fariña's fix

Fariña to state officials: Cuomo’s evaluation plan needs changes

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch (left) and city schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new evaluation law could mean more city teachers will earn a top rating, not fewer, city officials warned the state last month.

According to an analysis conducted by the city Department of Education, the state’s new evaluation system is “drastically more” skewed toward awarding teachers the top rating when compared to the system New York City has used for the past two years. In a 14-page letter sent to state education officials on April 27, Chancellor Carmen Fariña wrote that the “matrix” included in the law should be changed to correct the positive bias — one of a number of pointed recommendations offered by the city.

The letter, which the department kept under wraps for weeks, was sent as the state began the process of finalizing a new evaluation system for New York’s teachers and principals. Lengthy and detailed, it shows that city officials have been working behind the scenes to make the case for preserving much of the city’s current evaluation system while avoiding public criticism of the law as the city navigates a contentious legislative session.

The letter’s most surprising takeaway is that, in New York City, Cuomo may be about to exacerbate the problem he sought to fix through his new evaluation law. Cuomo complained for months leading up to this year’s state budget that the current evaluation system was flawed because it was too easy for teachers to receive a good rating. Last year, 9.2 percent of city teachers received the top rating of highly effective, compared to 58 percent of teachers outside of the city.

Under the new legislation, evaluations will be are based on two main components: student performance and classroom observations. Teachers can earn a highly effective rating by earning that rating on one component and an effective rating on the second. (Here’s how ratings from the two categories get combined into a single rating in the state’s new matrix.)

But Fariña argued that teachers should only be eligible for a highly effective rating if they earn that on both main components.

“This change would also eliminate the extremely strong bias toward highly effective that the currently specified matrix unintentionally introduces,” Fariña wrote.

The city Department of Education's proposal to change the state's evaluation matrix, from its letter. The yellow boxes indicate the city's changes, which would ensure that only two "highly effective" subscores could result in an overall "highly effective" rating.
The city Department of Education’s proposal to change the state’s evaluation matrix, from its letter. The yellow boxes indicate the city’s changes, which would ensure that only two “highly effective” subscores could result in an overall “highly effective” rating.

Meanwhile, she said, the state should also take a hard look at the quality of the tests that will play such a significant role in the evaluations.

The city “does not feel confident that they fully capture student achievement growth,” Fariña said.

The State Education Department did not respond to questions about the city’s feedback, and the governor’s office declined to comment.

The letter is among dozens of documents and more than 3,000 emails sent to the State Education Department in the weeks after the legislature passed the controversial evaluation changes in April. After the law left many of the details of the new system to be decided by state officials, the education department requested feedback from districts, teachers, principals, parents, and other education groups about the design of the new evaluation system. That process culminated in a much-touted summit earlier this month, and most of the feedback was posted to the state’s website.

The city declined to share its recommendations, which were not posted online, though they were part of the public feedback process. A spokeswoman said the department was “entirely focused” on creating its evaluation system. State officials released the documents on Friday after requests from Chalkbeat.

On Monday, state officials are expected to unveil their own recommendations for the evaluation system, with final regulations to be approved no earlier than mid-June. Under the current law, districts have until Nov. 15 to implement their new evaluation systems, a timeline Fariña called “unrealistic and potentially detrimental” to a successful rollout of the new system.

The city is particularly concerned about the outside evaluators required by the new law, the letter shows. One way to comply with the regulation that every teacher be observed by someone who works outside of their building would be to hire least 320 full-time independent evaluators — an “extremely expensive” proposition given that the city already employs 900 operational and instructional support staff people.

To avoid that, the city is recommending that principals, assistant principals, and top-rated teachers be allowed to become certified evaluators for teachers at other schools, in addition to retired teachers, university faculty, superintendents, and superintendents’ staff members. The department is also asking for the state to allow the city to experiment with using outside evaluators for only a subset of teachers in the system’s first year.

The outside evaluation should count for between 5 and 20 percent of a teacher’s observation score, the city said, in line with the city teachers union’s suggestion that principals’ evaluations remain paramount.

The United Federation of Teachers, in its own advocacy letter, asked state officials to eliminate the “group measures” that allowed teachers of non-tested subjects like art to have their student performance scores calculated using students and subjects they didn’t teach. The city said that tactic should remain, along with another method that would restrict those calculations to a teacher’s own students, until more appropriate assessments became available.

Among the department’s other recommendations were to allow the use of student surveys as a “significant factor” in evaluations, something that would also require a law change. The city has piloted student surveys over the past two years, rolling them out in all schools this year.

Read the city’s entire letter below:

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede