Sunday, May 26, 2013

I'm delighted that UPforEd is addressing the issue of teacher evaluations

Teacher Evaluation: The Debate Rages On
Jan. 2013

Two side-by-side editorials questioning how to evaluate teachers, were in the San Diego U-T this weekend: One by UPforEd board member, Bill Ponder and the other by SDUSD Board Trustee, Kevin Beiser.

UPforEd believes that parents know the difference a great teacher can make in their child's school year. This is backed up by loads of data pointing to the teacher as a key ingredient to student success and even the district's own 2020 Vision Plan has an effective teacher in every classroom as a central premise.

While clearly test scores are not the only answer, this does not mean we should not have a comprehensive discussion about recruiting and keeping the best teachers in our classrooms. We congratulate Mr. Ponder and Trustee Beiser for opening the door to this long overdue conversation. Perhaps the solution is somewhere in the middle.

In Bill Ponder's opinion, "teaching and learning must be elevated to a standard that ensures that all students have the same access to great teachers" and that implementing a teacher evaluation system, where a percentage of the teachers' performance is based on their students' achievement, is needed to get there.

On the other side, San Diego Unified Board Trustee, Kevin Beiser says that test scores should not be used when evaluating a teacher, rather the focus should be on what a "broad array of research from around the country and around the world points to as proven best practices in effective teaching. Collaboration, ongoing professional development and low class sizes work."

Read the full opinion-editorials here, and let us know what you think:

Bill Ponder's Op-Ed
Grading teachers: Accountability needed
By Bill Ponder
Jan. 12, 2013

Year after year, San Diego’s students are failing to learn and San Diego’s teachers are not being held accountable.

The political issue around No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and waivers was clearly stated in the U-T’s Dec. 27 editorial, “Obama to California: Do better on schools.” The president said, “most teachers are solid or better, but bad teachers – perhaps 10 percent of those now on the job – must go.”

Now what do we do? Can we evaluate teachers – all teachers – to measure their effectiveness in helping all students achieve?

To some extent we already evaluate teachers based on student outcomes through end of semester exams, Advanced Placement exams, International Baccalaureate exams, etc. As well, teachers are evaluated by outside educational organizations such as College Board and IBO International that look at the effectiveness of teacher instruction based on the students’ mastery of a set of defined subject area standards.

When looking at student learning, the conventional wisdom is that an effective teacher is the central factor in student learning. So why are the most influential organizations in this state – the California Teachers Association (CTA) and California Federation of Teachers (CFT) – refusing to commit to evaluate teachers based on the students’ mastery of clearly identified outcomes?

After all, is teaching students to master the state’s educational guidelines not the responsibility of the teachers?

The CTA and CFT claim there is no way to measure the effectiveness of instruction because the individual needs of the students are too diverse. Not true. With computer adaptive assessment (such as the new Smarter Balance Assessment which will soon replace the California Standardized Testing) and peer evaluation models, other states have successfully created a teacher evaluation system where a percentage of the teachers’ performance is based on their students’ achievement.

Currently the National Education Association is discussing implementing “a bar exam” for teachers entering the profession. Are NEA officials now acknowledging that teaching is a profession and that professionals are evaluated based on their ability to perform at the level necessary to be a member of the profession? Finally it is becoming clear that top-level policymakers understand that teachers need to be held accountable for educating all children.

So what should we do, now that the No Child Left Behind waiver has not been granted to California? Do we maintain the status quo or do we demand that school districts do more to educate all children?

I submit that we need to change the paradigm by asking for the same accountability for teacher performance that is expected in any other profession. Further, that we not allow the current system to keep ineffective teachers and administrators in our schools. We hold children as young as five years of age accountable by assessing them, reporting out grades, and deciding whether to promote or retain them based on performance. Yet we have given the CTA and CFT enough power to control, and ultimately defeat, our waiver application.

Why have we not organized as concerned parents and community members to ensure that the bar is raised in the teaching profession? Teaching and learning must be elevated to a standard that ensures that all students have the same access to great teachers and, thus, to learning.

e must demand that school districts in “Program Improvement” – those that have not met adequate yearly progress in student achievement in English and math – implement the federal guidelines under NCLB. Corrective action under the guidelines includes changing staff, implementing more directed interventions for low performing students and providing parents with alternative school choices, to name a few. San Diego Unified is entering year three of “Program Improvement” status with half of its students not proficient in math and English. With or without NCLB, it is our moral imperative to effect change.

We know we need to change. It is not a matter of should we change, it is a matter of how soon can we change. Our children do not have time to wait for teachers to be held accountable. It is our responsibility as parents and citizens to ensure that our students have quality teachers in every classroom in order to create the capacity for our children to compete on the global stage

Teaching and learning must be elevated to a standard that ensures that all students have the same access to great teachers, and thus, to learning.

Ponder, a retired university administrator, was a candidate last year for a seat on the San Diego Unified school board.

Kevin Beiser's Op-Ed

Grading teachers: Scores not reliable
By Kevin Beiser
Jan. 12, 2013

[Maura Larkins' note: Actually, scores are very reliable for the top ten per cent of teachers. And heaven knows that the current system is completely useless.]

All children deserve to have effective teachers. As a trustee of the San Diego Unified School District, my job is to cut through the ideological and political debates about what produces effective teaching and to focus on what actually works. My own experience as a classroom teacher confirms what the broad array of research from around the country and around the world points to as proven best practices in effective teaching. Collaboration, ongoing professional development and low class sizes work. Using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, and threatening or bribing teachers based on such standardized test scores, does not in fact produce effective teaching or improved student learning.

I have the privilege of teaching middle school students at Granger Junior High School in National City, where I work with a wonderful team of colleagues that has produced amazing results over the last several years. The students at Granger overcome the challenges of poverty, disability and language to achieve. Granger is a National Turnaround School to Watch and a National Center for Urban School Transformation Finalist (NCUST).

Research shows, and our experience at Granger proves, that when teachers work together students learn more. Professional learning communities work in collaboration to help improve instructional practices and by using student data as a tool to support students, not punish teachers. Ranking teachers using their student test scores destroys such collaboration and pits teachers against one another as they try to score higher than their colleagues. Students should be able to attend any teacher’s tutoring session after school or on Saturday if they need help or are below grade level.

Finland has a world-renowned public education system as a result of school reforms that have proved to increase student learning. Samuel Abrams, a visiting scholar at Columbia University, documented that Finland reduced class sizes (cap of 16 students in many sciences classes), boosted teacher pay and required all teachers to complete a rigorous master’s program. Finland ended standardized testing, except for seniors in high school going to college. Finnish teachers also have more time to plan lessons and collaborate with colleagues. The teacher evaluation system relies upon a variety of measures – none of which include standardized test scores. We can learn from Finland’s success.

The National Academy of Science clearly refutes using test scores to fire teachers when it concludes “VAM (value-added modeling) estimates of teacher effectiveness should not be used because such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable.”

The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education found that ratings were unstable and unreliable with a margin of error as high as 50 percentile in English and 30 percentile in math. That means a teacher rated as “average” in the 40 percentile could be as high as 90 or low as 0 percentile. 90 is an “effective” teacher and 0 percentile would be and “ineffective” teacher.

Of 500 New York state principals surveyed, 73 percent said the “ineffective” label from test scores assigned to some of their teachers was not accurate and 81 percent felt the tool was limited or of no value in evaluating teachers.

Even the American Institute for Research found that teacher scores decreased as the number of disabled and poor students increased. This factor was “supposed” to be taken into account with the “algorithm” to calculate teacher test scores – clearly it did not. It also admitted that there was no way to identify co-teachers or support teachers and over half of the student scores in grades 4 and 5 were not assigned to a teacher. Mild and severe disabilities were grouped in the same category, disadvantaging special education teachers.

I hope teacher and administrator evaluations are improved to benefit our kids. In many other countries, like Finland and Singapore, teachers are evaluated by trained observers on how teachers support the whole child, how they self-improve and how they collaborate with other educators to improve their practice. As a teacher and as a policymaker, I am interested in these forward-thinking, research-based best practices for improving teaching. I am not interested in anti-teacher strategies that do not work and that are based more in conservative political ideology than in research or practice.

Beiser is vice-president of the San Diego Unified Board of Education and was San Diego Math Teacher of the Year in 2009. [Maura Larkins' note: Teacher of the Year awards are usually won by politically-popular teachers.]

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