A Window: The Regents and the Commissioner Have an Opportunity to Craft Student Tests and Teacher Evaluation Plans That Are Meaningful to Families and Staffs

In New York State parents opted one in five students out of the grades 3-8 English and Math exams that are required by federal law – 225,000 students. Other parents considered opting out and fearing some negative impact on their children decided not to opt out this year. As it turns out these exams are not “high stakes” for children, in fact, they are “no stakes” for children. The exams exist to rank the state, school districts, schools and teachers. By federal statute and regulation the state must determine “priority,” “focus” and “out-of-time” schools, require intervention plans with the ultimate threat of school closings. Part of a teacher’s “score” is based on student progress on state tests as determined by a complex algorithm usually referred to as Value-Added Modeling (VAM). The teacher “score” can be used as the basis of dismissal procedures.

The opt out parents are part of a rejection of a stumbling political system; the political parties spar, attack each other, and fail to pass what appear to be “no-brainer” ideas. The popularity of Trump is a rejection of everyday politics; voters seem to be rejecting incumbency, seeking a new crop of candidates who promise to listen to the concerns of voters.

We are fourteen months away from a presidential election as well as the election of the 150 members of the Assembly and the 63 members of the Senate.

The opt out parents are among the worst fears of electeds, they cross party lines, they are passionate, they are single issue voters and the issue can’t be reduced to a meaningful single vote on a piece of legislation.

The new state commissioner, MaryEllen Elia arrived in early July and immediately began dripping gasoline on the embers of opt out: Parents have a right to opt out; however I support state tests; superintendents must do everything possible to convince parents not to opt out, districts may lose funding, whoops, no they won’t lose funding … as she stumbled from comment to comment the opt out parents saw her as yet another bureaucrat looking to test and punish their child. Perhaps incorrectly, she sent the wrong message as her first message.

Let’s take a deep breath; there is a window for the Board of Regents to explore a major course correction. At the September meeting the regents will give final approval, with opposing votes, to the new, controversial, Cuomo-imposed principal-teacher evaluation plan – the state will move from the current plan (3012-c: read the 166-page SED Guidance document here) to the new plan, referred to as the “matrix” (3012-d: read links to guidance here).

The new law, acknowledging the complexity of designing new plans within brief timelines allow for districts to ask for waivers (Read Guidance here) – delaying the date of completing a plan from November 15th to March 15th, effectively delaying the implementation of 3012-d for a year.

Districts/BOCES that are facing hardships and are therefore unable to have an APPR plan consistent with §3012-d approved by the Department by the November 15, 2015 deadline must submit a Hardship Waiver application in order to maintain their eligibility for a State aid increase.

Chancellor Tisch, to her credit, has made it clear that the regents will look favorably on applications for waivers.

Five hours down I-95 the Congress will be considering the much-delayed reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. While the bills that passed the House and the Senate contain substantial differences there is a good chance that the conference will craft a final bill, a bill that the president will have to sign or veto. While it is difficult to know with certainty a bill might be on the president’s desk later this year or early in 2016.

I provided a civics lesson on How a Bill Becomes a Law earlier in the year: https://mets2006.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/civics-101-the-struggle-over-the-reauthorization-of-nclbesea-as-a-teaching-tool/

Education Week has written extensively about the differences in the House and Senate bills; however, both bills give far more authority to the states on issues of school accountability.

Pending ESEA Reauthorization
Under both House and Senate bills, states would have to stick with the NCLB law’s testing schedule. But they could decide how much weight to give those tests in gauging school performance and could set their own goals for student achievement. There would be no requirement that states identify a certain percentage of schools as low-performing, or use any specific turnaround techniques. Both bills would also open the door to some sort of local assessment, although the House bill goes further than the Senate measure.

The regents and the commissioner, in a transparent climate, should begin to discuss changes in the state testing and principal-teacher assessment laws and regulations, which may be possible under a new NCLB.

While the new NCLB will require annual testing will it require the testing of every child or will the law allow using sampling techniques that are used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress – NAEP – referred to as the nation’s report card?

Since NAEP assessments are administered uniformly using the same sets of test booklets across the nation, NAEP results serve as a common metric for all states and selected urban districts. The assessment stays essentially the same from year to year, with only carefully documented changes. This permits NAEP to provide a clear ppicture of student academic progress over time.

NAEP does not test every subject every year; NAEP uses sampling methods,

In state assessments (mathematics, reading, science, and writing), a sample of schools and students is selected to represent each participating state. In an average state, 2,500 students in approximately 100 public schools are assessed per grade, for each subject assessed. The selection process for schools uses stratified random sampling within categories of schools with similar characteristics.

Could New York State use the same stratified random sampling processes to assess student performance across the state?

I admit this is a complex process, it may not be permitted under the yet to be negotiated new NCLB; however, a NAEP-type sampling, if possible, would remove the stigma of testing and provide the state, the localities and the public with the data required to assess our progress.

If we move away from testing every student every year how can we assess teacher performance?

The two assessment plans in New York State, 3012-c and the new “matrix,” 3012-d reply on highly questionable algorithms with substantial errors of measurement and supervisory observations using state-approved rubrics such as the Danielson Frameworks.

Supervisory observation of lessons has an inherent flaw – will all supervisors view lessons through the same lens? While the lens may be the Danielson Frameworks a supervisor in an inner city high poverty school may “score” a teacher quite differently than a supervisor in a high achieving suburban school. In the last round of teacher assessments (APPR) there were districts in which virtually every teacher received a maximum or near maximum score – every teacher was “highly effective.” Charlotte Danielson demurs, at a meeting I attended she responded to a principal who proudly proclaimed in her school every teacher would be highly effective. Danielson interrupted, “We’re lucky if a teacher occasionally visits highly effective.”

Inter-rater reliability is a complex and core issue that has been the subject of considerable research: read a few of the studies,

“Inter-rater reliability Measuring and Promoting Inter-Rater Agreement of Teacher and Principal Performance Ratings” http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED532068.pdf

“Evaluating Inter-rater Reliability of a National Assessment Model for Teacher Performance” http://ijep.icpres.org/2011/v5n2/jmporter_djelinek.pdf

The new law, 3012-d addressed the issue by requiring “outside evaluators,” well-intentioned; however, why would the outside observer be any more reliable than the in-school observer? The New York City system, called ADVANCE does try to address the reliability issue; how successfully only time will tell.

Unfortunately the teacher observation reliability problem is separate and apart from the teacher improvement conundrum. Does the teacher observation/feedback process actually impact teacher performance? Charlotte Danielson’s other book, “Talk About Teaching: Leading Professional Conversations” (2010) explains that the conversations that have nothing to do with assessment are the key to improving practice,

Another process to investigate is the Inspectorate System that is commonplace in Europe. Trained and well-respected “inspectors,” make in-depth visits to schools, not unlike the Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams that visited low-performing schools and wrote detailed “findings-recommendations” reports based on a public set of standards.

I wrote about the Inspectorate Systems: https://mets2006.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/flawed-evaluation-systems-how-should-we-assess-schoolteacher-performance-who-will-have-the-cojones-to-admit-their-errors-and-choose-a-validreliablestable-system/

With a new reauthorized NCLB in the wings and with waivers postponing the requirement to produce 3012-d plans the regents and the commissioner have a window, an opportunity to craft a new approach that would relieve families and students of the burden for sitting for meaningless tests and time to create a plan that both assesses principal and teacher performance and assists all educators in improving their practice.

The failure to find “fixes” could lead to many hundreds of thousands of opt out families and the angry voter-parents seeking elected scalps in September 2016 primaries and the November 2016 general election.

We don’t have a lot of time – the regents and the commissioner should begin a review process, a public transparent process as soon as possible with a goal of producing proposed legislation for the new legislative session.

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