regents exams?

The regulations are clear about the grades 3-8 exams: they can’t factor into evaluations. But they leave some wiggle room for the Regents.

What they say is that evaluations can’t incorporate Regents scores that have been run through the state’s growth model. But, according to the union, that still might leave open the possibility of using Regents scores — as long as student growth is measured using the city’s model or goals.

What can these ratings do?

Teachers can still be fired if they receive “ineffective” ratings two years in a row.

The regulations also leave the rules for tenure and retention in place.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that teachers more often choose the growth model than the goal-setting model, according to union officials.

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.