Thursday, October 16, 2014

Releasing low performing teachers: not just some black box formula

by Hunter, originally posted in TN Edu-Independent. Reposted with permission.

Joey Garrison has a story over on the Tennessean:  5 Nashville Teachers Face Firing over Evaluations.  I would like to add some nuance and some additional data points to the story in this post.  I think we need to put this story into context of trying to ensure that every student in MNPS has a great teacher, every year, and in every subject.

Dr. Register's letter (in the MNPS board packet for 10/14/2014) outlines:

  • 70 teachers put on notice after 2012-13 year for having a Level 1.
  • 42 had better than a 1 (note a "Level 2" still isn't good, not sure how many had a "1" then "2").
Of the remaining 28 that had Level 1 two years in a row, 20 resigned or retired. 8 were recommended for termination..

Between his letter and the news story, I supposed 3 more decided to resign or retire.

If we consider the 8, 8 teachers of 5,685 certificated teachers being let go is 0.1%. If we consider the 28, 28 of 5,685 is still just 0.5%.

What does 8/5,685 teachers look like? (see the little sliver of red)

What does 28/5,685 teachers look like? (see the little larger sliver of red)

Either way, we're talking about a very small portion of adults who teach children in MNPS. 

To me, it is thus disappointing that the local teacher's union wants to defend these 5 or 8 teachers to continue teaching in an MNPS classroom.  Getting a "Level 1" rating two years in a row demonstrates pretty low professional ability as a teacher in front of students. I would think many union members would actually prefer the union to support the district's decision to release this small number of teachers, as it would be a signal that the union is about consistently increasing the quality of the profession.
For related reading, see Closing the Talent Gap (the US only gets 23% of its teachers from the top 1/3 of its high school graduates, while the world's best school systems get 100% of their teachers from the top 1/3 of their high school graduates)
In the article, Joey Garrison writes
"Teacher evaluations in Tennessee have faced criticism since their implementation four years ago, particularly for their use of student gains on tests measured through value-added data. This compares student scores to projections and comprises 35 percent of an overall composite score under the Tennessee Education Acceleration Model system. Qualitative in-class observations by principals account for an additional 50 percent. The remaining 15 percent is based on other student achievement metrics."

This is true for those teachers that have a tested individual growth score.  This is important, because the article also highlights

"One of those teachers, he said, is a longtime librarian recently converted to a computer instructor. Teachers in untested subjects like these use the average value-added data score of the school to help reach their evaluation score. Neely’s Bend is one of 14 Nashville schools on the state’s priority list for operating at the bottom 5 percent in performance statewide."

Many teachers subject to the TEAM TN evaluation system do not have an individual tested growth score. So for this teacher, either as a librarian or a computer instructor (no individual tested growth score), the TEAM TN model actually counts observations as 60% of the teacher's overall score. 40% is student achievement and growth data (25% is the school TVAAS in this case, and 15% is even subject to a range of measures that can be selected).

To recap, the TEAM TN evaluation model:
Teachers with individual growth score: 50% observation /35/15
Teachers with no individual growth score: 60% observation /25/15

My point is that if 60% of the teacher's score is from observations, then it is that teacher's peer observers who consistently, for two years in a row, rated the teacher at a very low level.  That is the only explanation for the math formula that derives a teacher's overall score as a "1" for two years in a row.

This point applies to teachers if they have an individual growth score or not. 50% or 60%, either way, is a significant amount of the overall evaluation derived from observations that are completed by trained evaluators.  You can still be at a priority school, your school or you individually have a "level 1" on TVAAS and "level 1" on achievement, but your overall score as a teacher can be higher (a "2" or better) if you are able to demonstrate some competencies through your observations (50 or 60% of your score).

To not have a human capital performance management system in place for teachers is very unreasonable, as has been the case for a long time in urban education. We have to ensure that all the students are actually learning, and that the adults teaching kids are meeting some minimum bar of acceptable professional practice. When pressed with this point, critics of teacher evaluation systems often voice support for "peer evaluations." That's already a big part of TEAM's structure.

TVAAS makes up a small portion of the overall TEAM TN evaluation score. A more accurate rendering of the district's decision to let a small number of teachers go is that peers were very much involved in these decisions. We need to recognize the entire structure of the TEAM evaluation and how a teacher's scores are calculated, largely through peer observation scores. And the takeaway is that peers thought that these teachers, through multiple observations over 2 years, were still not fulfilling their professional duties and responsibilities as educators.

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