The Teacher Evaluations Debate Comes To NH: An Update from ANHPE (@BillDuncan)

The Teacher evaluation debate comes to New Hampshire

The national debate about the future of American public education – the “education reform” debate that has taken shape over the past 10 years – has two major parts.   One is essentially about privatization of our public school systems – either though for-profit charter schools (unlike those we have in New Hampshire) or by using publicly-funded vouchers to send children to private schools (like our New Hampshire voucher plan).

The other part of the debate is all about how best to hold schools and teachers accountable for educational results.  This often has a corporate tone, as in, “Show me the improved scores or you will be fired (if you’re a teacher) or shut down (if you’re a school).”   In this form, evaluation is not directly concerned with curriculum questions and can become a club to beat on teachers.  At the other end of the spectrum, teacher evaluation can be integrated with curriculum as a tool for coaching teachers and improving schools.

That debate on how teacher performance should be evaluated has arrived in New Hampshire.

First, the New Hampshire Department of Education is about to publish it’s “Model Educator Support and Evaluation System” (as reported on NHPR).  Teacher evaluation is a key part of the department’s application to the U.S. Department of Education asking to waive the requirements of No Child Left Behind.  Our department of education clearly takes the “coaching” approach to evaluation, but it will be important to assess any teacher evaluation legislation proposed this year on that same scale of corporate vs. coaching.

Then, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization gave New Hampshire’s education policies an F grade in its recent report.  Ms. Rhee is clearly an advocate of the corporate approach, as you can see in the Frontline documentary about her.  Although the report is political advocacy, not really a contribution to education policy, it will undoubtedly be used as fodder in the New Hampshire education debate.

And, finally, House Education Committee members Rep Rick Ladd (R, Haverhill) and Rep. Ralph Boehm (R-Litchfield) have submitted a Legislative Services Request to draft a bill “relative to teacher evaluation systems.”  We will track that here when there is something to track.

How should we think about all this?

Although there are many components to teacher evaluation, the heart of the matter is what’s called the “value added modeling,” or VAM.  Our own Scott Marion, of Rye, is a nationally respected practitioner in teacher and student evaluation and VAM.  He works with departments of education across the country, including our own here in New Hampshire.  With some guidance from Scott (but any errors are my own), I’ll do a series of posts to help make VAM and the debate about it accessible to parents and the rest of us.

Value added modeling is a way of analyzing student test scores to attribute a student’s progress to specific teachers.  This is a new discipline, still very much in development.  If it were a drug, it would be in the testing phase, pre-FDA certification.  But it is in use in a number of districts around the country.

The VAM debate is, first, about whether it works at all.  Then, what kinds of tests can effectively be used for this kind of teacher assessment?  Even then, many wonder how reliable can VAM ever be.  And, finally, the most visible part of the debate is over how much weight VAM results should carry in a teacher’s evaluation.  Many knowledgeable practitioners seem to feel that VAM should be limited to 20-25% of a teacher’s total evaluation, with classroom observation, peer review, student feedback and other factors comprising the rest.  But many advocates and school districts, particularly those who subscribe to the corporate style of evaluation, propose evaluation plans that rely on VAM for as much as 50% of the teacher’s evaluation.

Since VAM is part of the NHDOE model support and evaluation plan, we’ll post more later on all this.   If you want to go a step deeper now, here is a good place to start: a 20 page piece by Henry Braun, published by the Educational Testing Service, called “Using Student Progress to Evaluate Teachers: A Primer on Value-Added Models.”

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Originally posted on ANHPE  and NH Labor News 

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  • Aahz

    When I started my schooling in California in the 1970s it was one of the highest ranked states for education. Evaluation by test scores (Matt’s “corporate” approach) took hold in California while I was in elementary school. Now, they’re in the bottom 20% of states in education.

    I don’t know if “VAM” works, but I think there’s pretty clear evidence that test scores alone certainly don’t.

    • The Money Magician

      Um… no, that’s not pretty clear evidence. Coincidence != causality.

      It’s almost as silly as if someone said: “There was no Free State Project in 1970. Now there is. That’s why the schools are failing in California.”

      For another possibility, also without any evidence of causality, I’d think about the low level of education funding in California. See e.g. http://www.educationjustice.org/news/november-14-2012-californias-low-level-of-school-funding-declines.html .

      Incidentally, the study referenced in the article shows New Hampshire as the third-most-regressive state in the country for education funding vis-a-vis poverty level – a problem which the Free State Project is likely to exacerbate.

      A related California problem is the decline of their public university system, due principally to funding cuts. See http://www.salon.com/2012/10/02/california_educations_painful_decline/ . We got a dose of that last year, when the legislature gutted UNH funding. This is another problem that the Free State Party is likely to “consider a feature”.

      But I digress.

  • hannah

    Presumably, teachers are qualified when they are hired and their initial probationary period provides an opportunity for on site evaluation of their competence.
    Trying to evaluate teachers on the basis of student performance is basically dishonest. That kind of assessment might work for a plumber or electrician, people working with inert materials. It isn’t appropriate when we’re dealing with dynamic organisms whose abilities develop in spurts over a long period of time.
    I say targeting teachers with constant assessment programs is dishonest because the only purpose it serves is to justify the addition of ever more middlemanagers and administrators. Our whole society has become swollen with (largely incompetent) middlemen in the process of developing more and more varieties of human husbandry.

    Human husbandry = the exploitation by people of their own kind to their detriment. In part, that is not a happenstance. It is a consequence of schools of management teaching that the way to get anything done is to manipulate people–a theory that’s attractive to people whose practical skills are few. We no longer make things; we make people do things. That’s how come Willard Romney could refer to himself and his cohort as “makers” in contrast to the “takers”–i.e. the people who take orders.
    It’s a vicarious world, ideal for people who don’t like to get dirt under their fingernails.

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