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TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin Newsletter

02/09/2017

 

Quick look at what's inside....

The view from NCTQ
  • NCTQ Paper Finds Most Teachers Still Rated Effective Despite State Reforms
Digging into the research
  • Defying Expectations: The Right Teacher Can Help Low-Income Students Go Above and Beyond
  • Looking For Those Multiple Measures

The view from NCTQ

NCTQ Paper Finds Most Teachers Still Rated Effective Despite State Reforms

I saw this headline in my clips and did a double take, wondering if The Onion had begun mocking education policy: "Teachers would have to demonstrate ability to teach under bill headed to Utah Senate."

But no, it was a headline from the Utah Deseret News. Its irony wasn't lost on us but we wager most of the subscribers were left scratching their heads, not realizing that teachers don't have to demonstrate that they are effective teachers in order to keep their jobs. Even in states that have passed landmark laws within the last five years requiring that teachers' evaluations incorporate measures of student growth, virtually all teachers still continue to be rated effective.

The status quo on teacher evaluations has barely budged.

Given that Donald Trump's daily decisions tend to mop up all the press attention, it would have been easy to miss a new report from NCTQ, Running in Place: How New Teacher Evaluations Fail to Live Up to Promises. This report describes a rather remarkable yet unreported phenomenon in which 28 of the 30 states that now require teacher evaluations to incorporate significant evidence of student learning don't really do what these laws set out to accomplish. These new laws' regulations and guidelines, most of them probably written with substantive contributions from "stakeholder groups" interested in preserving the existing system, undercut the laws' intent.

In fact, in 16 states teachers who receive the lowest possible score on their ability to increase student learning, can still mathematically qualify for a rating of effective or higher. Another bunch of states chose not to weigh in but left it up to their districts to decide, with the results that there too we see little change in the status quo.

Running in Place highlights the danger of relying solely on legislative action to advance education reforms. It reveals how state education organizations need to become more centered around supporting positive change, even if it means disrupting cozy relationships with opponents of change. While we certainly should celebrate when a state legislature enacts reform-oriented laws, faithful implementation is crucial to the law's success in the real world.

Frankly, I fear the ship of teacher evaluation has not only sailed, but also sunk. Legislatures, hyper sensitive about shifts in political winds, will be more likely in 2017 to backpedal even further, given recent pushback on holding teachers accountable for student learning. After all, if teacher evaluation laws don't change the status quo, why bother expending political capital on them?

However, not all hope is lost. We know that states can take powerful action because two states have done so successfully. Indiana and Kentucky have clear policies that require teachers to meet specific goals on student learning in order to be rated effective. And New Mexico is implementing a system that sorts teachers into meaningfully different categories in spite of what the laws technically allows.

States should prevent teachers from earning an effective rating if they are ineffective at increasing student learning. Teacher evaluation must evolve from an exercise of compliance to a process that identifies an individual teacher's strengths and weaknesses in an effort to support continual development. ESSA provides states with a prime opportunity to carefully consider the role of student growth in their teacher evaluation systems.

A vital lesson from this study is how difficult it is to make real change in the education system that benefits students. Even if one level agrees to an improvement, other levels can thwart it. As exhausting as the legislative process may be, the regulatory process is just as important if not more important.

By working at all levels we can take stories about states ignoring student achievement in teacher ratings and relegate them to the realm of satire where they belong.

— Kate Walsh

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Digging into the research

Defying Expectations: The Right Teacher Can Help Low-Income Students Go Above and Beyond

What makes the difference in how well low-income students perform on Advanced Placement (AP) exams?

A recent study published in Urban Education investigated over a dozen characteristics of students, teachers, and schools to identify common trends among students who beat expectations on AP Biology and AP Chemistry exams. The study, which included nearly 12,000 students in high-poverty schools, focused on students who earned higher AP scores than predicted based on their Preliminary SAT Qualifying Test (PSAT) results.

Student characteristics (in particular, whether a student speaks English as a second language) had the greatest impact on AP scores. Certain school and teacher characteristics also pushed the needle—but not always in the right direction. Teacher quality, teacher professional development, and school screening practices each add pieces to the puzzle.

Teacher knowledge and experience: A quality teacher can make the difference

Unsurprisingly, teacher knowledge and experience had a substantial, significant impact on student performance. When a teacher had more years of experience teaching a subject (especially teaching that specific AP course), stronger participation in professional associations and conferences related to their subject, or experience serving as an AP reader or consultant, the difference showed up in student scores. One of the best ways that schools can help their students earn higher AP scores is ensuring those classes are taught by teachers who really know their stuff.

Professional development: An inconsistent factor

For the best AP teachers, current professional development offerings just aren't cutting it. Teachers whose students beat expectations on the AP tests reported the lowest satisfaction with their PD activities. All teachers need the opportunity to continue their professional growth, and this study provides a prime example of how great teachers can feel left out of development opportunities that may not be differentiated for top-performers.

Student screening: High scores with a high cost

Of the schools in the study sample, 55 percent limited enrollment in AP classes using a screening process, which might be based on previous achievement or teacher recommendations. This selectivity created the single greatest AP score gain over expectations of any school or teacher variables. However, we know that student screening, particularly when it involves subjective judgments, tends to leave out students of color who could benefit from and succeed in challenging academic settings. Screening might produce a higher pass rate on AP tests, but if the end goal is to create a culture of high expectations for all students, more inclusive enrollment practices may win the day.

Other factors, such as greater per-student funding and a longer school year also led to better student performance, but the effects were fairly small. Students cannot change where they come from, the income-level of their parents, or their native language, but their schools (and teachers!) can provide them with opportunities to perform well on AP exams and beyond.

— Nicole Gerber

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Looking For Those Multiple Measures

Running in Place highlights the paradox of the ineffective "effective" teacher—one who fails to impact student achievement but remains eligible to receive a good performance evaluation. This prospect represents a major weakness in evaluation frameworks, and we'd love to see this particular loophole closed. But, no conversation about teacher evaluation is complete without a reminder about the importance of using multiple measures to assess teacher performance. A new study about student surveys gives us the perfect opportunity to keep up that drumbeat.

Researchers Tanner Wallace (University of Pittsburgh), Benjamin Kelcey (University of Cincinnati), and Erik Ruzek (University of Virginia) used data from the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project to see how well student perceptions of teacher quality aligned with other performance measures, including observations and value added. The survey instrument—Tripod—covers seven dimensions of teacher quality, including the student's perception that a teacher cares about students, solicits their viewpoint, teaches engaging material, clarifies ideas, places content in context, sets high expectations, and exhibits good classroom management.

They found that students' overall perception of their teachers (measured as a composite of all dimensions, except classroom management) correlated, albeit modestly, with teacher's value-added scores. The classroom management dimension, by itself, also correlated with teachers' value-added scores and the classroom management component of teacher observations. In other words, the study provides fresh evidence that student surveys provide credible, supplementary insight into teacher performance.

The results are good news for the rapidly growing number of states that rely on student surveys in teacher evaluations. In 2013, 14 states encouraged or required the use of student surveys in teacher evaluations; by 2015, that number had grown to 33. Together, surveys, student achievement measures, and observation scores can provide a more complete picture of a teacher's performance—presuming states and districts treat each component with the seriousness it deserves.

— Nithya Joseph

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Resources

Lifting the Pension Fog: What teachers and taxpayers need to know about the teacher pension crisis

This report, Lifting the Pension Fog: What teachers and taxpayers need to know about the teacher pension crisis, evaluates state teacher pension policies, and includes policy profiles and tailored recommendations...

 
Running in Place: How New Teacher Evaluations Fail to Live Up to Promises

Running in Place: How New Teacher Evaluations Fail to Live Up to Promises is part of the tenth annual publication in the State Teacher Policy Yearbook report series. This report...

 
Within Our Grasp: Achieving Higher Admissions Standards in Teacher Prep

Within Our Grasp: Achieving Higher Admissions Standards in Teacher Prep is the tenth annual publication in the State Teacher Policy Yearbook report series. This report focuses on teacher preparation program...

 
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