Future of Teaching

Nashville asks to drop student surveys from evals — for now

Nashville’s schools chief has asked the state to exclude this fall’s student survey results from teachers’ evaluations this year, citing a “problematic” rollout.

Jesse Register said the measure should be excluded from evaluations for the moment because teachers had not gotten to see the first round of survey results until this week. But he told teachers and principals in an email this afternoon that he stands by the survey, called TRIPOD, as “one of the most valid and reliable measures” that the district uses in its teacher evaluations.

Under Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system, survey results factor into some teachers’ annual ratings. (Memphis has used the survey in its teacher evaluation system for years.) The Gates Foundation-funded Measures of Effective Teaching study found that student feedback and teacher observations combined were more closely correlated with teacher effectiveness than observations alone, or any number of other attributes of teachers.

But teachers in Tennessee and beyond have criticized the measure, arguing that it could give teachers an incentive to put student approval ahead of student learning.

“It’s a popularity contest,” said J.C. Bowman, president of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a teacher advocacy group. “If you’re really tough, students are going to give you a low grade. … It’s subjective, not objective.”

Register told teachers that “analysis of tens of thousands of surveys in other districts” had shown that bias swayed survey results only 1 percent of the time.

Instead, he signaled that his objection to using the survey results in evaluations focused on the fact that teachers had not gotten to see how students had rated them last spring until this week. The district is analyzing the results and will produce a guide to help teachers understand their scores soon, Register wrote.

The surveys are being administered over the next couple of weeks, but Register told teachers that he would not know whether Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman would approve his request until after the survey period.

Register’s full letter to Huffman and Assistant Commissioner Sara Heyburn is below:

From: Register, Jesse
Sent: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 2:10 PM
To: MNPS Teachers – All
Cc: MNPS Principals – All; Thompson, Susan; Stenson, Christine M; Cour, Katie; Black, Shannon
Subject: TRIPOD Letter to Commissioner Huffman

Dear Metro Schools teachers and administrators:

Today I sent an official request to Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Assistant Commissioner Sara Heyburn asking that the TRIPOD fall survey not be linked to teacher evaluation. I do not expect to know if our request is granted until after the fall survey period ends. I have also requested for each teacher to have the choice of using the spring administration as a part of your evaluation for the year.

I made this request because you did not have the opportunity to review the results of the TRIPOD survey administered last spring until this week. Last year’s TRIPOD information is starting to appear in CODE now, and our Human Capital and Assessment Departments are working on a guide to explain teacher results and will send it to you soon.

Although the rollout has been problematic, in the long run I expect the TRIPOD survey will be recognized as valuable information for teachers to use in improving their practice. I also believe, although the survey will be a small part of teacher evaluation, it will be viewed as one of the most valid and reliable measures that we use.

TRIPOD has been extensively validated and is designed so it is not a popularity contest. Analysis from tens of thousands of surveys in other districts indicates less than one percent of students answer the survey in a biased manner. TRIPOD correlates strongly to student growth and gives us valuable information. Memphis is in its third year of using TRIPOD as part of their teacher evaluation model with good results. We believe that TRIPOD can be a positive and very valuable component of the TEAM evaluation process.

I know this uncertainty is difficult and I appreciate your patience. We will keep you informed of further developments.

Sincerely,

Jesse B. Register, Ed.D.
Director of Schools

certification showdown

Judge strikes down rule allowing some New York charter schools to certify their own teachers

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Success Academy hosts its annual "Slam the Exam" rally at the Barclays Center.

In a blow to charter schools in New York, a rule that would have allowed certain schools to certify their own teachers was blocked in court Tuesday.

The judge’s ruling upends the plans of the city’s largest charter school network, Success Academy, and wipes out a legislative victory that New York’s charter sector thought it had won — though the decision will likely not be the end of the legal battle.

The regulations, approved by the State University of New York in October 2017, were designed to give charter schools more discretion over how they hired teachers. They eliminated the requirement that teachers earn master’s degrees and allowed charter schools authorized by SUNY to certify their teachers with as little as a month of classroom instruction and 40 hours of practice teaching.

Some charter networks argued their existing in-house training programs are more useful to new teachers than the training required for certification under state law.

But the rule was quickly challenged by the State Education Department and the state teachers union, which filed separate lawsuits that were joined in April. They argued that SUNY overstepped its authority and charged that the rule change would lead to children being taught by inexperienced and unqualified teachers.

The ruling was issued Tuesday by State Supreme Court Judge Debra J. Young, who wrote that the new certification programs were illegal because they fell below the minimum requirements issued by the state.

Charter networks “are free to require more of the teachers they hire but they must meet the minimum standards set” by the state, the judge wrote in her order. Young also concluded that laws requiring public comment were not followed.

“Today’s decision is a victory in our fight to ensure excellence in education at all schools,” state teachers union president Andy Pallotta said in a statement.

The Success Academy network and the Bronx Charter School for Better Learning had their plans for homegrown teacher certification programs approved in May, according to SUNY officials.

Success Academy spokeswoman Anne Michaud said the network is disappointed with the judge’s decision.

“As the top-performing public school system in the state, we are working to meet the demand for excellent schools that families in New York City are so desperate for, and we will continue to fight for what we know is our legal right: to train world class teachers and fill the teacher shortage that hampers so many disadvantaged neighborhoods,” Michaud said in a statement.

The certification policy grew out of the 2016 budget deal, when state lawmakers gave SUNY the authority to regulate the “governance, structure and operations of charter schools.”

The state’s top education officials — Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa — have long seemed offended by the new regulations. On a panel last year, Elia said, “I could go into a fast food restaurant and get more training than that.”

In a joint statement on Tuesday, Elia and Rosa praised the court’s decision as a “victory for all New York’s children.”

“In its strong opinion, the court rightly upheld the Board of the Regents and the Commissioner’s authority to certify teachers in New York State,” the statement reads.

On Tuesday, SUNY officials said they planned to appeal and believed that the judge’s ruling also offered a roadmap for creating new certification rules as long as they met those minimum standards.

“We are reviewing today’s decision. While we are disappointed that it did not uphold the regulation as written, it acknowledged the ability of the Charter School Institute to issue regulations,” said  SUNY spokeswoman Holly Liapis in a statement. “We will further evaluate our next steps.”

This post has been updated to include a statement from SUNY and from Success Academy.

guide to the battle

With days left in this year’s session, what will happen with teacher evaluations?

PHOTO: Photo by Jonathan Fickies for UFT
UFT President Michael Mulgrew interviews New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

As the clock ticks on this year’s legislative session, the fate of New York’s teacher evaluations hangs in the balance.

The teachers union has been waging a spirited battle to decouple state standardized test scores from teacher evaluations this year, which would mark the culmination of years of fighting against a system they say unfairly stigmatizes teachers. The legislation has already cleared the Democratic Assembly, but it remains at an impasse in the Republican-led Senate, which wants to tie the changes to benefits for charter schools.

As end-of-session haggling gets into full swing, it’s unclear whether the union will be able to secure a bill with “no strings attached.” Alternatively, lawmakers may agree to help charter schools in exchange for the bill’s passage, or they could be unable to settle their differences and shelve the measure until next year.

Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming battle:

Why are we talking about teacher evaluations again?

New Yorkers have spent years (and years) fighting about teacher evaluations.

In 2010, New York adopted a new teacher evaluation system that included state standardized test scores. Supporters of the policy argue it is the best way to objectively measure whether teachers are helping students learn. Opponents, including teachers unions, argue test scores lead to unreliable evaluations and often mean teachers are being rated based on subjects they don’t teach.

The debate took another turn in 2015 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed for a new teacher evaluation system in which as much as half of an educator’s evaluation could be based on test scores. That law technically remains on the books today, but in response to fervent pushback from parents and the union, the state’s education policymaking body paused the use of grades 3-8 math and English test scores in teacher evaluations.

Lawmakers, policymakers, and the union jumped back into the charged conversation this year in part because the temporary pause on the use of certain test scores in the evaluations is set to expire in 2019.

What exactly does the union want this year?

The union-backed bill would forbid any requirement that districts use state standardized test scores in teacher evaluations. Instead, local districts would collectively bargain the assessments used to rate teachers.

Paradoxically, this major political shift will likely make little difference in the lives of New York City teachers. That’s because for the last several years the city has already been using a system of local tests to rate educators.

New York City created a slate of assessments called “Measures of Student Learning,” which test students on everything from English to art. Michael Mulgrew, the city teachers union president, said he is happy with the current system and has already vowed, “Nothing will change for New York City teachers.”

Critics, however, point out that very few teachers are given poor ratings under this system. In New York City last year, 97 percent of teachers were given one of the top two ratings of “highly effective” or “effective,” according to Mulgrew.

What are the chances that this bill passes?

There’s a good chance some teacher evaluation legislation will pass before the end of the session but if history is any indication, it will cost something.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has already staked out his position: He is willing to go even farther than the Assembly, scrapping the 2015 law all-together and leaving virtually every major decision about teacher ratings up to local collective bargaining. But in order to do that, he wants to dramatically expand the number of charter schools that can open in New York City and across the state. (The Senate introduced a second bill that the union also criticized for being friendly to charter schools.)

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has already called the bill “cyanide,” cuing the l back-and-forth that typically proceeds a larger deal each year in Albany. Last year, for instance, shortly after the mayor won a two-year extension of mayoral control, he made it easier for charter schools to expand and pay for space. The year before, mayoral control was attached to a provision that made it easier for charter schools to switch between authorizers.

Though Senate Republicans are typically able to secure at least a small victory, it’s unclear how much they can demand in an election year when their control of the chamber is in jeopardy. That is particularly a problem in Long Island, home to some of the most fierce resistance to standardized testing that will also be an electoral battleground this fall.

What might a compromise look like?

Anything is possible in Albany, but something charter school-related is a good bet.

Advocates have expressed concern that they will soon hit the cap on how many charter schools can open in New York City. Historically, they have also pushed to make it easier for charter schools to pay for school space and to allow charter schools to certify their own teachers.

Charter school advocates might also find it a particularly prime year to push for changes. With a major lobbying group out of the picture and the potential for Flanagan  who has been a charter school ally  to lose his majority next year, this could be the sector’s best shot to press for changes.

Also, Flanagan and others have expressed concerns that the legislation will create more testing, since it allows all local districts to create their own tests in addition to the state tests. The final deal could address this concern.