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Gov. Bobby Jindal hasn’t yet signed the two bills that serve as the centerpiece of his latest round of education reforms, and already some affected see the sky as falling – with such responses demonstrating why this batch of changes combined with others made previously are so necessary to improve the state’s elementary and secondary education systems.
One current teacher named Madeline Cole gave us a trip through her fears about the changes. She sees the new law’s permission to make it easier to discharge underperforming teachers combined with 2010’s Act 54 that created the value-added assessment regime – where teacher performance is graded half on student academic growth and half on a few hours of administrator observation – as unfairly threatening sinecures. She called the achievement of tenure now hostage to “unrealistic” expectations, bemoans that no longer can automatic pay raises be forthcoming every year, whines that it’s hard to achieve a “perfect score” under the new system, places faith in rumors that teachers subject to corrective actions will be paid less if at all, argues that there’s too much whimsy in evaluation because “evaluation is based on how this year's kids did in comparison to last year's kids,” and chafes that under the new way of doing things no “one cares or notices that every one of my kids improved their personal best, went up in reading level, increased their GPA, and became overall more successful as individuals.”
Let’s start first with the foolishness of this, and then move to the inaccurate. The complaint about inability to achieve a perfect score indicates a disturbing attitude, that achievement of this should be more than rare. “Perfection” in the real world is rare, and I seriously doubt more than a very few teachers are “perfect” in any given year. So why should there be such concern to dilute standards to make performances score into indicating something they are not?
And why should teachers be getting regular pay raises unrelated to their performances? It’s hard to tell from her plea whether she disagrees with that, although the fact she shows enough paranoia to assign any credence to rumors of the obviously counter-productive strategy of not paying teachers on corrective status (who would think this would retain teachers, much less encourage them to improve?), or reducing their salaries by anything more than a minor amount, should make parents wonder about the quality of instruction she provides to their children.
Of course, that’s not if they already have totally lost confidence in her because she can’t even get the facts right on the new evaluation system, the information about which is easily available. It is not based upon “how this year's kids did in comparison to last year's kids,” but rather upon, as the state’s Department of Education explains, characteristics of each child in the classroom for that year, and utilizing established norms for similarly-situated students, it is then computed where that individual child should be at the end of the year given achievement expectations, as measured by assessment instruments (and, as of now, only in core subject areas, although plans are to add more area, and thus more teachers being evaluated this way, as valid instruments are developed in these areas). A whole litany of factors she claimed would render comparisons less valid in fact explicitly are taken into account in the model, such as such as socio-economic background, academic history, and exceptionalities.
This won’t affect one-off events that occur during the testing intervals she describes, such as “students who forgot to eat breakfast” and “students that skipped No. 4 by accident so their entire test sheet is off a number” and “a spider on the wall during the test, causing your entire third-grade class to shriek and get off task during the test.” But random events such as these are washed away in the aggregate scores across many students and many classes. This statistical noise will have little, if any significant impact on rating a teacher’s performance. Certainly the pilot program regarding the assessment system, which began even before the law went into effect, has not found this to be an issue.
Not that getting a student from where he is to a level where he should be, given his characteristics and starting point, seems all that important to Cole. Instead, she feels that achieving new “personal bests” – even if they are below where the child should be – or that he “went up a reading level” – even if that is still below where the child should be – or “increased their GPA” – even as rampant grade inflation decreases any validity to that measure – or that students become “overall more successful as individuals” – a nice, subjective goal for a counselor or social worker to have, but not for a teacher who taxpayers support to have children become more academically successful – are the appropriate measurements.
Which tells you all you need to know about why these reforms are so badly needed, if this attitude is pervasive among the public schools, and if this argumentation against the system that has evolved is indicative of the quality of information relayed and critical thinking abilities imparted to Louisiana students.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:20