Future of Teaching

State board stops short of guiding schools toward more test scores in teacher ratings

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
The Indiana State Board of Education held off on major changes to teacher evaluation today.

The Indiana State Board of Education today held off a decision to ask school districts to count test scores and other “objective” measures of teaching as bigger factors in annual teacher ratings.

Board member Gordon Hendry said the board wants to talk with legislators and get public feedback before determining how to guide schools to help them determine what counts as “objective measures” of teaching quality how to meet the standard in state law that requires test results and other measures to “significantly inform” a teacher’s rating.

“The board will not be setting specific numbers today at the meeting,” Hendry said.

A large crowd, including several educators, came to the meeting expecting a vote on a proposal to set minimum and maximum percentages for how much teacher ratings should be driven primarily by student test score gains. The guidelines would have encouraged schools to count test scores for as much as half of the teacher’s rating score.

The board approved other recommendations  for teacher evaluation by a 7-4 vote, with state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and board members Cari Whicker, Troy Albert and Andrea Neal voting no. The dissenting board members said they opposed to changes because new tests and new accountability systems in the works right now make it difficult to change how teachers are evaluated. Whicker and Neal are classroom teachers, and Albert is a principal.

“For me it’s just a premature vote,” Neal said. “The assessment situation is just so up in the air, and until that situation resolves itself, I am uncomfortable moving a new teacher evaluation system forward.”

But Hendry said changes must be made sooner.

“The vast majority of educators currently say they are dissatisfied with the system,” he said.

A 2011 law that overhauled teacher evaluation in Indiana left decisions about how to count student test scores in a teacher’s rating up to local school districts. That law required student test score growth to “significantly inform” a teacher’s evaluation score, which was interpreted very differently by different school districts.

“The downside of local control is that what ends up happening is that there is a high degree of variability across the state,” said Jessica Conlon of The New Teacher Project. “Some districts weigh objective measures as low as 5 percent and others as high as 50 percent.”

A list of recommended changes to teacher evaluation processes was brought to the board by a consultant, New York-based The New Teacher Project, resulted from feedback the state got from the U.S. Department of Education as part of a waiver that releases Indiana from some of the sanctions of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The consultant proposed increased training and communication among teachers and administrators along with suggesting schools count in more tests. But even giving guidance on what percentage of a teacher’s rating should be based on tests could require a change in state law.

Under the original recommendations, districts could break teachers’ evaluations into two big categories: one-half to two-thirds of the rating would be based on observations of their teaching, while the remaining one-half to one-third would be based mostly on student gains on state tests.

If a teacher is in a subject that is not part of the state testing system, then other sorts of test and objective measures such as portfolios of student work could count for as much as 40 percent of their ratings, under the recommendations. School districts would still determine their percentages within those ranges.

Indiana teachers this year saw predominantly positive ratings — more than 97 percent of the state’s teachers who were rated were deemed “highly effective” or “effective,” the top two of four categories. Hardly any were rated “ineffective.”

Daniel Brugioni, a high school English teacher in Lake Ridge schools near Gary, said putting too much emphasis on student test scores misses much of the improvement struggling students make throughout a school year. Brugioni said his supervisors consided the 51 percent of his students that passed the English end-of-course exam last year a “dismal failure,” but 110 of his 129 students began high school reading below a ninth-grade level.

“In any other parameter or any other statistical group, that would be a miracle, and I would be lauded,” Brugioni said.

Teaching cannot be judged primarily on numbers and statistics, said Ryan Russell, assistant superintendent in Warren Township. Poverty and other factors outside of school can affect how children perform on tests, he said. It’s not fair that teachers in high-poverty schools risk lower ratings because their students tend not to score as well on tests.

“Do we really believe — if we move highly effective teachers from a middle class district to a high-poverty one — do we really think the students would perform better?” Russell said. “If we do, let’s just set up a teacher exchange program and that will solve all our problems.”

Whicker said it’s not realistic to believe schools can use objective measures other than state test scores, such as portfolios.

“To grade 120 portfolios for my students across the state is not really realistic,” she said. “Well, we’re back to the ISTEP test, so that’s what practical. So we can talk about objective measures even just to talk about them, but the truth is that’s not the reality. That’s just less time for me to teach.”

 

Human Resources

A minimum salary for Colorado teachers? State officials may ask lawmakers to consider it.

A teacher reads to her students at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

As part of a broad plan to increase the volume of high-quality teachers in Colorado, state officials are considering asking lawmakers to take the bold step of establishing a minimum teacher salary requirement tied to the cost of living.

Officials from the state departments of education and higher education are finalizing a list of recommendations to address challenges to Colorado’s teacher workforce. Pressing for the legislation on teacher salaries is one of dozens of recommendations included in a draft report.

The report, assembled at the request of the legislature, also proposes a marketing campaign and scholarships to attract new teachers to rural areas.

Representatives from the Colorado Department of Education said they would not discuss the recommendations until they’re final. However, the department earlier this month briefed the State Board of Education on their proposed recommendations in advance of the Dec. 1 deadline for it to be finalized.

The impending report — based on thousands of responses from educators, students and other Colorado residents in online surveys and town halls across the state — is a sort of first step for the state legislature to tackle a problem years in the making. Since 2010, Colorado has seen a 24 percent drop in the number of college students graduating from the state’s traditional teacher colleges. There’s also been a 23 percent drop in enrollment in those programs.

Residency programs, which place graduate students in a classroom for a full year with an experienced teacher, and other alternative licensure programs have seen a 40 percent increase in enrollment. But those programs produce far fewer teachers and can’t keep up with demand.

Colorado faces a shortage of teachers in certain subjects, regions and schools, and circumstances vary. Math and science teachers are in short supply: Only 192 college students in 2016 graduated with credentials to teach those subjects. The same year, 751 students left with a degree to teach elementary school.

And rural schools have had an especially hard time finding and keeping teachers.

Here’s a look at what the state departments are considering recommending, based on the presentation from education department officials to the state board:

Provide more and better training to new — and veteran — teachers.

Colorado schools are already required to offer some sort of induction program for new teachers. This training, which lasts between two and three years, is supposed to supplement what they learned during college.

For the last two years, the state education department has been pushing school districts to update their programs. The recommendations in the report could kick things up a notch.

The education departments are asking for updated induction requirements to be written into statute and more money to be provided to districts to pay for the training.

The draft report also calls for more more sustained training for veteran teachers, including competitive grant programs.

An additional suggestion is to create a program to train teachers expressly to teach in rural classrooms.

Increase teacher compensation and benefits.

This will be a hard pill to swallow. According to the presentation to the state board, the education departments want to call on lawmakers to set a minimum salary for teachers based on the school district’s cost of living.

The presentation to the board lacked specifics on how lawmakers and school districts could accomplish this. One board member, Colorado Springs Republican Steve Durham, called it a “mistake” to include such a recommendation.

Keeping up with the rising cost of living is a challenge. A new report shows new teachers in the state’s three largest school districts couldn’t afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

“We hope the report itself is going to talk a lot the cost of living — that’s what we heard from our stakeholders across the field,” Colleen O’Neil, the education department’s executive director of educator talent told the state board. “They literally were not able to meet the cost of living because their salaries did not compensate them fairly enough to find housing.”

Other suggestions the report might highlight to improve teacher compensation include loan forgiveness, housing incentives and creating a differentiated pay scale for teachers — something teachers unions staunchly oppose.

Help schools better plan for hiring and send teachers where they’re needed.

One short-term solution the state is considering recommending is allocating more resources to help schools plan for teacher turnover. This includes providing incentives for teachers to notify school leaders about their plans to leave the classroom earlier.

The education departments are also suggesting the state increase the number of programs that can help teachers get licensed in more than one subject at a time. Other ideas include offering scholarships to potential teachers to complete licensing requirements for content areas that are lacking viable candidates — likely math and science — and providing transportation and technology stipends for rural teachers.

Make the teaching profession more attractive.

Teachers “feel they’re not treated like professionals,” O’Neil told the board. So the education departments want the legislature to allow them to partner with private entities to launch a marketing campaign to lift the profile of teaching as a career in the state.

The education departments also hope the legislature considers creating more opportunities for middle and high school students to consider teaching as a viable career path. This could include reinvigorating the state’s Educators Rising program, a program for high school students interested in teaching.

student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.