Teacher Evaluations and Value Added

As many may have heard by now, NYS has passed legislation designed to enhance it's Race To The Top (RTTT) application as well as "support the Regents reform agenda to improve teaching and learning, increasing the opportunity of all students to graduate from high school ready for higher education and employment.."  We had a fantastic discussion about it at a regional data meeting and it raised many more questions than it answered.

Having watched the May 11th webcast announcing the legislative reforms around the APPR process, it is clear that incorporating student performance into teacher evaluations makes some sense (at least to me!).  By looking at growth in both the NYS assessments and locally determined assessments, understanding the impact that teachers have by seeing how their students shows growth makes some logical sense.  The key word seems to be growth (rather than achievement.)

Without a doubt - this raises some issues and questions and of course, some concerns.  While I wrestle with the impact this might have (positive and negative), the lawyer in me just can't stop thinking about the legal implications of these changes.  Or at least the challenges that could be presented.

Fortunately - I am not alone and there are some well thought out arguments that has my gray matter really working.  Bruce Baker over at Schoolfinance101's blog teases out his thoughts in "Pondering Legal Implications of Value-Added Teacher Evaluation."  Interesting here is whether the proposals to link evaluations to student performance will in fact raise due process challenges due to the idea that "tenure" is in fact a property interest.  Many other possible legal arguments are addressed but I find the tenure rights one very interesting (and very complicated!)

At Edjurist, Justin Bathon posted a response to the post above touching again on the due process piece but adding another tidbit that has really been bugging me about the use of quantitative data as well as the quantative way in which New York is proposing to weight the components of the evaluation:

Generally, all this is what happens when you start forcing statistics in the legal system - which is not built for that at all. The legal system is a very qualitatively oriented system, making decisions mostly based on evidence obtained through interviews and the like. The jury, even, is a qualitative system that collectively makes a decision based on all the evidence presented. Statistics throw a wrench in all that because people react differently to numbers. They think numbers don't lie (although, of course, we know that they can and do).
Finally, Scott Bauries responds from the perspective of an employment lawyer and I will warn you - there is plenty of legal speak here.   Bottom line on this post - yes there will be lawsuits ("Simply put, if you fire people, and they think their firings were unfair, then you are going to be sued.") but it is going to very difficult for many plaintiffs (i.e. the teachers) to be successful.

I share these to help to continue the discourse around this topic.  Many are wondering with data in the mix - will people want to become teachers? Will we lose teachers because we have set this new bar? Or will we in fact begin to have others view teaching as a profession with the same accountability measures that other professions have?  Weigh in - I would love to hear your thoughts!


Mrs. Tenkely said...

This is an interesting topic on many levels. Being that I am a teacher at heart, I don't think about the legal ramifications of such measures immediately.
I think in theory that evaluating teachers based on student growth is good. But we are in the human business, and in the human business quantitative data rarely shows an accurate portrayal of what is really happening. Growth (even minimal) is hard to achieve when you have students who go home to an abusive home each night (often there is regression). Growth is hard to achieve when you have students who don't speak the language that the test is given in. Growth is hard to achieve when you have a transient school population where students attend 5 schools in a single school year. Growth is hard to achieve when kids come to school hungry, have just had an argument with a family member, are worried about a pet that may die. We are not working with cogs in a system that can be easily measured on performance. My fear is that because we are in the human business, a test won't show the full picture of what is happening.
I think you will still have people who want to go into the teaching profession because at their core, that is what they do. I think the real struggle will come in convincing people to teach at the schools in high-risk areas. The price will be too high to pay.

Theresa G said...

Good points!

I was very doubtful at first when I heard about the use of the data - seems to go against the notion of teacher evaluations for me. Looking at the growth aspect there are still many, many questions: How much growth is enough? What constitutes growth? etc.

I am heartened a bit in that the NYS plan is not yet "complete" - I want to know more about the use of the formative assessments (which helps to break reliance solely on a standardized test.) I also know that the previous ventures our region has made into a value-added model showed that those students who are under-achieving were in fact showing growth. It was the already "proficient" students who were not!! It has sparked something of a resurgance in "enrichment" programs as a result.

I worry about our high risk populations as well- will folks want to opt out of teaching them because the stakes are too high? Having taught 15:1 students - I would do it all over again with these new changes. I would want a way to measure growth and not just achievement on tests designed to measure their very disabilities. But I agree - many may not.
No doubt - these changes and the waves they create will impact education. I am just wondering how as educators we will step up to ensure this change is good for students.

Jennifer said...

I agree with your point about high needs. I'd get my special ed degree all over again, regardless of growth added. My first year of teaching was marked by the success of a child tracking an item with his eyes - and I'd do it all over again.

Thanks for posting this and keeping us updated on the changes!