NEA may change position on using test scores for evaluations and accountability

Leaders of the National Education Association have proposed a policy statement that positions the union in favor of using stepped-up evaluations – and even measures that include student test scores – to improve the effectiveness of the teaching profession.

Squint really hard and you can almost see similarities between the proposal and Senate Bill 1, the teacher evaluation and merit-pay measure that the Indiana legislature approved last month.

The statement “outlines a system to help teachers improve instruction and meet students’ needs,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel in a news release. “It offers sweeping changes to build a true profession of teaching that is focused on high expectations.”

It calls for “regular, comprehensive, meaningful and fair evaluations” of teachers that will be conducted by trained evaluators and based on multiple factors. And in language that can only be called cautious, it says such factors may include “valid, reliable, high quality standardized tests that provide meaningful information regarding student learning and growth.”

The statement says evaluations must be fair and comprehensive. And it says they must be used to provide feedback to help teachers improve. If a teacher “fails to meet performance standards,” an improvement plan should be developed for the teacher. And if the teacher doesn’t improve, he or she “may be counseled to leave the profession or be subject to fair, transparent and efficient dismissal process that provides due process.”

Indiana’s SB 1, a key part of the Daniels-Bennett education agenda, calls for annual teacher evaluations based on several factors. It does require implementing improvement plans for teachers who get bad evaluations. It also says teachers can be dismissed for multiple evaluations that result in a verdict of “needs improvement” or “ineffective.”

While the NEA statement says standardized test scores may be used in teacher evaluations, SB 1 says they must be. Continue reading

Performance pay for teachers is here: Some reflections

The Indiana General Assembly, to no one’s surprise, passed Senate Bill 1 Monday and sent it to the governor to sign into law. The legislation upends how teachers are compensated in Indiana, replacing a system based on experience and education with one based on measures of effectiveness.

The old system has been in place for decades. And while it served important purposes – reducing discrimination, providing job security, creating a career path in which a person could count on making a decent living in a relatively low-paying profession – it couldn’t hold up to the new political reality.

So now Indiana will have a system in which teachers undergo yearly evaluations, which must be “significantly informed” by student test scores and test-score improvement, and are placed in one of four categories: highly effective, effective, needs improvement and ineffective.

Give some credit to state lawmakers for amending the SB 1 to make clear that teachers won’t face salary cuts from the change; early versions of the bill weren’t clear about that. Also, the Department of Education seems to be doing the right thing by asking school corporations to try out new teacher assessment systems in 2011-12 before they’re implemented statewide in 2012-13.

Here are a few concerns:

- SB 1 says “objective measures of student achievement and growth” will “significantly inform” teacher evaluations, and ISTEP exams will be used to rate teachers whose effectiveness can be measured that way: i.e., classroom teachers in grades 3-6, middle-school English and math teachers, Continue reading

Senate Bill 1 amendments are introduced, but we’re still waiting to see them

Apparently it was wishful thinking for School Matters to believe that Indiana legislators would let us all know Monday exactly how they are reshaping Senate Bill 1, which changes teacher evaluations and tenure protections and institutes merit pay.

Amendments were introduced when the House Education Committee considered the bill on Monday. But they haven’t been posted to the legislature’s website; the version of SB 1 that appears on the site hasn’t been updated since Feb. 16.

According to Tosha Salyers, director of educator outreach with the Indiana Department of Education, the amendments may not be posted until the end of this week. But the Indianapolis Star reports the committee is expected to vote on the amended bill today.

The Star’s Scott Elliott does provide an account of Monday’s committee meeting in today’s paper, so it’s not as if we have to be totally in the dark. And Salyers of the DOE offers a summary of what some of the amendments will do. For example, they clarify that teacher salaries won’t be cut, let school corporations count experience and advanced degrees as the basis for 33 percent of a teacher’s raise, and end “last in, first out” criteria for teacher layoffs.

Some of the changes appear to be positive steps made in response to concerns about the version of the bill passed by the Senate. But it would still be helpful to see the actual language of the amendments.

Putting a dollar value on teacher effectiveness

School Matters has cited Stanford researcher Eric Hanushek several times to debunk the claim – made by Gov. Mitch Daniels, state Superintendent Tony Bennett and the Indiana office of Stand for Children – that teachers have 20 times more impact on student learning than any other factor, including poverty.

So it’s only fair to point out that Hanushek advocates the thrust of Senate Bill 1: rewarding good teachers and making bad teachers improve or get out.

In an Education Week article, Hanushek puts the teacher effect in economic terms. “By conservative estimates, the teacher in the top 15 percent of quality can, in one year, add more than $20,000 to a student’s lifetime earnings, my research found,” he writes. “ … For a class of 20 students, we see that this very good teacher is adding some $400,000 in value to the economy each year.”

Skeptics would point to studies that suggest a teacher who is in the top 15 percent of quality this year may be in the middle next year, and a teacher who’s at the bottom this year may do much better next year. Tweak the formula for measuring quality and you get very different results.

Indiana merit-pay bill: Still waiting for details

Forget vouchers and charter schools for the moment. Senate Bill 1, a merit-pay bill that establishes new procedures for evaluating, compensating, hiring and firing teachers, is arguably the most far-reaching education legislation being considered this year by the Indiana General Assembly.

But what exactly will it do? Maybe we’ll have a more complete picture Monday, when the House Education Committee considers the bill and long-promised amendments may be made public.

We know the bill is a big deal because of the effort that’s going into passing it. Stand for Children, an organization based in Oregon, was brought to Indiana to lobby for SB 1. Aiming Higher, which advocates for Gov. Mitch Daniels’ initiatives, is running TV ads supporting it. The ads urge viewers to ““Tell legislators to pass reforms to pay teachers for their excellence and results, not seniority.”

Paying for excellence and results sounds obvious. But it gets messy when you try to define excellence and implement a fair system to measure and encourage it. And recent studies of merit pay in Tennessee and New York have raised questions about whether it will produce better results. The biggest challenge may be scaling up the resources and personnel to implement this system in 2012.

The SB 1 centerpiece is a mandate for annual evaluations that place teachers in one of four categories: highly effective, effective, improvement necessary and ineffective. Teachers in the two lower categories wouldn’t get raises. If rated ineffective or improvement necessary multiple times, they could be fired.

The bill says that “objective measures of student achievement and growth” must “significantly inform the evaluation.” That means results or improvement on ISTEP-Plus tests for teachers who teach subjects that are covered by the exams, and other measures for teachers who don’t. Continue reading

Reasons for caution on performance-based evaluation of teachers

If only we could give assigned reading to state legislators. At the very least, Indiana lawmakers should read these brief articles as they consider Senate Bill 1, which mandates performance-based pay for educators and makes it easier to fire teachers who get bad evaluations.

Start with this column by Rutgers education professor Bruce Baker. He explains the drawbacks of evaluating teachers on the basis of student test-score improvements, and why “getting a good rating is a statistical crap shoot” with value-added formulas for measuring teacher effectiveness.

“We may be able to estimate a statistical model that suggests that teacher effects vary widely across the education system – that teachers matter,” Baker writes. “But we would be hard-pressed to use that model to identify with any degree of certainty which individual teachers are good teachers and which are bad.”

Michael Winerip, in his “On Education” series in the New York Times, shows what happens when the dice come up snake-eyes. He writes about Stacey Isaacson, by all accounts a dedicated, hard-working English and social-studies teacher at a selective public middle school in Manhattan. Almost all her students scored proficient on state tests; her supervisors and students say she’s a wonderful teacher.

But according to the complex formula used by the New York Department of Education to measure student learning gains, Isaacson is one of the city’s worst teachers. Continue reading

Oregon group lobbying for teacher merit pay in Indiana

Stand for Children, an education advocacy group based in Portland, Ore., has parachuted into Indiana to join the push for Senate Bill 1, state legislation that would mandate performance pay for educators and make it easier to fire teachers.

The group was recruited to the state by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis nonprofit that seeks to improve education by “empowering education entrepreneurs to develop or expand transformative education initiatives.”

Stand calls itself a “grassroots child advocacy organization,” and it does appear to be reaching out for local support. But it arrived in Indiana with a paid state director, an Indianapolis office (at the same address as the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association), two high-priced Statehouse lobbyists and a ton of positive publicity courtesy of Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully. It received $242,300 from The Mind Trust and $150,000 from the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation to support its Indiana launch, according to a Mind Trust news release.

Real grass-roots organizations should be so lucky.

SB 1 does a number of things, but its primary thrust is to implement a system of annual teacher evaluations, with each teacher rated highly effective, effective, improvement necessary or ineffective. Multiple ratings of improvement necessary or ineffective could be grounds for dismissal. And teachers with either of those ratings couldn’t get a raise the next year.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett insists schools will be free to design their own evaluation systems. But the legislation says decisions about pay raises “must be based primarily on student academic performance.” Continue reading