a re-evaluation

In a win for the UFT, city reaches deal that moves further away from evaluating teachers based on multiple-choice tests

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña (center) unveils a new evaluation agreement with teachers union chief Michael Mulgrew (left)

New York City teachers may soon be rated based in part on collections of their students’ work, under a deal struck by the city that continues a shift away from using multiple-choice tests to judge teachers.

The announcement answers a big question raised last year when New York policymakers banned the use of grades 3-8 math and English state tests in teacher evaluations: What should replace those scores?

Districts across the state were on the hook to come up with an answer by the end of 2016. On Wednesday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and leaders of the city’s teachers and principals unions said they had agreed on new options which would provide more “authentic” measures of learning, including city-created tests in a variety of new subjects, lengthier projects, and “student learning inventories,” or compilations of student work.

“The best evaluation tool is the work that students do day-to-day in the classroom,” Fariña said. “Sometimes it’s not the end product that matters but the process to get there.”

That’s a significant shift from what city officials were saying in 2010, when they were battling over the use of test scores in teacher ratings for the first time. Spurred by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the prospect of extra money from the Obama administration, lawmakers had overhauled the state’s evaluation law to require teachers be rated in part based on how much their students’ test scores went up — then left many details up to districts and their local teachers unions.

Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg wanted to make sure the new evaluations would lead to low-scoring teachers losing their jobs, while the United Federation of Teachers argued that test scores aren’t a useful measure of student learning. A multiyear showdown between the union and the city followed.

The evaluations have seen many rounds of changes in the years since, but few teachers were ever removed because of their low ratings. Meanwhile, anti-testing sentiment has grown, and Cuomo’s 2015 push for a teacher evaluation law increasing the weight of state standardized tests in evaluations helped inspire a testing boycott movement — and a moratorium on the use of those exams.

The new evaluation scheme will go into effect this school year, officials said Wednesday, if it receives state approval. It will likely be in place for the next three years.

Under the new plan, the other main ingredient in New York City teacher ratings, classroom observations, will not change see big changes, union officials said.

A new legal requirement that some observations be conducted by outsiders, not school administrators, was supposed to kick in this spring. But after districts including New York City complained about the burden, the Board of Regents decided to offer waivers from the requirement. New York City plans to apply for one, officials said.

Schools will also continue to be able to choose from a menu of tests for deciding how to evaluate teachers. Some of the options will remain in place, like the “Measures of Student Learning” created by city teachers in recent years that consist of essay prompts or performance-based exams. The new option to present portfolios of student work would include assignments coming from teachers and others created centrally by the Department of Education.

Advocacy groups that have fought for evaluation systems that identify more low-performing teachers and remove them from schools immediately criticized the new system. Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY, called it “Mayor de Blasio’s scheme to rate every teacher effective.”

But there was little tension between union and city officials, who stood side by side and presented a coordinated message Wednesday morning.

“This is the first time where I can stand here before you and say we are moving in a better direction,” teachers union chief Michael Mulgrew said.

gates keeper

Gates Foundation to move away from teacher evals, shifting attention to ‘networks’ of public schools

PHOTO: Department for International Development/Russell Watkins

Its massive education funding efforts have helped spread small high schools, charter schools, and efforts to overhaul teacher evaluations. Now, the Gates Foundation is going in a new direction.

In a speech Thursday, Bill Gates said the foundation is about to launch a new, locally driven effort to help existing public schools improve.

The idea is to fund “networks” that help public schools improve by scrutinizing student achievement data and getting schools to share their best ideas, he said. Of the $1.7 billion the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will spend on U.S. education over the next five years, more than 60 percent will go to these networks — dwarfing the amount to be spent on charter schools, about 15 percent.

Gates said that’s both because he wants to go where other philanthropy isn’t and because the foundation’s strategy is to affect as many students as possible. (Only 5 percent of U.S. public-school students attended a charter school in 2014.)

“In general, philanthropic dollars there … on charters is fairly high. We will be a bit different. Because of our scale, we feel that we need to put the vast majority of our money into these networks of public schools,” Gates said. (“We love charters,” he quickly added.)

The Gates Foundation is a supporter of Chalkbeat.

The strategy appears to be a nationwide expansion of the work Bob Hughes, the Gates Foundation’s K-12 education chief, did in New York City as the longtime head of an organization called New Visions for Public Schools. New Visions started several dozen district and charter schools but also created tools for schools to check on student progress that were later adopted by New York City itself.

Gates offered other examples: Chicago’s Network for College Success, which works with about 15 high schools; the LIFT Network in Tennessee, which includes 12 school districts; and the CORE Districts in California. The foundation plans to fund 20 to 30 such networks, Gates said.

Also notable is where Gates said the philanthropy will no longer be sending money: toward efforts to encourage new teacher evaluation systems, which in some states have faced fierce political resistance in recent years.

The foundation’s new work to support school networks will be driven by local ideas about how to create the best schools, Gates said.

“The challenge is that, even that piece when it’s done very well, the teacher in the classroom — that is not enough to get the full result we want,” Gates said. “And this is something that I’m sure has been obvious to all of you. But it’s really the entire school, where the leadership, the development, the overall culture, the analysis of what’s going on with the kids — it’s that school level where you have to get everything coming together.”

The final quarter of that $1.7 billion will go toward research into how kinds of technology could improve student learning and ways to improve math instruction and career preparation.

Results are in

Tennessee’s largest district sees 1 in 5 young students meeting expectations on new TNReady test

About a fifth of students are meeting expectations in math and English in grades 3 to 8 in Shelby County Schools, according to state data released Thursday.

That’s the lowest of the state’s four urban districts, though not far behind Nashville schools at about 26 and 28 percent in English and math respectively.

The test results are significant because they will serve as a baseline for the state’s new TNReady test meant to be more rigorous and better align with national standards like the ACT and the nation’s report card. But the switch to the new test was especially disruptive for the district’s turnaround program for its lowest achieving students, which until now showed significant progress compared to other low-performing schools in the district.

The Memphis district fared better in science with 40 percent of students meeting state expectations, though guidelines on what students should know in science remained unchanged under the new test. State and local leaders had been bracing for lower scores as educators adjust curriculum to fit the new standards.

Specifically, here’s how many Shelby County Schools students in grades 3 to 8 met state expectations:

  • 20.4 percent in English
  • 21.7 percent in math
  • 40.8 percent in science

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the results will be helpful as the district strategizes on ways to improve student achievement.

“As educators, our focus is always on helping our students grow academically,” he said in a statement. “This baseline year of TNReady results shows us where we have opportunities to provide additional support.”

Elementary and middle school students in the district’s turnaround initiative, the Innovation Zone, scored the same in math and English compared to other low-performing district-run schools identified by the state that aren’t in the program. The results suggest iZone leaders have as much to adjust as other schools in the district, despite the extra flow of resources per school.

Percentage of iZone elementary and middle school students in 15 schools who scored “on track or mastered,” meaning they met the state’s standards:

  • 11.3 percent in English
  • 14.4 percent in math
  • 38 percent in science

Elementary and middle school students in 33 historically low-performing schools run by the district who scored “on track or mastered”:

  • 11.1 percent in English
  • 14.2 percent in math
  • 29.2 percent in science

The district’s charter schools for grades 3 to 8 fared worse in English and math than district-run schools and slightly better in science. Last year, eight of the district’s 45 charter schools who took the test earlier this year were on the state’s list of bottom 10 percent scoring schools under the previous exam.

Charter elementary and middle school students who scored “on track or mastered”:

  • 14.9 percent in English
  • 15.2 percent in math
  • 43.1 percent in science

Scores for 15 schools for various subjects were not publicly released because each achievement category had less than 5 percent or greater than 95 percent of students at the school, according to state spokeswoman Sara Gast.

The scores released Thursday reflect corrected scores for 9,400 students statewide and just over 1,000 in Shelby County Schools after the state’s testing vendor Questar ran an incorrect scan for some high school subjects.