Teacher Evaluations At The Heart Of Education Reform Are Flawed (By Jonathan Kantrowitz)

Jonathan Kantrowitz writes a blog for the Connecticut Post and the Hearst Media Group.  You can count on his articles to be astute, thoughtful and extremely informative.  If you haven’t bookmarked his blog, you should.

Kantrowitz’s latest piece examines the significant problems associated with the faulty teacher evaluation programs that are being pushed by the corporate education reform industry and their political allies.

Unfortunately, Connecticut Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy has been one of the nation’s leading proponents of these inappropriate and inaccurate teacher evaluation systems.

As Jonathan Kantrowitz explains,

This week, two new studies have reported on significant flaws at the heart of teacher evaluations:

standardized tests don’t really measure teacher’s value added,

and classroom observations are often biased.

Here’s a summary of the first report:

“There are very weak associations of content alignment with student achievement gains and no associations with the composite measure of effective teaching…the tests used for calculating VAM are not particularly able to detect differences in the content or quality of classroom instruction. Empirical and conceptual work illustrates that these kind of assessments tend to be, at best, weakly sensitive to carefully measured indicators of instructional content or quality…

At a minimum, these results suggest it may be fruitless for teachers to use state test VAMs to inform adjustments to their instruction. Furthermore, this interpretation raises the question— If VAMs are not meaningfully associated with either the content or quality of instruction, what are they measuring?”

Key findings and resulting recommendations from the second report include:

* Under current teacher evaluation systems, it is hard for a teacher who doesn’t have top students to get a top rating. Teachers with students with higher incoming achievement levels receive classroom observation scores that are higher on average than those received by teachers whose incoming students are at lower achievement levels, and districts do not have processes in place to address this bias. Adjusting teacher observation scores based on student demographics is a straightforward fix to this problem. Such an adjustment for the makeup of the class is already factored into teachers’ value-added scores; it should be factored into classroom observation scores as well.

* The reliability of both value-added measures and demographic-adjusted teacher evaluation scores is dependent on sample size, such that these measures will be less reliable and valid when calculated in small districts than in large districts. Thus, states should provide prediction weights based on statewide data for individual districts to use when calculating teacher evaluation scores.

* Observations conducted by outside observers are more valid than observations conducted by school administrators. At least one observation of a teacher each year should be conducted by a trained observer from outside the teacher’s school who does not have substantial prior knowledge of the teacher being observed.

* The inclusion of a school value-added component in teachers’ evaluation scores negatively impacts good teachers in bad schools and positively impacts bad teachers in good schools. This measure should be eliminated or reduced to a low weight in teacher evaluation systems.

The new reports provide ample evidence that the Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system that Governor Malloy pushed through needs to be repealed and replaced with a far more appropriate program that will ensure that our students have the most effective effective teachers.

By clicking on the follow links, you can read additional articles that Jonathan Kantrowitz has written about the teacher evaluation issue,

State tests used for VAM ae not meaningfully associated with either the content or quality of instruction

Improvements are needed in how classroom observations are measured for teacher evaluation

Jonathan Kantrowitz: A FACT based assessment of the Common Core

Jonathan Kantrowitz writes a great blog that can be found on the Connecticut Post and Hearst Connecticut Media Group websites.  Kantrowitz is a self-described “Political activist and health nut.” You should read the blog for both the political content and his health news.

Kantrowitz is also an expert on school curriculum and curriculum development.

When it comes to the new Common Core standards for our schools, standards that Connecticut has adopted and standards are requiring the state’s public school students to take the new Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test rather than the Connecticut Mastery Test, Kantrowitz goes where few others dare to tread.

Kantrowitz actually compares the standards that are now in place for Connecticut students, the standards used in Massachusetts’ public schools and the Common Core Standards.

His blog posts should be mandatory reading for policymakers because it makes clear that standards already exist, that the Common Core standards are far from perfect and that Connecticut could and should be looking to strengthen its own standards rather than adopt the Common Core Standards.

He also notes that the Common Core Smarter Balanced Test systematically fails to provide a reasonable vehicle for testing students or evaluating teachers.

Kantrowitz makes the case overwhelming clear.  Rather than spend tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of dollars on realigning Connecticut’s school curriculum to the Common Core standards and instituting the Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, Connecticut should be investing in developing the most appropriate and effective standards and then developing the training and tools so that Connecticut teachers are using those standards as effectively as possible.

The reading is a heavy lift for those not familiar with education standards and curricula but the posts are definitely a must read.

But first, here is a recent blog post in which Kantrowitz lays out the foundation for  the education reformers’ approach to standardized testing;

There is a big billboard alongside I-95 in Bridgeport that carries a quotation from the New Testament:

“With the testing, God will provide, so that you may endure it”

The citation on the billboard is 1 Corinthians 10:13.

Now I’m not sure that the people who put up the billboard were referring to Common Core testing, and I’m pretty sure Paul wasn’t when he wrote the epistle, but there is a clue in the line before the passage quoted that makes me wonder:

“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.”

In the series of blog posts, Jonathan Kantrowitz lays out the education standards.  When it comes to Grade 3 math, for example, he concludes that:

1. Connecticut’s standards are not sufficiently challenging.

2. Massachusetts’ standards are the “gold standard” for states, and make it clear why Massachusetts students consistently rank first in national comparisons.

3. The Common Core Standards are difficult to understand and challenging to teach.

4. Using high-stakes testing to evaluate third grade teachers on their performance in the first year of implementation of these standards is grossly unfair.

Here Kantrowitz lays out the facts about math standards:

Comparing Math Standards – Common Core, Connecticut and Massachusetts – Part I

Comparing Math Standards – Common Core, Connecticut and Massachusetts – Part II

Comparing Math Standards – Common Core, Connecticut and Massachusetts – Part III

Comparing Math Standards – Common Core, Connecticut and Massachusetts – Part IV

And here Kantrowitz lays out the issues related to writings, speaking and listening standards.

He explains;

“Connecticut has two sets of standards in the areas above, the State Framework and Grade-Level Expectations. There are no standards specifically addressed to CMT assessments. There are two assessments in this area in Connecticut however, the excellent, and unique, CMT Editing & Revising Test and CMT Writing: Expository/ Explanatory (compare and contrast).

Prior to the Common Core, many states tested only Math and Reading, not Writing at all. As mentioned, only Connecticut tested Editing and Revising, and only Georgia tested language conventions.

However, Connecticut limits testing at the Grade 5 level to Expository/ Explanatory. The Common Core includes Narrative and Persuasive Writing, and presumably these will be tested as well.

I believe because of the emphasis on testing Editing and Revising Connecticut is in pretty good shape here and adjusting to the Common Core should not be as difficult as in other parts of the curriculum.

Comparing Writing, Language, Speaking and Listening Standards – Common Core and Connecticut Grade 5

And finally Kantrowitz addresses the reading standards;

Reading standards are of necessity less highly specific than math standards making comparisons more difficult. The fact that Connecticut has 3 different sets of standards also complicates analysis. But nothing in Connecticut’s standards can compare to such CCSS standards as

“Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact)”;

“Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.”;

“Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent.”

Moreover, Connecticut’s higher level standards are contained only in Grade-Level Expectations, not in the more crucial CMT standards which have been tested.

1. Connecticut standards are far below CCSS.

2. Expecting 5th grade teachers to play catch-up and apply these standards to students who have no base from previous grades is unrealistic.

3. Evaluating teachers via high-stakes testing on the new standards is grossly unfair.

Comparing Reading Standards – Common Core and Connecticut Grade 5

Having standards are an important part of a successful public education system, but the evidence is becoming increasingly clear… The Common Core is not the best standards to use.

And concern about the Common Core DOES NOT MEAN opposition to proper standards

Fellow Connecticut columnist and public education advocate Jonathan Kantrowitz recently made an incredibly important point about the difference between improving education standards and the Common Core. 

Kantrowitz writes for the Hearst Media Group and he his particular expertise in curriculum development.

In a piece entitled, “Comparing Math Standards – Common Core, Connecticut and Massachusetts – Part I, Kantrowitz laid out an extremely reasoned argument about why the discussion should be moved away from being for or against the Common Core to a more important and reasonable discussion about what are the most appropriate standards to guide teaching in Connecticut.

After reading his piece, one can only assume that the proponents of the Common Core; President Obama, Secretary of Education Duncan, Governor Malloy, Commissioner of Education Pryor and Education Gadfly Michele Rhee are either purposefully misleading parents and the public or are incredibly ignorant about the facts.

Either possibility is scary and disheartening.

In his piece Jonathan Kantrowitz lays out the facts:

Grade 3 – Numbers and Operations, Patterns and Algebra

In reviewing these standards several conclusions leap out

1. Connecticut’s standards are not sufficiently challenging.

2. Massachusetts’ standards are the “gold standard” for states, and make it clear why Massachusetts students consistently rank first in national comparisons.

3. The Common Core Standards are difficult to understand and challenging to teach.

4. Using high-stakes testing to evaluate third grade teachers on their performance in the first year of implementation of these standards is grossly unfair.

Here are the standards:

Connecticut Numerical and Proportional Reasoning

1. Place Value

A. Solve problems involving 1 MORE/LESS or 10 MORE/LESS using 2-digit numbers.

B. Identify alternative forms of expressing 3-digit whole numbers using expanded notation.

C. Identify alternative forms of expressing 2-digit whole numbers using regrouping.

D. Use place value concepts to identify and compare the magnitude and value of digits in 2- and 3-digit numbers.

2. Pictorial Representation of Numbers

A. Relate whole numbers to pictorial representations of base ten blocks and vice versa.

B. Identify fractional parts of regions and sets using pictures and vice versa.

C. Label and/or shade fractional parts of regions and sets.


3. Equivalent Fractions, Decimals, and Percents Not Tested

4. Order, Rounding, and Magnitude of Numbers

A. Order 2- and 3-digit whole numbers.

B. Describe magnitude of 2- and 3-digit whole numbers

C. Round 2-digit whole numbers in context.

D. Identify points representing 2- and 3-digit whole numbers on a number line and vice versa.

5. Models for Operations

A. Relate multiplication and division facts to rectangular arrays and pictures.

B. Identify the appropriate operation or number sentence to solve a story problem

C. Write story problems from addition or subtraction number sentences.


6. Basic Facts

A. Add and subtract facts to 18.

B. Multiply and divide by 2, 5 and 10.

7. Computation with Whole Numbers and Decimals

A. Add and subtract 1- and 2-digit whole numbers without regrouping.

B. Add 1- and 2-digit whole numbers with regrouping.

8. Computation with Fractions and Integers Not Tested

9. Solve Word Problems

A. Solve simple story problems involving addition (with/without regrouping) or subtraction (without regrouping).

B. Solve simple story problems involving addition (with/without regrouping) or subtraction (without regrouping) with extraneous information.

10. Numerical Estimation Strategies

A. Identify the best expression to find an estimate.


11. Estimating Solutions to Problems

A. Identify a reasonable estimate to a problem.

12. Ratios and Proportions Not Tested

13. Computation with Percents Not Tested

14. Time

A. Tell time to the nearest hour, half-hour and quarter-hour using analog and digital clocks.

B. Solve problems involving time, elapsed time (15-minute increments) and calendars.

You can read the entire piece that Jonathan Kantrowitz wrote here: http://blog.ctnews.com/kantrowitz/2013/12/27/comparing-math-standards-common-core-connecticut-and-massachusetts-part-i/

Charter Schools and the systematic discrimination of special education students

Most charter schools are failing to take their fair share of students who require special education services

You can always count on Connecticut resident, fellow blogger and public education advocate, Jonathan Kantrowitz, to explore the important issues with a sophisticated, fact-based approach.

In a new blog post entitled, “Why the Gap? Special Education and New York City Charter Schools,” Jonathan Kantrowitz examines data coming out of New York City about the failure of charter schools to take and keep students who need special education services.

Kantrowitz writes;

This studyfrom the Center on Reinventing Public Education, uses NYC data to analyze the factors driving the gap in special education enrollment between charter and traditional public schools. Among the findings:

  • Students with disabilities are less likely to apply to charter schools in kindergarten than are regular enrollment students. This is the primary driver of the gap in special education enrollments.
  • The gap grows as students progress through elementary grades, largely because charter schools are less likely than district schools to place students in special education—and less likely to keep them there.
  •  The gap also grows as students transfer between charter and district schools. Between kindergarten and third grade, greater proportions of regular education students enter charter schools, compared to students with special needs.
  • There is great mobility among special education students, whether they attend a charter or traditional public school. Close to a third of students in special education leave their school by the fourth year of attendance, whether they are enrolled in charters or traditional public schools.

Given the complex factors revealed by the study, the report cautions against simplistic policy solutions like quotas and enrollment targets. Instead, policy attention might be more usefully spent identifying and replicating effective academic or behavioral interventions that allow schools to declassify students with mild disabilities, and investigating why parents of students with special needs are not choosing charters early on.

You can read his full blog post here: http://educationresearchreport.blogspot.com/2013/10/why-gap-special-education-and-new-york.html

What is clear is that many charter schools want to claim the mantle of being public schools, but the majority fail to take their fair share of students who need special education services, just as they fail to take their fair share of students who need extra help when it comes to learning the English language.

There are undoubtedly charter schools that understand the fundamental role of public schools and do make a real effort to provide educational opportunities to the full range of students, but those charter schools are outliers compared to the vast majority of  their colleagues.

As another New York City study found;

“…[NYC] charter schools enroll a smaller percentage of special education students than do district schools. But more importantly, charter schools do not enroll the same kind of special ed students as the district schools. While special education enrollment in charters grew over the last year, the special ed students who attend charters have much lower levels of disability than their special ed counterparts at neighboring district schools.

Practically none of the 57 charters we reviewed enroll “self-contained” students, the highest category of need, who must be taught in separate classrooms with one teacher for every 6 or 12 students. Very few enroll “collaborative team teaching” students, who are educated in mixed classrooms with two teachers, one a specialist. These two higher-need categories of special education students by and large attend district schools. Students who require the less-intensive “related services,” such as speech or physical therapy, are by far the most prevalent special education type in the charters. ”

Similar observations have been made in Connecticut.

Even at the most basic level, most Connecticut Charter Schools consistently fail to educate their fair share of students who need special education services

Here is the latest available data on students needing special education services in selected district schools in Connecticut versus selected charter schools in Connecticut

District/School 2010-2011 % Special Education 
Hartford Public Schools 12.5%
AF – Hartford Academy 7.7%
Jumoke Academy* 2.3%
New Haven Public Schools 10.8%
AF – Amistad 5.4%
AF – Elm City* 4.0%
Bridgeport Public Schools 12.1%
AF-Bridgeport 7.3%
Park City Prep 8.4%
Bridge Academy 12.2%

(*) 2010-2011 report not on file, data is 2009-2010

While charter school funding is the fastest growing area of Governor Malloy’s education budget, the evidence is clear that Connecticut’s charter schools are consistently failing to provide educational opportunities to special education students and students who need extra help with the English language.

Blessed are the Gifted for they shall inherit the earth.

Okay so that wasn’t one of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, but maybe that’s because the concept hadn’t been fully developed yet.  But things are changing.

Despite unprecedented financial pressures, three of the poorest cities in Connecticut will be redirecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in education funding to create special academies for a small group of their most gifted students.

In what might be called the most bizarre turn of events yet in Connecticut’s “education reform” movement, education reformers extraordinaire, Special Master Steven Adamowski and Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas, are teaming up with the University of Connecticut’s Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development to create three Gifted and Talented Academies in New London, Windham and Bridgeport. 

The purpose of the new schools will be to educate the “brightest young students” of those three cities.  The new schools, which will be called Renzulli Academies, are named after UConn Professor Joe Renzulli, who is widely considered one of the world’s experts on developing programing for gifted students.   According to the plan’s proponents, the new programs will be modeled after the existing Renzulli Academy in Hartford.

Each of the new schools will start with about 50 students and will expand, over time, to about 100 to 125 students.

According to media coverage, a $500,000 grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation will be split between the three cities to provide initial seed money; however the money will not be used to “sustain the program or build new schools.”

Therefore, in addition to the $166,000 each city will receive from the grant in the coming year, the three local school systems will be expected to use a “money follows the child” approach and dedicate another $350,000 or so in taxpayer funds to run the special schools.  That amount will increase as the programs expand in the coming years.

Traditionally, rather than permanently pull “gifted” students out of their schools; supporters of gifted and talented education have urged that schools develop additional academic programing for those that are especially proficient in certain academic fields.

In this case, Renzulli is apparently pushing for a far more dramatic approach to support gifted and talented programing by actually removing the highest performing students from the existing local schools.

In a Hartford Courant article, Renzulli supported the move saying, “I think the superintendents in those districts are very courageous, because with so much going on and schools under so much pressure, it takes courage to do this for a very targeted group of students.”

Although the gifted students are being segregated out of their schools, New London’s Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer explained to the Day Newspaper of New London, “We’re very excited about the possibility to create a Renzulli Academy in New London…It’s a great chance to highlight and encourage the potential of the young people in New London.”

The paper went on to explain, “In the model academy in Hartford, classes include weekly enrichment clusters on topics that appeal to the teacher and students and stimulate investigation and creativity, making learning fun.”

Of course, the whole notion of pulling select public school children out of the broad-based public education system is an extremely troubling one and fraught with problems.

In New York City, for example, the NAACP has filed a major law suit against the City because its “high performance” schools, such as Stuyvesant High School, use entrance examines that effectively discriminate by blocking equal participation by Black and Latino students.

And while one of the three superintendents explains that test scores will be used to identify which students will transferred to the new Renzulli Academies, Connecticut’s State Department of Education has been clear that CMT (Connecticut Master Tests) should not be used for individual student placement decisions because of their level of inaccuracy in determining future individual performance, let alone the fact that the test results so correlate so significantly with student poverty, language barriers and special education disabilities.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the players in this initiative are absolutely and totally silent about the biggest issue of all; If the Renzulli teaching model works, and I’m sure it does knowing his level of expertise on the subject, the logical and appropriate public policy decision would be to insert Renzulli’s approach into more schools and provide a broader range of children, included those “most gifted,” with the benefits of curriculum that includes “enrichment clusters that stimulate investigation and creativity, making learning fun.”

The proposal coming forward would move us in exactly the wrong direction.

When all is said and done, segregating students, diverting scarce resources and creating new administrative structures is hardly the “reforms” that Connecticut’s children need or deserve.

Yesterday, fellow blogger and political activist Jonathan Kantrowitz took a look at the overall proposal in the context of Bridgeport, see the CT Post: http://blog.ctnews.com/kantrowitz/2013/02/26/gifted-and-talented-school-coming-to-john-winthrop/ and you can read more about the  proposed Gifted and Talented Academies at the Courant: http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-renzulli-academy-0226-20130225,0,3871187.story and the Day: http://www.theday.com/article/20130221/NWS01/130229925/1018