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Sunday, December 28, 2008

The NYC BOE Puts Teachers To The Test

October 2, 2008
Teachers to Be Measured Based on Students’ Standardized Test Scores
New York City is beginning to measure the performance of thousands of elementary and middle school teachers based on how much their students improve on annual state math and reading tests.

To avoid a contentious fight with the teachers’ union, the New York City Department of Education has agreed not to make public the reports — which described teachers as average, below average or above average with various types of students — nor let them influence formal job evaluations, pay and promotions.

Rather, according to a memo to principals from Chancellor Joel I. Klein and Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, sent on Wednesday night, the reports are designed to be guides for the teachers themselves to better understand their achievements and shortcomings.

“They won’t be used in tenure determinations or the annual rating process,” the memo said. “Many of you have told us how useful it would be to better understand how your efforts are influencing student progress.”

Still, even without formal consequences for teachers, the plan is likely to anger teachers and parents who are already critical of the increasing emphasis on standardized test scores as a substitute for judging school quality. It follows the city’s much-debated issuance of report cards labeling individual schools A through F largely on the basis of student improvement on state exams.

The State Legislature this spring prohibited the use of student test scores in teacher tenure decisions. The new measurement system — called “teacher data reports” — is an expansion of a pilot program that the city began in January involving about 2,500 teachers at 140 schools. The pilot program was so controversial that several participating principals did not tell teachers they were being monitored.

Christopher Cerf, the deputy chancellor overseeing the program, said it was important to get teachers “comfortable with the data, in a positive, affirming way.”

“The information in here is a really, really important way to foster change and improvement,” he said. “We don’t want people to be threatened by this.”

In introducing the pilot program, Mr. Cerf said it would be a “powerful step forward” to have the teacher measurements made public, arguing, “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.” But this week, he said that for now the reports will be treated as personnel records not subject to public-records laws.

Principals interviewing prospective teachers from other schools would be permitted to ask candidates for their reports, but the candidates would not have to provide them.

Ms. Weingarten said that the assurance that there would not be a public airing of individual teachers’ information made her more comfortable with the idea of the reports, which she said could help teachers identify their strengths and weaknesses.

“This can be used to inform instruction and advance it,” she said in an interview. “If this is something that becomes a ranking facility, opinions will be very, very different. That door has now been closed.”

Still, Ms. Weingarten said the reports answer only “a very narrow question” of how a particular teacher’s students do on tests. She and others have long argued that there are many other criteria on which teachers should be evaluated.

The new reports are part of a broader bid by the city to improve the ways teachers are recruited, trained and measured. Last year, the Education Department began a push to get rid of subpar teachers before they earned tenure, forming a team of lawyers and consultants to help principals amass enough information to oust those who are deemed deficient and do not show signs of improvement.

There have been similar efforts across the country, as politicians and academic experts say that teachers are the most important element in improving student performance and closing the gap in achievement between white and minority students. School systems in Texas and Tennessee, for example, have used student performance and improvement as a tool to evaluate teachers.

New York City plans to generate reports for roughly 18,000 teachers — every math and English teacher in fourth through eighth grades.

Amy McIntosh, the Education Department’s chief talent officer, who helped develop the system, said that her team would continue to explore ways to monitor the effectiveness of the city’s nearly 60,000 other public school teachers, but that for now the state tests were the only data on which to reliably base evaluations of them.

The teacher data report balances the progress students make on state tests and their absences with factors that include whether they receive special-education services or qualify for free lunch, as well as the size, race and gender breakdown of the teacher’s class.

Using a complicated statistical formula, the report computes a “predicted gain” for each teacher’s class, then compares it to the students’ actual improvements on the test. The result is a snapshot analysis of how much the teacher contributed to student growth.

The reports classify each teacher as average, above average or below average in effectiveness with different categories of students, like those who score in the top third or the lowest third on the test, and those still learning English or enrolled in special-education programs. It also contains separate measurements on effectiveness in teaching boys and girls, though it does not distinguish performance by students’ race or income level. Teachers will also be given a percentile ranking indicating how their performance compares to those who teach similar students and to a citywide pool.

“When we have talked to teachers about this, there is real insight about the students,” Ms. McIntosh said. “They will say, ‘I didn’t realize I was teaching to the bottom,’ or, ‘I am really great with boys, and less so with girls.’ ”

Last year’s pilot program also attempted to measure how well a principal’s perception of teachers aligned with the student test score data. According to the Education Department, about 69 percent of the teachers whom principals rated “exceptional” were in the top half on the reports. And 73 percent of those whom principals called “fair, poor or very poor” were in the bottom half.

Frank Cimino, the principal of Public School 193 in Brooklyn, which participated in the pilot program, said he was still uncertain about how useful the reports were.

“I would like to make a comparison to see what it shows this year to what it showed last year,” he said. “I don’t think anything can replace getting into the classroom.”

Teacher Data Initiative
A few things to keep in mind when viewing the sample Teacher Data Report:

The sample Teacher Data Report contains illustrative, not real, data.
The name of the teacher and the school are fictitious—any resemblance to the name of an actual teacher or school is purely coincidental.
The sample report is a working draft. The reports' format may be revised based on additional feedback from teachers and school leaders before they are distributed.
Assistance understanding the reports
Schools will receive training on how to read and interpret Teacher Data Reports before they receive their reports. In addition, Web-based tools will be available to help teachers and school leaders understand Teacher Data Reports at the time that the reports are made available.

Read the letter about the Teacher Data Initiative from Chancellor Klein and UFT President Randi Weingarten

View the sample Teacher Data Report

Tell us what you think!

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