Interesting article from the left coast:
LA Times: Obama chides California for not using test scores to evaluate teachers (07/25/09)
It spotlights a bizarre and well-entrenched failing of the education system: the reluctance – even resistance – towards the use of data when evaluating teachers.
This debate has been escalated by a new federal program called “Race to the Top”, which is described in The Economic Times:
WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama has announced a race for $4.35 billion in federal grants to improve academic achievement and reverse a decline in American public schools to meet increasing competition from countries like India and China.
"In an economy where knowledge is the most valuable commodity a person and a country have to offer, the best jobs will go to the best educated, whether they live in the United States, or India, or China," Obama said announcing the competition Friday.
"In a world where countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, the future belongs to the nation that best educates its people," he said in an address at the Department of Education. "We have talked about it for decades but we know that we have not made the progress we need to make."
Dubbed the "Race to the Top," the competition aims to ease limits on charter schools, which receive public funding but generally are exempt from some state or local rules and regulations, link teacher pay to student achievement and move toward common US academic standards.
A good discussion can be found in this education trade magazine article:
Eduweek: 'Race to Top' Guidelines Stress Use of Test Data (07/23/09)
The use of data in decision-making is a major component of this effort, and it’s going to be interesting to see how this concept plays. It’s a common sense concept, but one that is counter-culture in education, and is clearly opposed by teacher unions.
Some (many?) educators are opposed to the use of data analysis, instead believing the data comparison is not fair because each student is unique. Another common argument is that students may know the material, but simply not be able to demonstrate mastery in a structured test environment.
I don’t want to be completely dismissive of those concerns, but they fundamentally suggest that the teacher alone should the sole judge of whether the teacher has been successful, ultimately making them accountable to, well, only themselves.
The “Race to the Top” will force discussion of this topic because it includes grant money – the mothers milk in education – and it’s guidelines will likely exclude states like California and New York, which bar the use of data in evaluating teachers.
While Michigan (and most other states) don't specifically bar the use of data in evaluations, the real roadblocks are established at the local level.
In Rochester, for example, meaningful data is scarce, especially at the secondary level. Teachers don’t use common assessments, meaning that there is no common measuring tool within the district, or even with a building. The effort and achievement required to earn a “B” in one teacher’s class might’ve gotten a student an “A” or a “C” with another teacher. This hardly seems fair, and it inherently prevents effective and objective comparison.
There is a district-level effort in Rochester to move towards common assessments, but it’s reportedly meeting strong resistance. Like most things in education, it’s moving at a glacial pace. The progress is not clear, and the outcome is far from inevitable. It calls into question how serious the district really is about the use of data in decision-making.
It’s sad news, given the potential benefits.
At a minimum, it would insure that achievement in a class would be measured by common standards, and not the unique standards of an individual teacher. An “A” in a particular class would mean the same thing within the district, regardless of which high school or which teacher bestowed it.
Furthermore, common assessments would provide building leaders and district leaders with a macro view of curriculum success, and provide insight on where the district should concentrate efforts on improving instructional resources or professional development.
Consider an example where six teachers of varying experience levels, in different buildings, administer a common assessment, and most of the students tested fail to demonstrate mastery of a particular concept. Those results would serve as an indicator that the district curriculum specialists need to better support the teachers by focusing attention on that particular concept.
But apparently those benefits are outweighed by the risk that the data might reflect poorly on certain teachers.
In that same example, consider if five out of six teachers consistently achieve comparable results, and the remaining teacher consistently performs below far below those other five. This data alone would not suggest that the one teacher is ineffective, but it would certainly serve as a red flag.
Having common assessments – and common achievement data – would inherently establish achievement norms for teachers, and is presumably one of the primary reasons it’s unacceptable to teacher unions.
Whatever the reason, this common sense use of data goes against the grain of education norms, and opposition to the use of data remains a significant plank in the MEA platform.
In Rochester, the union has a built-in “firewall” in the teacher contract designed to “protect” teachers from data. Section 8.21 of the contract states, “If teachers who teach the same course administer common assessments, there shall be no comparisons of classroom assessment results reflected on any teacher’s evaluation.” Furthermore, in a “Memo of Understanding” addendum, the concept is expanded beyond evaluations when it goes on to stipulate, “There shall be no comparison of classroom assessment results reflected on any teacher’s evaluation or provided to any parents.”
Unions contend, as summarized by AFT president Randi Weingarten, that student test-score data should be used primarily for informative and instructional purposes. In other words, we want to specifically avoid using measurable data to set expectations and hold teachers accountable.
I cannot imagine that philosophy being acceptable in any other profession.
Rather than confront this head on, some suggest a more pragmatic approach. They argue that teachers feel threatened by data, and that introduction of data into their evaluations will only strengthen opposition. They maintain that data needs to become integrated into the education psyche in a more natural, evolutionary way.
That argument may have some merit, but on the other hand it’s reasonable to wonder if this is simply too much coddling. How long are we supposed to allow for the evolution?
Teachers need to realize that this is not some sort of “attack” on their profession, but is instead meant to help instructional leaders and teachers alike identify what is working, and what is not. And yes, it should also help to weed out those teachers who are simply not effective.
The current evaluation system is far too subjective and superficial.
As a side note, the LA Times article cites the Data Quality Campaign, which maintains an interesting site here: http://dataqualitycampaign.org. I could not find any state ranking data, but I did read an interesting piece on the benefits of linking teacher and student data, found here.
Obama chides California for not using test scores to evaluate teachers
At stake are billions in federal stimulus funds to be allocated in 'Race to the Top' grants. Schwarzenegger says state law will be amended if necessary to comply.
By Jason Song and Jason Felch
July 25, 2009
President Obama singled out California on Friday for failing to use education data to distinguish poor teachers from good ones, a situation that his administration said must change for the state to receive competitive, federal school dollars.
Obama's comments echo recent criticisms by his Education secretary, Arne Duncan, who warned that states that bar the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, as California does, are risking those funds. In an announcement Friday at the Education Department in Washington, Obama and Duncan said the "Race to the Top" awards will be allocated to school districts that institute reforms using data-driven analysis, among other things.
"You cannot ignore facts," Obama said. "That is why any state that makes it unlawful to link student progress to teacher evaluations will have to change its ways."
The remarks escalate a disagreement between the Obama administration and California education leaders. While a 2006 law prohibits the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers on a state level, it does not mention local districts, where state officials say pupil data can be used to judge instructors. A handful of districts currently are doing that; L.A. Unified is not.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Friday he would push to amend state law if necessary.
"We will seek any reforms or changes to the law deemed necessary, including changes to our data system laws, to ensure California is eligible to compete" for federal funds, Schwarzenegger said in a statement.
California's top education officials sent the Obama administration a letter earlier this month saying no changes were needed to state law and that any attempt to modify it could distract from reform efforts, but the administration has not responded.
Obama's speech could also mark the beginning of a protracted fight with teachers unions, which have resisted some of the reforms advocated by the administration, including performance pay and data-driven teacher evaluation.
The state's teachers unions have already voiced their opposition to such a move. When the 2006 law was drafted, teachers unions insisted that it include an amendment saying: "Data in the system may not be used . . . for purposes of pay, promotion, sanction, or personnel evaluation of an individual teacher or group of teachers, or of any other employment related decisions related to individual teachers."
Obama and Duncan made their position clear. "This competition will not be based on politics, ideology, or the preferences of a particular interest group," Obama said. "Instead, it will be based on the simple principle: whether a state is ready to do what works."
"Race to the Top" applicants must show progress in four key areas to compete for the $4.35 billion: adopting rigorous academic standards, recruiting and retaining talented educators, turning around chronically low-performing schools, and building data systems to track student and teacher effectiveness. But Obama also pointed out that teachers should not be judged solely on student test scores.
Seven states have already lifted restrictions on public charter schools to better compete for the funds, the Associated Press reported Friday. Other states, such as Colorado and Massachusetts, are trumpeting their recent progress on issues like merit pay and higher educational standards, which they believe will give them an inside track to secure the federal dollars.
Federal officials have said that California legislators do not have to necessarily revise current law. Instead, the attorney general could certify that the state law is not a barrier to teacher accountability.
But some California education officials questioned whether it would be possible to comply with the administration's demands.
California ranks 41st among states in collecting and using data to evaluate teachers, according to a 2008 survey by the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit based in Austin, Texas.
"There is . . . [a] possibility nobody will apply" for the funds, said California Deputy Supt. for Public Instruction Rick Miller, who stressed that state leaders share the Obama administration's goals. "They're asking for fundamental changes in all sorts of areas, and you have to commit to all of it by October. . . . That's a heavy lift."
The draft guidelines for the federal funding released Friday are open for public comment for 30 days. States are required to submit applications by October for the first round of grants.
The money is a portion of the roughly $100-billion educational stimulus package approved by Congress. But much of that money is expected to be used by districts to make up for state budget cuts.
Kristina Sherry in the Washington bureau contributed to this story
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Interesting article from the left coast: