Teacher Evaluation: Let’s Get It Right (By Ann Cronin)

First published on her blog and in the CT Mirror, Connecticut educator Ann Cronin writes:

An editorial in The Hartford Courant (April, 23, 2017) entitled “ Back to Squishy Teacher Evals” argued for using the scores of students’ standardized tests to evaluate teachers. It seems so neat and tidy. Teachers produce a product (a test score). We take a look at the product. We then judge if the teacher is competent or not, based on that product. If only it were that simple. But it’s not.

Factors, other than who the teacher is, affect a student’s standardized test score, such as:

  • Elements of the school – class size, curriculum, instructional time, availability of specialists and tutors, resources for learning (books, computers, science labs, etc.)
  • Home and community supports and challenges
  • Individual student needs and abilities, health, and attendance
  • Peer culture
  • Prior teachers and schooling as well as other current teachers

The truth is that many factors create that product of a student test score, and those very factors make using test scores to evaluate teachers impossible. Teachers who are rated as competent could easily be rated the next year as incompetent, depending on the students he or she is teaching.

In fact, a study examining data from five school districts found that many teachers who scored at the bottom one year moved to the top of the rankings the next year, and many  who scored at the top similarly moved to other parts of the distribution the following year. The rankings of the teachers did not remain stable over time because each school year brought them a new batch of students with differing combinations of factors.

When I was a high school English teacher, I taught two sections of the same American literature course for college-bound students, and even with the same teacher, the same school, the same curriculum, the same books, the same ability level of the students, there never once was an essay that I assigned in which students in one section of the course received exactly the same grade distribution as students in the other section. The students’ performance was a result of more than what they received from me.

In addition to student test scores not being solely the product of a single teacher, the test itself is not a good way to measure student performance. The editorial stated that SBAC, the standardized test Connecticut uses, has been “painstakingly designed to provide objective and uniform data about whether the students are learning their lessons”. But what lessons would those be?

The lessons of an English language arts teacher that promote literacy are lessons for students in using writing as a tool for learning, lessons in learning to write to express narrative or argumentative thinking or to explore a question, lessons in expanding and refining their thinking by revising their writing, lessons in learning to collaborate- to listen and speak to one another in order to deepen and broaden their individual thinking, lessons in learning how to question in increasingly deep and complex ways, lessons in creating meaning as they read, and lessons in exploring multiple interpretations of what they read. And none of that is on a standardized test.

If the English language arts teacher teaches lessons that match the test, that teacher is teaching test prep – not literacy.

The information gained from the standardized tests is useless, except for checking how well students perform on the lowest level of intellectual engagement, but even if the tests did provide good data, how would we evaluate all teachers on the scores of them?

Standardized tests are required in only two subjects: math and English language arts. There, however, are teachers of history, biology, chemistry, physics, art, music, physical education, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, technology, vocational arts, early childhood, special education, bilingual education as well as teachers who are specialists and guidance counselors and teachers who do not teach in the grades being tested. Do we evaluate all those teachers by the school’s English and math scores or do we develop a standardized test in each discipline and mandate that students spend their whole springtime taking standardized tests?

All of this is not to say that the current teacher evaluation system is effective in developing beginning teachers, making good teachers better ones, and holding everyone, both teachers and administrators, accountable. It isn’t. I have evaluated teachers for 22 years and can attest to that.

But there is a three-step program that would work. It is not as expensive as standardized tests and has a track record for creating effective teachers, and, best of all, serves the students. First would be to establish standards for teachers, based on the best practice for each specific academic discipline and stage of child and adolescent development. So there would be standards for teaching early childhood, standards for teaching English language arts, standards for teaching math, science, music etc. Second would be the requirement that all teachers must be involved in professional development in those standards pertinent to their teaching. And thirdly, administrators must participate in the professional development in the areas for which they supervise teachers. Best practice for early childhood educators, best practice for English language arts teachers, best practice for teachers of all disciplines then becomes what is required of all teachers and becomes the means of accountability.

What would be gained?

The students would become meaningfully engaged in their learning. The teachers would be empowered to do what gives them satisfaction: teaching well. And administrators would have the means for moving their school or department forward.

When teachers and administrators are engaged in conversations about best practices and best pedagogy, teacher evaluation is not squishy. It is tight. It is meaningful. It creates life in the classroom and the school.

Best of all, it gives students what they came to school for: an education.

You can read and comment on Ann Conin”s piece at: https://reallearningct.com/2017/04/29/teacher-evaluation-lets-get-it-right/

 

Connecticut will no longer use SBAC and SAT as part of teacher performance evaluations.

As the CT Mirror reports,

The state Board of Education voted late Wednesday afternoon to adopt new usage standards for state mastery test data, explicitly prohibiting the use of those test scores in evaluating teacher performance.

[…]

State education board Chairman Allan B. Taylor and Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell both praised the board’s approval of the plan as an important clarification of the role state tests should play: a goal-setting tool for teachers, not part of a formula for rating an individual teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom.

While state mastery tests – which include the Smarter Balanced assessments, SAT, CMT and CAPT science – are no longer an option, school districts are still required to measure teachers in part on their students’ testing success, which makes up 22.5 percent of the teacher evaluation rating. Now, school districts will have to choose from a number of non-state exams to evaluate teachers in that category.

In a written response, the Connecticut Education Association posted;

This is a big victory for students, teachers, and public education,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen. “The voices and expertise of teachers were heard and addressed by policymakers who did the right thing by putting the focus back where it belongs: on teaching, learning, and student achievement.”

[…]

Cohen concluded, “We feel confident that these new guidelines will have positive outcomes for everyone—students, teachers, and administrators—and will allow us to continue to move forward to improve the educational opportunities for all public school students in Connecticut.”

While the state’s action is an important and positive step, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test and the SAT will still be used for the unfair and discriminatory labeling of students, teachers and schools.

The State Board of Education Action means the SBAC and SAT will be used for the following inappropriate purposes;

Informing goals for individual educators
Informing professional development for individual educators
Discussion at the summative evaluation conference
Informing collaborative goals
Informing professional learning for groups or teams of educators
Any communications around planning
Development of curriculum
Program evaluation
Selecting or evaluating effectiveness of materials/resources
School/district improvement planning
Informing whole school professional development to support school improvement

The complete CT Mirror story can be found via the following link: https://ctmirror.org/2017/04/06/ct-scraps-using-state-test-scores-to-compute-teacher-ratings/

Progress made on making Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system fairer

The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test is an unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory measure that seeks to determine how well public school children are doing.  Despite the massive problems with the testing scheme, supporters of the testing program have argued that the test should be used to judge and label students, teachers and public schools.

In a significant development, it appears that the State of Connecticut may, at the very least, be taking steps to ensure that the test results are not inappropriately used as part of Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system.

As the Connecticut Education Assocation is reporting,

“The Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) took a giant step forward in addressing teachers’ concerns regarding the use of state mastery examination results in teacher evaluations. PEAC defined the clear use and purpose of the state mastery exam, agreeing that it should not be used to evaluate teachers.

PEAC unanimously agreed to recommend new guidelines for educator support and evaluation programs to the State Board of Education. These new guidelines support the use of state mastery test scores to inform educator goal setting and to inform professional development planning, but prohibit their use as a measure of goal attainment or in the calculation of the summative rating for an educator.

If adopted by the State Board of Education at its next meeting – April 5, 2017 – the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) test would still be used for a variety of purposes but would play a much more limited role in the teacher evaluation process.  The SBAC test could still be used for the following purposes;

Informing goals for individual educators
Informing professional development for individual educators
Discussion at the summative evaluation conference
Informing collaborative goals
Informing professional learning for groups or teams of educators
Any communications around planning
Development of curriculum
Program evaluation
Selecting or evaluating effectiveness of materials/resources
School/district improvement planning
Informing whole school professional development to support school improvement

However, according to the agreement approved by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC), the Common Core SBAC test would not be used for Inclusion in the calculation of the rating in the summative evaluation of a public school teacher or part of the teacher SLO/goal attainment process.

Not surprisingly, the Malloy administration focused on the continued use of the SBAC testing program.  A statement issued by Malloy’s Department of Education explained;

The Connecticut Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) on Wednesday voted to preserve the role of state mastery tests in the educator evaluation and support system to inform goal-setting and professional development planning, but not as a measure used to calculate a final evaluation rating.

The recommendation by PEAC, the panel of education partners tasked with developing an educator evaluation system that works toward the goal of ensuring every child has access to a high quality education, now goes to the State Board of Education for consideration.

“Our goal is to ensure teachers have the tools and support they need to continuously improve their practice and deliver high-quality teaching and learning in the classroom,” said Commissioner of Education Dianna R. Wentzell. “Today’s recommendation by PEAC affirms the consensus among Connecticut education stakeholders that state mastery tests provide a valid and reliable estimate of student achievement and that they can play an important role in goal-setting for educators.”

Check back for more on this developing story

Opting out of testing in Connecticut — now a civic duty by Drew Michael McWeeney

Drew Michael McWeeney is an Early Childhood Education major and teacher candidate at Southern Connecticut State University.  His powerful commentary piece first appeared in the CTMirror.  You can read and comment on it at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/10/13/opinion-drew-michael-mcweeney/

Opting out of testing in Connecticut — now a civic duty

Since implementation of the new teacher evaluation system by Gov. Dannel Malloy and the legislature, I have believed opting out of standardized testing was a student right. I now see it as a civic responsibility.

Under the current system, 45 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on student test scores. According to a 2014 Brookings Institute study, however, teachers can elect not to be evaluated on the scores if a significant number of students do not show up to take their standardized tests. This is because having too few test takers can cause the test data to produce false results, labeling a teachers’ classes either high- or low-performing incorrectly.

What Malloy and the legislature did was a direct attack on public education under the guise of raising standards. Because of this, here is the narrative the system creates: Since students are failing tests, teachers must be poor performers. Therefore since public school teachers are poor performers, let us close down public education and privatize public schools.

Having observed countless Connecticut classrooms, I can tell you that basing almost half of a teacher’s rating on student test scores is too much in the first place. Then, when Gov. Malloy makes it impossible for us teacher candidates and teachers to present other evidence to establish our effectiveness — by eliminating lesson plans from consideration, for example — he compounds the problem.

Finally, researchers at the University of Connecticut’s NEAG School of Education, in a study released last year, reported that only 58 percent of teachers surveyed felt the rating they received from the state’s new evaluation system was accurate. Of the 533 teachers surveyed, more than half found no added value in the time they spent on their evaluations.

With these and other problems, the teacher evaluation system is a catastrophe. Although our state tried addressing many shortcomings through customization, it is the highly-destructive effects of accountability reform that teachers must resist. I insist – must resist.

Yes, teachers need to be evaluated. I would expect nothing less in any job. It is even more critical, especially in fields such as education, when a teacher receives job protection under union contract. It costs school districts hundreds to thousands of dollars to both hire and retain teachers. You want to protect your community investment.

Now, I understand teachers have to follow their district evaluation plan or they could be fired for insubordination. However, what is interesting is that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, formerly known as No Child Left Behind and now called Every Student Succeeds Act, does not require that teachers be evaluated by student test scores. That was what Race to the Top required in order for states to be eligible to apply for Race to the Top money; so states incorporated student test scores in their teacher evaluation process.

Is it time for the fight to end? No. This is only the beginning. We need to fight this war on common sense. We need to fight the war Connecticut and other states, such as New York, have declared on public education by supporting a better, fairer, evaluation system for teachers. Before we demand better comprehensive education reform, we must shout battle cries of “Opt-Out.”

We need these evaluations to fail if we want public school teachers to succeed.

Judge botched rulings on education policy by Wendy Lecker

Education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker returns to the recent CCJEF v. Rell legal decision in her weekend piece in the Stamford Advocate.  You can read and comment on her piece at:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Judge-botched-rulings-on-education-9945947.php

Judge botched rulings on education policy by Wendy Lecker

In issuing his decision in the CCJEF school-funding case last month, Judge Thomas Moukawsher claimed he was faithfully following the dictates of the Connecticut Supreme Court. However, it is clear that the judge ignored a major warning by our highest court: that the judiciary is “ill-equipped” to deal with educational policy matters. Nowhere is this disregard of the court’s warning more evident than in Moukawsher’s rulings on high school and teacher evaluation. In these rulings, the judge contravened the mountain of academic and experiential evidence showing that what he proposes is dead wrong.

First, the judge declared that Connecticut should institute standardized high school exit exams. The judge decided that because Connecticut does not have “rational” and “verifiable” high school standards, meaning standards measured by a high school exit exam, Connecticut diplomas for students in poor districts are “patronizing and illusory.” He concluded that the cure for this problem is standardized, “objective” exams that students must pass to graduate.

In pushing this proposal, the judge relied heavily on one defense witness, Dr. Eric Hanushek, a witness whose testimony has been flatly rejected in school funding cases across the country. Hanushek claimed that Massachusetts’ status as the “education leader” in the country was a result of instituting an exit exam.

Had the judge examined the evidence, however, he would have discovered that Massachusetts’ high school exit exam has increased dropout rates for the state’s most vulnerable students. In fact, as the New America Foundation reported, decades of research on exit exams nationwide show two things: students are not any better off with exit exams, and exit exams have a disproportionately negative impact on the graduation rates of poor students and students of color. That is why the trend among states is to drop exit exams. Exit exams would widen the graduation gap in Connecticut.

Again, had the judge examined the evidence, he would have also learned that the actual major factor in Massachusetts’ improvement was the very measure he refused to order Connecticut to implement: school finance reform that dramatically increased the amount of school funding statewide. No fewer than three studies have shown that increasing school funding significantly improved student achievement in Massachusetts. Recent major studies confirmed those findings nationwide, demonstrating that school finance reform has the most profound positive impact among poor students.

The judge also missed the mark by a wide margin in his ruling on teacher evaluations; which again he insisted be “rational and “verifiable” from his unstudied perspective. Anyone who has been paying attention to education matters the past few years has surely noticed the understandable uproar over the attempt to rate teachers based on student standardized test score “growth.”

Experts across the country confirm, as the American Statistical Association pointed out, that a teacher has a tiny effect on the variance in student test scores: from 1 percent to 14 percent. Thus, it is now widely understood that any system that attempts to rate teachers on student test scores, or the “growth” in student test scores, is about as “rational” and “verifiable” as a coin toss.

Courts that have actually examined the evidence on systems that rate teachers on student test scores have rejected these systems. Last year, a court in New Mexico issued a temporary injunction barring the use of test scores in that state’s teacher evaluation system. And in April, a court in New York ruled that a teacher’s rating based on her students’ “growth” scores — the foundation of New York’s teacher evaluation system — was “arbitrary and capricious;” the opposite of “rational” and “verifiable.”

Yet despite the reams of evidence debunking the use of student growth scores in evaluating teachers, and despite these two court rulings, Judge Moukawsher insisted that rating teachers on student “growth” scores would satisfy his demand that Connecticut’s system for hiring, firing, evaluating and compensating teachers be “rational” and “verifiable.” His ruling defies the evidence and logic.

These and all of the judge’s other rulings are now being appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court by both sides: the state and the CCJEF plaintiffs. One can only hope that that our highest court will steer this case back on course, away from these ill-advised educational policy rulings and toward a proper finding that the state is failing to provide our poorest schools with adequate funding and is consequently failing to safeguard the educational rights of our most vulnerable children.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  Her column  can be found at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Judge-botched-rulings-on-education-9945947.php

Inside school funding “victory,” CT Judge apparently seeks to set special education services back 40 years

As the evidence makes clear … the State of Connecticut fails to provide most of its cities and towns with adequate school funding.

Now, in an important but flawed legal ruling, the judicial branch of government is finally making it clear that the state’s unwillingness to deal with this significant problem violates Connecticut law.

Yesterday, September 7, 2016, a Connecticut state judge agreed with a coalition of towns, parents and public school advocates that the actual mechanism by which Connecticut distributes school aid is unconstitutional because it fails to provide poorer communities with adequate resources that are required by the Connecticut constitution. The judge’s proposed remedy, however, was limited (More coming on that front).

While the decision is an important milestone on the school funding issue, Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s Memorandum of Decision is nothing short of absurd, ill-conceived and simply  wrong when it comes to Connecticut’s special education programs, the state’s illogical teacher evaluation system and the state’s over-reliance on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC and SAT testing schemes.

In his ruling, Moukawsher actually suggests that students should face even more standardized testing in Connecticut’s classrooms.

And of greatest concern is his unwarranted, outrageous and mean-spirited attack on special education services in Connecticut’s schools.

The truth is that Connecticut has actually been a leader when it comes to providing special education services to those who need extra help in the classroom.  While issues certainly exist when it comes to adequately identifying and providing services to those students who have special needs, the underlying problem is not that students get special education services, but that Connecticut’s cities and towns are left with an unfair share of the burden when it comes to financing those extra educational activities.

In Connecticut, there has been widespread consensus that society and the state have an obligation to ensure that every child is provided with the knowledge, skills and opportunities to live more fulfilling lives and that includes children with special needs.

Yet in an stunning diatribe, Judge Moukawsher appears to suggest that Connecticut retreat from that commitment.

Moukawsher writes;

“Yet school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from an elementary or secondary school education….It is about whether schools can decide in an education plan for a covered child that the child has a minimal or no chance for education, and therefore the school should not make expensive, extensive, and ultimately proforma efforts..

To suggest that Connecticut public schools do not have an obligation to serve, as best they can, every student is to suggest policymakers retreat from the most basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and that of the State of Connecticut, as well as, from federal law and regulations that apply to those who need extra services.

In today’s world, a policy that seeks to define any children as unteachable is repugnant.

One can only hope that the judge, in his haste to issue a ruling, misspoke or misunderstood his fundamental role in ensuring that the state continue to meet its duty to all of Connecticut’s children, their parents and the broader society.

To reiterate, when it comes to Connecticut’s special education programs, the problem is not that services are provided, but that the state is failing to fully reimburse school districts for those costs.

As a society we must recognize our commitment to every public school student.  Stepping back from that commitment is simply not acceptable.

To read the Judge’s entire Memorandum of Decision go to; https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3100630-School-Funding-Decision.html

More media coverage of the ruling can be found at:

Judge strikes down state education aid choices as ‘irrational’  (CT Mirror)

Ruling may end ‘hold harmless’ principle in CT budget politics (CT Mirror)

Judge Orders State To Make Sweeping Changes To Education Funding, Policies (CT Newsjunkie)

Court Orders Far-Reaching Reforms for Public Schools (Hartford Courant)

Judge says state’s school funding formula is irrational  (CT Post)

Judge, Citing Inequality, Orders Connecticut to overhaul its school system (New York Times)

Hey Malloy, what’s the deal with the new Common Core SBAC test results?

With great fanfare and self-congratulations, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration recently released the results of last springs’ Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests. Their claim is that the Governor’s anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-charter school agenda is succeeding.

The SBAC test is succeeding?

The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme is the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory national testing system that the Malloy administration instituted and are now being used to evaluate and label students, teachers and public schools.

As if to give the charade some credibility, Governor Malloy, Lt. Governor Wyman and their team call it Connecticut’s “Next Generation Accountability System.”

However, the testing and evaluation system is a farce that fails to properly measure how students, teachers and schools are really doing, nor does it properly evaluate the impacts that are associated with poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs.

To showcase the extraordinary problems with Malloy’s testing scheme, the following chart highlights the results from two of Malloy’s favorite charter schools, the Achievement First Hartford charter school and the Achievement First New Haven charter school, which is called Amistad Academy.

Percent of students reaching “proficiency” in Math as measured by the 2015 SBAC tests;

DISTRICT GRADE 3 GRADE 4 GRADE 5 GRADE 6 GRADE 7 GRADE 8
Achievement First Inc. Hartford  

56.8%

 

44.4%

 

16.2%

 

20.3%

 

17.5%

 

33.9%

Achievement First Inc. New Haven – Amistad Academy  

63.3%

 

54.4%

 

34.4%

 

40.0%

 

46.1%

 

46.9%

 

Here are the core results;

  • Approximately 60% of students in both charter schools were labeled “proficient” in MATH in grade 3.
  • The percent deemed “proficient” dropped by about 10 points in Grade 4.
  • The percent “proficient” dived in Grade 5, with only 1 in 6 students deemed “proficient” in Hartford and only 1 in 3 at the “proficient” level in New Haven.
  • The number reaching a “proficient” level remained extremely low at Achievement First Hartford in grades 6, 7 and 8.
  • While the percent of students labeled proficient in at Achievement First New Haven was slightly better than its sister school in Hartford, less than 50% percent of Amistad Academy’s 6th, 7th and 8th grade students were deemed to be “proficient.”

According to Malloy’s policies, these SBAC results allow us to determine how students are doing, whether teachers are performing adequately and whether any individual school should be labeled a great school, a good school, a school that is doing fairly well or a failing school.

So, according to Malloy, which of the following statements are true;

  1. As measured by the SBAC proficiency number, while students at these two Achievement First schools are doing “okay” in grade 3, the two schools are falling short in Grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
  1. The results indicate that Achievement First Inc. has apparently hired talented teachers in grade 3, but the results prove that teachers in grade 4-8 are simply not equipped or capable to do their job. Grade 5 teachers are particularly weak, but the data indicates that Achievement First’s teachers should be evaluated as ineffective and the charter school chain should remove and replace all teachers other than those teaching in grade 3.
  1. Achievement First, Inc. proclaims that their students do much better on standardized tests, however, the SBAC results reveal that they are failing and should be labeled as failing schools.

According to Connecticut policymakers, all three statements are true, but of course, the truth is much more complex and the test results provide no meaningful guidance on what is actually going on in the classrooms.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is that these results provide no useful information about the impact of poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs

One question rises to the top.

What if the students and teachers are not the problem? What if the problem is that the testing scam really is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory and that the entire situation is made worse by Malloy’s absurd “Next Generation” Accountability system?

No evidence standardized testing can close ‘achievement gap’

In a commentary piece entitled, No evidence standardized testing can close ‘achievement gap’, and first published in the CT Mirror, Connecticut educator and public education advocate James Mulholland took on the absurd rhetoric that is being spewed by the corporate funded education reform industry.

Collecting their six figure incomes, these lobbyists for the Common Core, Common Core testing scam and the effort to privatize public education in the United States claim that more standardized testing is the key to improving educational achievement.

Rather than focus on poverty, language barriers, unmet special education needs and inadequate funding of public schools, the charter school proponents and Malloy apologists want students, parents, teachers and the public to believe that a pre-occupation with standardized testing, a focus on math and English, “zero-tolerance” disciplinary policies for students and undermining the teaching profession will force students to “succeed” while solving society’s problems.

Rather than rely on evidence, or even the truth, these mouthpieces for the ongoing corporatization of public education are convinced that if they simply say an untruth long enough, it will become the truth.

In his recent article, James Mullholland takes them on – writing;

In a recent commentary piece, Jeffrey Villar, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, praises the Connecticut State Board of Education’s support for using student SBAC results in teacher evaluations. He claims, “The absence of such objective data has left our evaluation system light on accountability.” He further contends, “Connecticut continues to have one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation, the SBE appears committed to continuing to take this issue on.”

Contrary to Mr. Villar’s assertion, there is little, if any, evidence to support the idea that including standardized test scores in teacher evaluations will close the so-called achievement gap.

In some ways, it is a solution looking for a problem. Mr. Villar writes, “recently released evaluation results rated almost all Connecticut teachers as either proficient or exemplary. That outcome doesn’t make much sense.”

Other education reform groups express similar disbelief that there are so many good teachers in the state. In her public testimony during Connecticut’s 2012 education reform bill, Jennifer Alexander of ConnCAN testified that too few teachers were being dismissed for poor performance: “When you look at the distribution of ratings in those systems, you again see only about two percent of teachers, maybe five max, falling at that bottom rating category.” (Transcript of legislative testimony, March 21, 2012, p. 178.)

Education reform groups seem dismayed that they have been unable to uncover an adequate number of teachers who are bad at their jobs and continue to search for a method that exposes the boogeyman of bad teachers. But that’s exactly what it is: a boogeyman that simply doesn’t exist.

Regardless of the methodology that’s used, the number of incompetent teachers never satisfies education reform groups. They see this as a flaw in the evaluation system rather than a confirmation of the competency of Connecticut’s teachers.

However, Connecticut isn’t alone. After both Tennessee and Michigan overhauled their teacher evaluation systems, 98 percent of teachers were found to be effective or better; in Florida it was 97 percent. The changes yielded only nominal differences from previous years.

Mr. Vallar believes that including SBAC scores in teacher evaluations will decrease the achievement gap. There is no evidence to support the belief that including SBAC scores in teacher evaluations will lessen the differences in learning outcomes between the state’s wealthier and less-advantaged students.

In 2012, the federal Department of Education, led by Secretary Arne Duncan, granted Connecticut a waiver from the draconian requirements of No Child Left Behind. To qualify for the waiver, the results of standardized tests were to be included in teacher evaluations.

However, the policies of the secretary, which he carried with him from his tenure as Superintendent of Schools in Chicago to Washington D.C., never achieved the academic gains that were claimed. A 2010 analysis of Chicago schools by the University of Chicago concluded that after 20 years of reform efforts, which included Mr. Duncan’s tenure, the gap between poor and rich areas had widened.

The New York Times reported in 2011 that, “One of the most striking findings is that elementary school scores in general remained mostly stagnant, contrary to visible improvement on state exams reported by the Illinois State Board of Education.”

Most striking is a letter to President Obama signed by 500 education researchers in 2015, urging Congress and the President to stop test-based reforms. In it, the researchers argue that this approach hasn’t worked. “We strongly urge departing from test-focused reforms that not only have been discredited for high-stakes decisions, but also have shown to widen, not close, gaps and inequities.”

Using standardized test scores to measure teacher effectiveness reminds me of the time I saw a friend at the bookstore. “What are you getting?” I asked. “About 14 pounds worth,” he joked. Judging books by their weight is a measurement, but it doesn’t measure what is valuable in a book. Standardized tests measure something, but it’s not the effectiveness of a teacher.

To read and comment on James Mulholland’s commentary piece go to:  http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/04/20/opinion-james-mulholland/

Connecticut – A failed application of standardized tests by Wendy Lecker

Connecticut – A failed application of standardized tests is another MUST READ piece by education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker;

One of the most damaging practices in education policy, in Connecticut and nationwide, is the misuse of standardized tests for purposes for which they were never designed. Standardized tests are being used to measure things they cannot measure, like school quality and teacher effectiveness, with deleterious results; such as massive school closures, which destabilize children and communities, and the current troubling shortage of students willing to enter the teaching profession.

Connecticut policy makers engage in this irresponsible practice constantly. They jumped on the bandwagon to adopt the SBAC as the statewide accountability test, despite the complete lack of evidence that it the SBAC can support reliable or valid inferences about student performance, let alone school quality or teacher effectiveness. After abandoning the SBAC for 11th graders, our leaders hastily approved the mandated use of the SAT for accountability purposes, despite, again, the absence of evidence that the SAT is either aligned with Connecticut graduation requirements or valid or reliable for use a test to measure student performance, school quality or teacher effectiveness.

Connecticut’s political leaders also blindly adopted the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations in 2012, despite the evidence, even then, that standardized tests are inappropriate for this use. Since that time, every reputable statistical and educational research organization has repudiated this invalid practice; because a mountain of evidence proves that standardized tests cannot be validly or reliably used to rate teachers.

If only our leaders would examine evidence before adopting a policy, our state would not only save millions of dollars, but it would guide education policy in a direction that is good for students and teachers. Engaging in thoughtful educational policymaking requires a more nuanced understanding of what happens and should happen in schools. It demands an acceptance that in this very human endeavor, objective measures are not always possible and even when they can be applied, they can only measure a fraction what we want schools to accomplish.

Although four years late, the legislature seems to be finally heeding the substantial evidence on teacher evaluation and is considering SB 380, a bill to decouple state standardized tests. This bill, though it only covers state standardized tests, is a step in the right direction.

There are those, however, who cannot seem to let go of the idea that we need standardized tests to measure teachers, even if those tests are wholly inappropriate for this use. They want a measure that looks “objective” no matter how scientifically invalid that measure is.

Thus, some Connecticut groups advocate replacing the invalid use of SBAC and SAT for teacher evaluation with an off-the-shelf, commercially produced test never proven to be valid for teacher evaluation: the NWEA MAP (“MAP”) test.

The MAP test is a standardized tests some districts use to measure progress during the year. In other words, it is used to measure students, not teachers. Some teachers find the MAP test helpful, although a study from the national Institute of Educational Sciences found that the MAP test has no impact on student achievement.

There is only one study on the use of the MAP for teacher evaluation. An urban Arizona district interested in using the MAP for teacher evaluation engaged a well-known expert, Professor Audrey Amrein Beardsley, and her team, to determine whether this use of the MAP would be valid. Unlike Connecticut officials, these Arizona district officials wanted to be sure of its validity before imposing it on their teachers. Thus, they requested the study before beginning implementation.

The MAP test is closely aligned with the Arizona state test. However, despite the close alignment, the study revealed that the MAP test is unreliable for use in teacher evaluation. Consequently, the district decided against this use of the MAP.

The study’s authors stressed that measuring “growth” is not as simple as policy makers think it is; and “it is certainly unwise for states or school districts to simply take haphazard or commonsense approaches to measure growth. While tempting, this is professionally and (as evidenced in this study) empirically misguided.”

This paper is the only study on the use of MAP in teacher evaluations. And it proves that it is invalid to use MAP for this purpose. It is irresponsible for Connecticut policy makers to accept the use of MAP in teacher evaluations unless and until there is empirical evidence to prove its validity.

Connecticut teachers and children do not deserve an easy, but invalid, solution to the complex task of measuring teacher quality. They deserve the right solution.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

You can read and comment on this piece were it was first published in the Stamford Advocate – http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-failed-application-of-7251515.php

Why Common Core SBAC results SHOULD NOT be part of the teacher evaluation process

On March 7, 2016 the Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 380, An Act Concerning the Exclusion of Student Performance Results on the Mastery Examination from Teacher Evaluations.

Those speaking at the public hearing fell into two camps.

Parents, teachers, school administrators, public education advocates and experts all speaking in favor of the legislation that would drop the use of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core tests from Governor Dannel Malloy’s teacher evaluation program.

On the other side were the lobbyists and paid spokespeople for the corporate education reform industry and their allies, including a handful of public school superintendents.  As a group, corporate education form front groups have spent in excess of $7 million lobbying on behalf of Malloy’s pro-charter school, pro-Common Core, pro-Common Core testing and anti-teacher initiatives.  As a result of their efforts, in conjunction with the Malloy administration, public schools are being turned into little more than testing factories and more than $100 million a year in scarce taxpayer funds are being diverted away from public education to privately owned charter school companies in Connecticut.

One of the most negative elements of their “education reform” initiatives was a new and warped teacher evaluation program that requires that students Common Core test results be a significant factor in assessing teachers, rather than a system in which teachers are evaluated based on the factors that correctly measure whether they are doing a good job.

Yesterday’s Wait, What? post entitled, Speaking out for decoupling Common Core testing from the teacher evaluation process (Part 1), reported on the testimony of Madison Superintendent Thomas Scarice who laid out the reasons standardized test scores SHOULD NOT be part of teacher evaluation process.

Wendy Lecker, a fellow education advocate and education columnist, who works as an attorney specializing in education equity law, used her testimony to the Education Committee to explain why standardized testing, of any kind, has no scientifically sound or appropriate role in the teacher evaluation process;

The weight of evidence demonstrates that the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations is junk science.

As the American Statistical Association maintains, teachers account for only 1-14 percent of the variance in student standardized test scores. Joining the ASA and others, the American Educational Research Association recently declared that it is almost impossible to disentangle this tiny teacher effect on student test scores from other in-school and out-of-school factors.

A New Mexico court recently blocked that state’s test-based teacher evaluation system because there is no scientific evidence proving that such a system is valid. Standardized achievement tests were not designed to be instructionally sensitive, i.e. show what or how well a teacher teaches.

[…]

With the passage of the new federal law replacing the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB), Connecticut now has a unique opportunity to rethink its flawed teacher evaluation system. In response first to the federal Race to the Top grant and then the NCLB waiver mandates, Connecticut developed a teacher and principal evaluation system calling for student standardized test scores to be a part of a teacher and principal’s effectiveness rating. Under the federal law replacing NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”), the federal government no longer requires states to link student standardized test scores to teacher evaluations.

[…]

Test scores are simple, readily available measures, but they are completely inappropriate for use in teacher evaluations. As the renowned testing expert, W. James Popham, noted, using standardized tests to evaluate teachers is like measuring temperature with a tablespoon. Rather than construct an evaluation process based on what is easiest to measure, shouldn’t we start with an examination of the type of skills we want in teachers?

Determining whether a teacher has those skills will require us to rely on the professional judgment of administrators and other teachers who observe a teacher’s practices, the work she assigns, and her students’ work.

The state can provide guidelines but it is time start trusting professional educators again. Teaching and learning are complex human endeavors that will never be properly reduced to numbers. Connecticut now has the opportunity and moral duty to right the wrong being done to our teachers and students.

Many others were equally persuasive in their testimony.

Dr. Linette Branham, a retired school educator wrote;

Research done over the past decade, as well as the perspective of Connecticut’s public school educators on the use of the current teacher evaluation guidelines, has shown time and again how inappropriate it is to base the evaluation of a teacher on standardized test scores. The reasons are clear, simple, and logical, including the following:

  1. Standardized tests are not designed to evaluate teacher performance.

  2. Such tests do not show growth over time; they provide a snapshot of student performance on a given day and hour.

  3. Standardized test results don’t take into account how factors outside of a teacher’s control impact student performance on the day the test is taken; these include factors such as whether or not the student slept and ate well prior to the test, social and emotional occurrences (e.g., student’s parents are going through a divorce, there is a serious illness in the family, student had an argument with a best friend just before the class in which the test is given, student doesn’t feel well that day).

  4. What’s tested on the test may not match the district curriculum in skill and content.

  5. Students show what they know in many other, often more appropriate, ways, such as through oral or visual modes.

  6. The standardized test may not be developmentally appropriate for the students.

Dr. Jacob Werblow, an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Central Connecticut State University, Harber Fellow of Education at Wesleyan University, and the President of the Connecticut Coalition for Real Learning added;

After 15 years of mandated testing under the No Child Left Behind Law, what do standardized test scores actually tell us about school and teacher quality? The answer: almost nothing. In 2012, one of my graduate students and I explored this question using data of 191 high schools in Connecticut and found that multiple linear regressions revealed that 69% of the difference (variance) in a school’s average student achievement can be explained by the percentage of students living in poverty. In other words, nearly 70% of the difference in the average achievement scores among all Connecticut High Schools is directly attributed to the percentages of poor kids enrolled in each school. Therefore, there is only 30% of the variance left to attribute to any factors related to differences in schools (or teachers).

[…]

…differences in average standardized test score performance has little to do with teacher or school quality. This is something that national experts (i.e., David Berliner, Linda Darling-Hammond, Diane Ravitch, etc.) have been consistently saying for years. This is because nearly all of the variability in test score performance lies in the demographic differences among the student.

Rose Reyes a Bilingual Educator and expert on improving educational achievement for students who are not proficient in English told legislators;

In May 2015, the online article, The Case Against Standardized Testing – Harvard Political (harvardpolitics.com/united-states/case-standardized-testing/)  explained, again, how standardized testing focus negatively impacted curriculum and student learning as well as how it compromised teacher evaluations.

Students are not receiving a well-rounded education and teachers’ value is reduced by a metric.

[…]

In our district we have State, district and common formative assessments. In fact, we have tests for the tests. A third grader can experience as many as seven assessments in a month and all we can show for this duress is what we have shown for decades: (socioeconomic) class follows scores.

An ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) 2013 article, recognizes that standardized tests “favor those who have socioeconomic advantages” (ASCD EDge – 15 Reasons Why Standardized Tests are … edge.ascd.org/…/15-reasons-why-standardized-tests-are-problematic) which is why attaching such a metric to teacher evaluations seemed inappropriate. We are still at an impasse in the understanding that when an Emergent Bilingual student attains a proficiency level in their second language it is still inappropriate to test them for mastery in ELA and language embedded math. What is best for EB students is best practice of experiences and cooperative learning. These elements are not quantifiable yet priceless.

SB 380 can be the stepping stone to re-evaluating our evaluation system. By excluding the use of student scores on statewide mastery examinations in teacher evaluations curriculum emphasis can return to a well-rounded experience instead of the narrow focus of artificial achievement in the form of test preparation.

In addition, the Education Committee heard from many others who articulated why standardized tests scores should not be part of the teacher evaluation process in Connecticut.  You can read some of that testimony via the following links

Christine Ladd: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Christine%20Ladd-TMY.PDF

Sheila Cohen: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Connecticut%20Education%20Association-TMY.PDF

Dan Blanchard: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Dan%20Blanchard%20-TMY.PDF

David Cicarella:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-David%20Cicarella-TMY.PDF

Jason Morris: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Jason%20Morris%20-TMY.PDF

John Bestor: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-John%20Bestor%20-TMY.PDF

Kathleen Koljian:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Kathleen%20Koljian-TMY.PDF

Kim-Nagy Maruschock: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Kim%20Nagy-Maruschock-TMY.PDF

Martin Walsh:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Martin%20H.%20Walsh%20-TMY.PDF

Patti Fusco:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Patti%20Fusco%20-TMY.PDF

Roxanne Amlot:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Patti%20Fusco%20-TMY.PDF

Scott Minnick:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Scott%20A.%20Minnick%20-TMY.PDF

Ed Leavy:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-State%20Vocational%20Federation%20of%20Teachers-TMY.PDF

Tom Kuroski: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Tom%20Kuroski,%20President,%20Newtown%20Federation%20of%20Teachers%20-TMY.PDF

Additional testimony, including that of the pro-Common Core testing forces, can be found at: https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/CommDocTmyBill.asp?comm_code=ed&bill=SB-00380&doc_year=2016