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February 03, 2011 8:01 pm MST

How Should Teachers be Graded?

  • by: MADCO

Yesterday, in a CoPols back and forth about if and how DPS teachers should be evaluated, I said that if DPS was only relying on CSAP scores to evaluate teachers, DPS is missing the point.

Even as I wrote that, I was skeptical.

Turns out DPS leadership has not missed that point, and has not concluded that CSAP scores is the only way to measure teachers.

Teachers should be graded.  Of course, principals and other leadership should be evaluated too. How?

SB191 requires it and defines what that should look like, but does not define how to do it.

Forget the anecdotes – they are not persuasive.  I can recall teachers in my own experience who were so well liked by their students, we would have done anything for them.   And teachers who were so weak that any performance in the class was based on student effort alone. (Including, of course, that student’s family, peers, and other support.)

Yes principals and other site leadership need to lead.   Principals should be able to tell who is performing and who is not. And they should be empowered to work with teachers that are not, and  severance teachers when necessary.

Likewise, administration leadership should  be able to tell which principals and site leadership are performing and which are not. And they should be empowered to work with principals that are not, and  severance them when necessary.

From the Denver Classroom Teachers Association  

…in partnership with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), the 16 schools that will be piloting the new teacher performance-assessment system called  LEAP (Leading Effective Academic Practice), starting in January 2011.  …. improving and strengthening our systems of feedback, coaching, evaluation and professional development, with a simple goal of enabling all teachers to be the best professionals they can be.  The LEAP system, as designed by teachers and principals, has student achievement at the center, and is focused on developing, recognizing, retaining, and rewarding effective teachers.

To be clear, LEAP is not yet set up  to be the SB191 evaluation tool. But it is clear that LEAP could become the evaluation tool that SB191 requires and the kind of tool that every district should be using already anyway.

SB 191 requires .

…evaluation system that would “provide a basis for making decisions in the areas of hiring, compensation, promotion, assignment, professional development, earning and retaining nonprobationary status, dismissal, and nonrenewal of contract.”

Every teacher is evaluated using multiple, fair, transparent, timely, rigorous, and valid methods. The recommendations developed pursuant to this subparagraph (I) shall require that at least fifty percent of the evaluation is determined by the academic growth of the teacher’s students and that each teacher is provided with an opportunity to improve his or her evaluation and level of effectiveness to professional development opportunities. The multiple measures to determine effectiveness of teachers shall include, but not be limited to, measures of student longitudinal academic growth that are consistent with the measures set forth in section 22-11-204 (2) and achievement levels on any statewide assessment in the relevant subject and grade level or any locally adopted interim assessments approved by the state board to assess student academic growth in the relevant subject and grade level.

Teachers achieve “nonprobation status” with three years of a grade “demonstrated effectiveness” and lose it based on two years of “demonstrated ineffectiveness”.

LEAP does not yet include any SB191 type negative consequence for a less-than-effective rating.  And if or when it does, perhaps it should be stricter than the two years of demonstrated ineffectiveness just to get probationary status.  Perhaps after one year of less than effective,  probation  and training and other “intervention” to get that teacher back to demonstrated effectiveness.  

Perhaps SB191 is too strict and should be modified.  The data could persuade me either way, but as a parent, I know when my students have had less than effective teachers, I don’t want to wait two years to address anything.  I want it fixed yesterday, before my kids even get there.

Which, of course, begs a discussion to answer the questions What makes a good teacher? principal? How do we measure their performance?  What do we do with  the measurements?  

And how do we account for the fact that in some districts, teachers have mostly students who are native English speakers,  well fed and clothed, with solid transportation solutions, who have parents and family that are supportive of their child’s educational and classroom performance. But in other districts, there are gangs, and drugs, and apathetic or absent parents and family, limited and inconsistent transportation and etc and so on.

Clearly  “less than effective”  staff in the former district could appear to be outperforming even the otherwise “effective”  staff in the latter.

The measure is supposed to be “longitudinal growth”. Ie, in a year does the student demonstrate a year’s worth of growth, less than a years’s worth of growth, or even more than one year of growth. CSAP measures that for students (with varying degree of success depending on who you ask).    

But even in districts where the students tend to do well on CSAP and show annual growth, it is not hard to find agreement that CSAP is not an ideal measure of teacher performance.  However in those districts, not many are too concerned about using it that way.

So how much of the growth is because of the quality of instruction? And how much is just the student?  

No one is “worried” about the students who make a year’s worth of progress  or more (a topic for another day).  And while everyone is concerned about the students who have less than a year of growth in a year -CSAP does not measure how much of the students’ growth or lack thereof can be attributed to the quality of instruction  Or at least not well and maybe not at all.

I agree CSAP should not be used for more than it is designed to do  and that it should not be used as a sole measure to evaluate teachers.  But SB191 does not require districts to use CSAP that way. It  requires Districts to come up with evaluation tools and it appears DPS leadership  and staff are trying to do that.


31 thoughts on “How Should Teachers be Graded?

  1. we spent as much time paying attention to the symptoms (poor test scores, low graduation rates) as we did the actual illness.

    You say SB-191 doesn’t rely on CSAP to evaluate teachers. That’s great. But you know standardized testing is going to be used in one way or another to judge teachers under any potential evaluation method. Go look up the CSAP scores and see which schools are “failing” and then go look up which schools are the highest percentage of free and reduced lunch. Then tell me that teachers, or administrators, or unions, or janitors, or funding, are the problem.

    I hate standardized testing (or any method of evaluation that is born out of the assumption that there have to be 25% or 50% bad teachers out there, because… well… there just have to be) but at least it gives you a good idea of which communities require economic development.

    1. I totally disagree.  Read the L.A. Times piece.  It’s unbelievably well-researched, and makes a very good case that nothing is done to rate and reward teachers who do a great job, and get rid of crappy teachers.

      From the beginning of the article:

      Yet year after year, one fifth-grade class learns far more than the other down the hall. The difference has almost nothing to do with the size of the class, the students or their parents.

      It’s their teachers.

      With Miguel Aguilar, students consistently have made striking gains on state standardized tests, many of them vaulting from the bottom third of students in Los Angeles schools to well above average, according to a Times analysis. John Smith’s pupils next door have started out slightly ahead of Aguilar’s but by the end of the year have been far behind.

      I reject the economic development argument as being too simplistic, and the fallback argument any time anything goes wrong in the system.

      The article goes on…(emphasis mine)

      • Contrary to popular belief, the best teachers were not concentrated in schools in the most affluent neighborhoods, nor were the weakest instructors bunched in poor areas. Rather, these teachers were scattered throughout the district. The quality of instruction typically varied far more within a school than between schools.

      • Although many parents fixate on picking the right school for their child, it matters far more which teacher the child gets. Teachers had three times as much influence on students’ academic development as the school they attend. Yet parents have no access to objective information about individual instructors, and they often have little say in which teacher their child gets.

      • Many of the factors commonly assumed to be important to teachers’ effectiveness were not. Although teachers are paid more for experience, education and training, none of this had much bearing on whether they improved their students’ performance.

      Other studies of the district have found that students’ race, wealth, English proficiency or previous achievement level played little role in whether their teacher was effective.

      1. to mean that teachers have no effect on their students. Or that there’s no such thing as a crappy teacher.

        You can point to that article, I can point to 90% free and reduced lunch schools commonly being labeled as “failing” under CSAP.

        The fact of the matter is that it’s not one thing that’s fucking the situation up. I’m cool with looking at fair implementation methods for SB-191 teacher evaluations, but what I’m not OK with is blaming teachers for all of the systemic problems–both in our society and in our education system. We all bear some burden of responsibility.

        1. I can point to 90% free and reduced lunch schools commonly being labeled as “failing” under CSAP.

          So maybe a one-size-fits all, “Leave It To Beaver” model doesn’t work in those schools.

          Horses for courses.

        1. It’s a complicated issue, LB, and the only recommendation I’ve ever seen from you is to get rid of teachers’ unions. That’s been the sum total solution you’ve offered.

          It’s definitely not economics alone; but it’s simplistic to dismiss it from the equation, especially when the best public schools are always in the affluent parts of town and the worst in the poor ones. That’s a correlation that can’t be ignored.

      2. Glad you posted it.

        The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the current system for teaching and graduating kids is failing miserably. So that’s a start because it means at the end of the day, we all want to find a better way to educate our kids.

        Value added analysis strikes me as a reasonable tool to start evaluating our teachers, provided it is done over a series of years and isn’t the sole method on which an administrator decides who is and isn’t effective in the classroom.

        1. But no, not everyone agrees with that premise.  In fact, compared internationally and after pulling out low-income and other high-needs kids, the US does just as well as everyone else.

          A little background is here: http://voices.washingtonpost.c

          This really seems to say that the teaching is just as good as countries with homogenous populations and low childhood poverty rates.

          So no, we’re not failing kids miserably.  We’re failing POOR kid miserably.

            1. Obviously, the truth is that this question has been answered many, many times. Here’s a sampling:










              But MOTR and Ralphie think if they keep asking the same question, even though it’s been repeatedly answered in very straightforward fashion, they can create the illusion that it hasn’t been answered and the false impression that the group must therefore be hiding something.

              1. That linking to a bunch of posts that don’t answer the question isn’t the same as actually answering the question.

                And the question was posed to DD, not you.  Are you the parrot on his or her shoulder?

  2. Thanks for starting it!

    Now, if we could only include portfolio-based and oral exams as additional measures.

    Also, the part that DPS misses is that the principal pool is very weak.  A good evaluation depends on having an evaluator that knows what they’re looking at.  There are really great veteran teachers in DPS that can be converted to principals or peer mentors that are instead being shown the door because they’re too old.

    So it’s great that the Gates Foundation gave them a grant to have a better evaluation tool, but if you’re not also going to improve principals/evaluators, what’s the point?

    With DPS it’s better to adopt a wait-and-see attitude and not just be sold because they have a nice-sounding program.

    1. Yeah- the it’s ez with 40/20 hindsight to blame leadership and say principal pool is weak.

      But there is a reason for that.

      Similar reason the University President pool for Colorado is weak.   Benson has worked out better than I would have predicted- great appointment.  But we got no juice on the national scene.

      Same kind of trouble for DPS. But different.

      Wait and see is not for me.  I’m happy to wait an see about electric cars – though I’d rather sooner than later. I’ll wait and see about Tebow and Jimenez and even the beloved Cubs.  But when it comes to school, I’ll wait and see from a distance.

  3. There is an administrator making a decision between a teacher whose students are showing poor progress on CSAPs or losing ground, and a final decision on employment.

    I don’t see much harm in giving administrators an extra nudge to, and few barriers to, firing teachers who are repeatedly at the very bottom in student CSAP progress, which is what the new program does, as I understand it.

    Realistically, the percentage of teachers in any given school who need to be removed from the classroom is probably pretty modest, and administrators with experience have little difficulty distinguishing between teachers who’ve had a run of really troubled kids whom they haven’t been able to help despite genuine and competent efforts for a couple of years and teachers really need to go.  If CSAP based indicators can help give administrators  the courage of their convictions by confirming their gut instincts in a number of cases, so much the better.

    A program like this isn’t going to do much to increase the average level of instructional quality, but it may spare a significant number of kids the tough luck of getting a really incompetent teacher.

    While there are all sorts of factors that can influence student CSAP progress, very low levels of progress a couple of years in a row are legitimate reasons for administrators to pay more attention to what is going on in a teacher’s classroom.

    Also, I suspect that the program may be self-executing to a great extent.  A teacher who is doing a bad job for whatever reasons and then is placed on probations will probably often decide to seek a new career path (burnout rates are high for teachers as it is now) to avoid the embarassment of being fired and because that teacher is getting confirmation of an existing belief that he or she isn’t doing a good job.  So, this may nudge weak teachers to make the career change they’d already thought they might need in many cases.

  4. First off, yes there are many items that impact how well a child does. But the top two, and they have vastly greater impact than anything else, are the child’s mom and their teacher (and according to the studies us dads have very little impact).

    So I think we should all start by agreeing that the job a teacher does is very important and a good teacher is a very valuable professional who should be treated and paid commensurate with that expertise.

    And that means we do need to track teachers, both to help them improve, and to remove those that can’t or won’t do a good job. So how should they be graded?

    1. Measure the advancement of the children in each school, compared to comparable classes in that and similar schools.

    2. Come up with small ongoing tests over the year that across the tests provide a comprehensive measure. Eliminate single high stakes tests. Add tests for key items like creativity and critical thinking.

    3. Principals, maybe with master teachers, need to regularly watch classes. And do so using criteria as to what works and doesn’t work in the classroom. (ie not just what their gut tells them)

    4. Include a system to determine what specific practices, etc. a teacher most needs improvement on. Measure improvement on those practices.

    5. Put some (not a lot) weight on how well that teacher’s kids do the following year. It’s not just the year in the classroom, but are they really lined up to succeed the next year.

    6. If a teacher does poorly, but the principal thinks they could be good elsewhere – move them. Some do better with the smartest kids, others best with the remedial. Some do better teaching math, others history. Some high school, some 2nd grade.

    The other thing to keep in mind is we will never have a perfect system. If the system operates well, then occasionally a teacher will be fired unfairly. And occasionally an incompetent teacher will be kept for several years when they should have been fired. The trick is to do the best we can and constantly work to improve the process.

    I also think training the principals and others involved in performing the evaluations, feedback, and training is key.

    1. When you norm the data for the stay at home parent, still more often the mom, and the single parent, also more often the mom, the dad shines a bit better.

      Ie, when dad stays home or is the single paretn he emerges a much larger factor.

      Anyhoo- the goal should not be to never lose a good teacher. It should be to never retain a poor one.

  5. Does anyone wonder how these ineffective teachers obtained their permanent positions in the first place? Here’s how: a principal signed off on their abilities after they served three years of probationary status.

    There are many outstanding principals. But without a doubt there are many, many principals who don’t know good instruction, can’t identify it, and aren’t sure if it’s happening or not in their school. And they aren’t effectively supervised by their superiors. Take it from me, I work (independently) in dozens of schools and I write from experience.

    Each school district is required to have a written teacher evaluation policy that serves as the per se definition of good teaching. So, for better or worse, a definition of good teaching is in place. Principals have the tools they need to do the job, many simply don’t know how to use them.

    1. In a lot of cases a good teacher will get in a rut or burn out. So they received tenure and then over time the quality of their instruction declines.

      You also have cases, as you said, of teachers receiving tenure who never should have had it granted. But I think the larger cause is people change over time.

      1. People do change over time but the principal has the responsibility to closely monitor what is happening. There are many measures a principal can take to deal with declining performance.

        Your ideas for principals’ monitoring instruction are exactly what principals should (and could already) be doing, it’s just that many of them honestly don’t know how. In Colorado we have underestimated the effect that principal leadership has on teaching. While principals don’t directly teach kids, they create the conditions for good teaching to exist, or not. We could use a lot more focus on leadership development in Colorado schools.

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