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.

Nail biter

BREAKING: Tennessee lawmakers take another whack at shielding teachers from TNReady test flubs

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
The Tennessee House of Representatives is in its final week of the 2018 legislative session.

An 11th-hour compromise by Tennessee lawmakers in the last day of their legislative session makes it so “no adverse action may be taken” against any student, teacher, school, or district based on results from this year’s bungled state standardized tests.

The vote was the second TNReady-related action by lawmakers in the last week. The first gave teachers and districts options for lessening or eliminating the impact of this year’s assessment on state accountability systems.

But concern that lawmakers hadn’t gone far enough led to Wednesday’s legislation after a day-long standoff between the House and Senate over how best to address the testing glitches, most of them online but some on paper too.

House members initially sought to yank student growth scores from teachers’ evaluations and, at one point, even held the state’s $37.5 billion budget hostage for a second time in a week, refusing to send the approved spending plan to Gov. Bill Haslam until a resolution could be reached. That stance brought the legislature to a grinding halt on its final day.

“If you don’t understand — from the school district to the superintendents — that we want our teachers held harmless, then I’m sorry, you’re tone-deaf,” said Rep. Eddie Smith, a Knoxville Republican who led the charge in the House.

Rep. Eddie Smith of Knoxville stands at the podium of the Tennessee House of Representatives on Wednesday as the chamber’s education leaders press for a bill to hold teachers harmless for this year’s TNReady scores.

Senate leaders, meanwhile, said that last week’s legislation was sufficient.  

“We do know that teacher evaluations are key to the success of our children here in Tennessee,” said Sen. Dolores Gresham, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, during a legislative hearing earlier in the day.

In the end, both chambers approved another bill hashed out in a conference committee that said: “No adverse action may be taken against any student, teacher, school or [local education agency] based in whole or in part on student achievement data generated from the 2017-2018 TNReady assessments.”

The bill went on to say that an “adverse action” would include identifying a school as a “priority school” in Tennessee’s bottom 5 percent, the starting point for state intervention.

“It ain’t perfect. But it is an absolute huge step forward,” said Rep. William Lamberth, a Republican from Cottontown, in explaining his vote for the compromise.

Rep. Bo Mitchell of Nashville questioned why the House was blinking in their standoff with the Senate, but Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley said the bigger goal was to clear up any ambiguity.

“This body made it abundantly clear that no adverse action can happen. It’s that simple,” Fitzhugh said.

However, what the bill means for how test scores are used in teacher evaluations is yet to be determined. Earlier Wednesday, the state Department of Education was still working through the legislature’s order from last week to figure out those impacts.

Teachers groups were appreciative of the final bill, though.

“We have worked closely with legislators to advocate for further measures to protect teachers,” said Professional Educators of Tennessee COO Audrey Shores. “We are pleased that legislators unanimously provided that students, educators or schools will not be held responsible for unreliable results from the failures of the TNReady online assessment platform this year.”

"This body made it abundantly clear that no adverse action can happen. It’s that simple."Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley

Lawmakers have been inundated with phone calls and emails from teachers and parents angry about the most recent blunders with TNReady. The upheaval began last week when technical problems erupted on the online version. At one point, the state and its testing company, Questar, blamed some of the glitches on a cyber attack.

In response, the legislature’s action last week gave districts flexibility to nix the scores in students’ final grades and also prevented them from using the results for any decisions related to hiring, firing, or compensating teachers.

The language in both bills seeks to keep Tennessee’s school accountability plan in compliance with a federal education law that requires states to include student performance in their teacher evaluation model — or risk losing federal funding for schools.

TNReady is now in the second of a three-week testing window, with serious problems cropping up during at least four of those days, including on Wednesday when an overnight software upgrade by Questar affected online rosters for high schoolers.

This story has been updated.

time off

Language in contract for Aurora teachers changed conversations about walkouts

Colorado educators rally outside the State Capitol. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school district’s contract with its teachers places a cap so that no more than 30 teachers can take personal leave on any given day. This mundane contract provision took on new importance when hundreds of teachers started requesting leave to attend rallies planned for Friday.

Over the weekend, union leaders, board members, and administrators discussed how this would play out. In the end, Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn canceled classes. As of Monday, when the decision was made, about 1,000 teachers had requested the day off. That’s nearly half the district’s teachers.

A letter to staff, clarifying that the leave policy has not been lifted, sheds new light on the behind-the-scenes discussions.

Bruce Wilcox, the president of the teachers union, said Monday that union leaders started many of the discussions Friday, as they sent out a survey to members asking if they were interested in walking out and asking if they would do it without pay. More than 400 teachers responded over the weekend, and of those who responded about half said they were willing to walk out without pay.

“This has been a fluid situation,” Wilcox said. “As an association we in no way want to violate our contract, but we also recognize that individuals believe this is going to be the biggest statement they can make about education funding in their individual careers. This has kind of reached a critical mass.”

Wilcox said union leadership reached out to board members and found that board members would not support disciplining teachers who violated district leave policies.

Board president Marques Ivey said he could only speak for himself, but confirmed that was his opinion.

“That’s definitely my feeling is that I don’t believe personally that anyone wants to see teachers disciplined,” Ivey said.

Munn’s letter clarifies that neither the administration nor the board have the authority to stop the district’s policy or contract from applying to Friday’s walkouts.

“The board has not taken any kind of formal position on anything related to this matter,” Munn’s letter states. “The board cannot change the leave policy or make a one time exemption for this purpose. If the board were to change policy for the express purpose of facilitating attendance at this event, it would be an act of the district using taxpayer dollars to support a political activity,” which is not allowed.

So, what will happen is that the first 30 Aurora teachers who asked for personal leave on Friday may get it as one of their three special leave days earned during the year. Most other teachers who want to take a day off must do so without pay.

Other districts, including in Jeffco, have similar policies, but without the cap on how many teachers can request leave. In Jeffco, teachers only get two days off per year for personal reasons. Those teachers who have already used their two days and choose to walk out this week will also have to take a day without pay.

Aurora’s cap on the number of teachers taking personal leave was added to the contract between the teachers union and the district in 2014.

“I don’t think the language, when it was put in the contract, was ever seen as something that would be used against someone,” Wilcox said. “Both the district and the association wanted to make sure we didn’t have a situation where a school or the district was impacted negatively.”

Wilcox said he isn’t aware of teachers reaching that cap any other time this year, but mentioned that certain social events such as the Broncos parade after their Super Bowl win in 2016 might have been a case where several teachers were requesting a day off.

Although the union was planning to have teachers stage walk-ins, Wilcox said teachers said they felt that was not enough.

“When you have 200 people saying I believe in this that much, to take a day without pay, that’s pretty significant,” Wilcox said.

Board president Ivey said overall he thinks the situation has been handled as well as it could have.

“There’s no handbook on how to deal with this,” Ivey said. “I believe the district and AEA are doing the best they can. I don’t believe the district is against the very fundamental policies that the teachers are marching for.”