here they come

New state data paves way for final teacher and principal ratings

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Emolior Academy Principal Derick Spaulding, speaking with Chancellor Carmen Fariña, is among 1,000 city principals whose evaluations will be based on student growth score data, which the state sent to districts on Friday.

The State Education Department sent final test-score data to school districts on Friday, meaning the city has what it needs to calculate performance ratings for teachers and principals for the first time using its new evaluation system.

Friday’s delivery included “growth scores” for teachers in fourth through eighth grades and principals of elementary and middle schools. The scores, based on student performance on the state English and math tests, are designed to calculate how much students learn in a year while controlling for differences in demographics and past performance.

The city is now charged with combining those scores with scores from observations and other exams for that 14 percent of the city’s teaching force and for about 1,000 elementary and middle-school principals. Ratings for the rest of the city’s teachers and principals are calculated solely by the city.

The late-summer process is new for New York City, which implemented its evaluation system for the first time last school year. It’s also coming at a time of transition for the city’s teacher evaluation office, which sources say has lost several top officials in recent weeks and was folded into another office amid the turnover.

The growth scores range from zero to 20 points and will count for 20 percent of afinal evaluation rating. Teachers and principals who receive fewer than two points will be rated “ineffective,” though they won’t face any negative consequences if they score higher on the evaluation’s other portions, like the classroom observations, thanks to state legislation passed this June.

For teachers and principals who receive low overall ratings this year, the city will have 10 days from Sept. 4 to create “improvement plans” for the upcoming school year. The district has until Oct. 17 to verify data and report final evaluation scores back to the state.

Elementary and middle school staff members can’t yet see their state-created “growth scores,” but the city must send final ratings to teachers and principals by Sept. 2. (Districts will have to wait until Aug. 28 to receive test data for high school principals.)

Though state test results count for just one-fifth of a rating, their use in evaluating teachers are the most controversial part of New York state’s evaluation law, which was passed in 2010 in order to improve the state’s chances of winning federal Race to the Top grants. The law allows districts to use evaluation ratings in making decisions about employment or giving teachers tenure, and two straight “ineffective” ratings could lead to a teacher’s firing.

Though teachers unions originally agreed to implement the new evaluations, they have increasingly criticized the role of testing, arguing that the scores aren’t an accurate portrayal of teacher quality—especially as the state tests have also changed to reflect the Common Core learning standards.

Political pressure has also gotten to the Obama administration, whose Race to the Top program encouraged many states to overhaul their evaluation laws to include student test scores. The U.S. Department of Education had pushed back against changes to New York’s evaluation system just months ago, but Secretary Arne Duncan announced a reversal on Thursday, saying states could delay the use of test results for a year as they continued to roll out the Common Core.

Though evaluations now have lower stakes in New York, the data could still be fodder for the ongoing debate over teacher quality. Last year, 92 percent of teachers statewide — excluding New York City — were rated in top two categories, effective or highly effective. Just 1 percent of teachers were rated ineffective.

Former news anchor Campbell Brown, who heads one of two parent groups suing to overturn state tenure laws, has said the low percentage of teachers rated “ineffective” in the 2013 demonstrates that the current evaluation system can’t effectively identify and remove weak teachers.

As the city calculates evaluation scores for 2013-14, the state is still dragging its feet in releasing a breakdown of even older teacher evaluation results, from the 2012-13 school year. State law bars the release of ratings by name, but it requires the department to disclose other evaluation data. Department officials plan to break down the evaluation ratings along several categories, including by school, grade, district wealth, student need and district spending, though they have been slowed by concerns over privacy.

“We anticipate a public release very soon,” state spokesman Dennis Tompkins said.

The remaining 80 percent are made up of 60 points based on classroom observations and 20 points based on other student tests.



Teachers in Millington and Knoxville just won the Oscar awards of education

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Millington English teacher Katherine Watkins reacts after learning that she is the recipient of a 2017 Milken Educator Award.

Two Tennessee teachers were surprised during school assemblies Thursday with a prestigious national teaching award, $25,000 checks, and a visit from the state’s education chief.

Katherine Watkins teaches high school English in Millington Municipal Schools in Shelby County. She serves as the English department chair and professional learning community coordinator at Millington Central High School. She is also a trained jazz pianist, published poet, and STEM teacher by summer.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Paula Franklin learns she is among the recipients.

Paula Franklin teaches Advanced Placement government at West High School in Knoxville. Since she took on the course, its enrollment has doubled, and 82 percent of her students pass with an average score that exceeds the national average.

The teachers are two of 45 educators being honored nationally with this year’s Milken Educator Awards from the Milken Family Foundation. The award includes a no-strings-attached check for $25,000.

“It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who attended each assembly. “Paula Franklin and Katherine Watkins should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce.”

Foundation chairman Lowell Milken was present to present the awards, which have been given to thousands of teachers since 1987.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Students gather around Millington teacher Katherine Watkins as she receives a check as part of her Milken Educator Award.

The Milken awards process starts with recommendations from sources that the foundation won’t identify. Names are then reviewed by committees appointed by state departments of education, and their recommendations are vetted by the foundation, which picks the winners.

Last year, Chattanooga elementary school teacher Katie Baker was Tennessee’s sole winner.

In all, 66 Tennessee educators have been recognized by the Milken Foundation and received a total of $1.6 million since the program began in the state in 1992.

You can learn more about the Milken Educator Awards here.

Colorado Vote 2018

Polis campaign releases education plan, including new promise about teacher raises

Congressman Jared Polis meets with teachers, parents and students at the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver after announcing his gubernatorial campaign. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Congressman Jared Polis, one of several Democrats running for governor, released an education plan for the state Wednesday that includes new details on tackling teacher shortages and better preparing high school students for work.

The Boulder Democrat wants to help school districts build affordable housing for teachers, increase teacher pay and make sure that “100 percent of Colorado’s school districts are able to offer dual and concurrent enrollment programs through an associate’s degree or professional certification, and work to boost enrollment in them.”

The education plan includes the congressman’s initial campaign promise to deliver free and universal preschool and kindergarten.

“Part of my frustration is that politicians have been talking about preschool and kindergarten for decades,” Polis said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “It’s time to stop talking … and actually do it.”

Big questions remain, however, about how Colorado would pay for Polis’s plans.

Free universal preschool and kindergarten would cost hundreds of millions of tax dollars the state does not have. Polis has acknowledged that voters will need to approve a tax increase to secure the funding necessary — and voters rejected Colorado’s last big statewide ask to fund education initiatives.

His additional promises, especially providing schools with more money to pay teachers, only adds to the price tag for his education plan. The campaign did not release any projections of how much his teacher pay raise proposal would cost.

“If a teacher can’t afford to live in the community they work in, that is not going to be an attractive profession,” he said. “We need to do a better job in Colorado making sure teachers are rewarded for their hard work.”

Other components to Polis’s plan includes providing student loan relief for teachers who commit to serving in high-need and rural areas, increasing teacher training and building and renovating more.

Polis is the latest Democrat to roll out an education platform.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston released more details earlier this week about his campaign promise for tuition-free community college and job training.

Johnston’s campaign estimates that the initiative would cost about $47 million annually. The campaign provided specifics on how the state would pay for it: by combining existing federal grants and state scholarships, revenue from online sales tax, and state workforce development funding. Savings from volunteer hours put in by tuition recipients also are factored in.

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy released her education plan last month.

Like Polis, Kennedy is calling for teacher raises. She wants the state’s average salary to be closer to the national average. The former state treasurer also wants to expand preschool and job training for high school students. A key piece of Kennedy’s proposal to pay for her initiatives: reforming the state’s tax laws to generate more revenue.

Other Democrats running to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, include Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and businessman Noel Ginsburg.

The Republican field to replace Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is also crowded. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced earlier this month that she’s running. Other leading Republican candidates include former Congressman Tom Tancredo, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, and businessmen Doug Robinson and Victor Mitchell. George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, dropped out of the race to instead run for attorney general.