Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An LA Times analysis, using data largely ignored by LAUSD, looks at which educators help students learn, and which hold them back

I don't think it helps much to simply fire the very worst teachers--it changes only a few classrooms, and causes expensive lawsuits, largely financed by the teachers union. I would rather see the vast majority of weak and mediocre teachers working with the guidance and control of a master teacher. The very top teachers can do their magic in a short time each week. One highly effective teacher could take responsibility for several classrooms; the kids would get good educations even if their full time teachers is only mediocre.

I also think there should be testing of teachers. It would be fine if they took classes to prepare for these tests, and it would be fine if their teachers "taught to the test."

Thank you to the Los Angeles Times for doing the job that taxpayers expect schools to do.

See all posts on evaluating teachers.
Shame on the teachers union for this: Union leader calls on L.A. teachers to boycott Times

"Most districts act as though one teacher is about as good as another. As a result, the most effective teachers often go unrecognized, the keys to their success rarely studied," the paper says. "Ineffective teachers often face no consequences and get no extra help."

Who's teaching L.A.'s kids?
A Times analysis, using data largely ignored by LAUSD, looks at which educators help students learn, and which hold them back.

By Jason Felch, Jason Song and Doug Smith
Los Angeles Times
August 14, 2010

The fifth-graders at Broadous Elementary School come from the same world — the poorest corner of the San Fernando Valley, a Pacoima neighborhood framed by two freeways where some have lost friends to the stray bullets of rival gangs...

The students study the same lessons. They are often on the same chapter of the same book.

Yet year after year, one fifth-grade class learns far more than the other down the hall. The difference has almost nothing to do with the size of the class, the students or their parents.

It's their teachers.

With Miguel Aguilar, students consistently have made striking gains on state standardized tests, many of them vaulting from the bottom third of students in Los Angeles schools to well above average, according to a Times analysis. John Smith's pupils next door have started out slightly ahead of Aguilar's but by the end of the year have been far behind.

In Los Angeles and across the country, education officials have long known of the often huge disparities among teachers. They've seen the indelible effects, for good and ill, on children. But rather than analyze and address these disparities, they have opted mostly to ignore them.

Most districts act as though one teacher is about as good as another. As a result, the most effective teachers often go unrecognized, the keys to their success rarely studied. Ineffective teachers often face no consequences and get no extra help.

Which teacher a child gets is usually an accident of fate, in which the progress of some students is hindered while others just steps away thrive.

Though the government spends billions of dollars every year on education, relatively little of the money has gone to figuring out which teachers are effective and why...

No one suggests using value-added analysis as the sole measure of a teacher. Many experts recommend that it count for half or less of a teacher's overall evaluation.

And in Los Angeles, the method can be used for only a portion of the district's roughly 14,000 elementary school instructors: California students don't take the test until second grade and teachers must have had enough students for the results to be reliable.

Nevertheless, value-added analysis offers the closest thing available to an objective assessment of teachers. And it might help in resolving the greater mystery of what makes for effective teaching, and whether such skills can be taught.

On visits to the classrooms of more than 50 elementary school teachers in Los Angeles, Times reporters found that the most effective instructors differed widely in style and personality. Perhaps not surprisingly, they shared a tendency to be strict, maintain high standards and encourage critical thinking.

But the surest sign of a teacher's effectiveness was the engagement of his or her students — something that often was obvious from the expressions on their faces...

Public school students are graded and tested all the time. Schools are scored too — California rates them in an annual index.

Not so with teachers...

Value-added analysis offers a rigorous approach. In essence, a student's past performance on tests is used to project his or her future results. The difference between the prediction and the student's actual performance after a year is the "value" that the teacher added or subtracted.

For example, if a third-grade student ranked in the 60th percentile among all district third-graders, he would be expected to rank similarly in fourth grade. If he fell to the 40th percentile, it would suggest that his teacher had not been very effective, at least for him. If he sprang into the 80th percentile, his teacher would appear to have been highly effective.

Any single student's performance in a given year could be due to other factors — a child's attention could suffer during a divorce, for example. But when the performance of dozens of a teacher's students is averaged — often over several years — the value-added score becomes more reliable, statisticians say...

A small number of states and districts already use value-added scores to determine which teachers should be rewarded and which need help. This summer, one district took a harder line: Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee fired 26 teachers based in significant part on their poor value-added scores.

Prompted by federal education grants, California and several other states are now proposing to make value-added a significant component of teacher evaluations. If the money comes through, Los Angeles schools will have to rely on the data for at least 30% of a teacher's evaluation by 2013.

The Times found that the district could have acted far earlier. In the last decade, district researchers have sporadically used value-added analysis to evaluate charter schools and study after-school programs. Administrators balked at using the data to study individual teachers, however, despite encouragement from the district's own experts.

In a 2006 report, for instance, L.A. Unified researchers concluded that the approach was "feasible and valid" and held "great promise" for improving instruction. But district officials did not take action, fearful of picking a fight with the teachers union in the midst of contract negotiations, according to former district officials...

[Maura Larkins comment: In my experience, some of the most respected are actually weak teachers.:]

Even at Third Street Elementary in Hancock Park, one of the most well-regarded schools in the district, Karen Caruso stands out for her dedication and professional accomplishments.

A teacher since 1984, she was one of the first in the district to be certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. In her spare time, she attends professional development workshops and teaches future teachers at UCLA.

She leads her school's teacher reading circle. In her purse last spring, she carried a book called "Strategies for Effective Teaching."

Third Street Principal Suzie Oh described Caruso as one of her most effective teachers.

But seven years of student test scores suggest otherwise.

In the Times analysis, Caruso, who teaches third grade, ranked among the bottom 10% of elementary school teachers in boosting students' test scores. On average, her students started the year at a high level — above the 80th percentile — but by the end had sunk 11 percentile points in math and 5 points in English.

Caruso said she was surprised and disappointed by her results, adding that her students did well on periodic assessments and that parents seemed well-satisfied.

"Ms. Caruso was an amazing teacher," said Rita Gasparetti, whose daughter was in Caruso's class a few years ago. "She really worked with Clara, socially and academically."...

Polacheck is another teacher whom Oh identified as one of her top performers. And the Times analysis suggests that the principal is right: Polacheck's students gained 5 percentile points in math after a year in her class, and 4 points in English. That put her in the top 5% of elementary school teachers.

An animated woman with a blond ponytail flowing from the top of her head into her bespectacled eyes, Polacheck has been teaching for 38 years. The desks in her classroom are often set up like seats around a stage, with Polacheck, a self-described "drama queen," in the center.

Her teaching style is a rat-a-tat-tat of questions, the most common of which is "why?"

Polacheck said her colleagues at Third Street think her expectations are too high. She was reluctant to be singled out in any way, repeatedly asking a reporter why she was being interviewed.

"In the past, if I were recognized, I would become an outcast," said Polacheck, who eats her lunch alone in her classroom. "They'd say, 'She's trying to show off.' "...

Broadous Principal Stannis Steinbeck refused even to discuss the differences among her instructors, hinting at the tensions that might arise on staff.

"Our teachers think they're all effective," she said.

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