Now 4=3

Readers may remember that last year, after Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly provided funds equivalent to a four percent increase in the BEP salary allocation, the State Board of Education accepted Commissioner Candice McQueen’s recommendation to increase the state’s salary schedule by two percent.

As McQueen wrote at the time:

We believe this proposal strikes the right balance between maximum flexibility for school districts and the recognized need to improve minimum salaries in the state. For the large majority of districts, the proposal does not result in any mandatory impact as most local salary schedules already exceed the proposed minimums. For these districts, the salary funds must still be used for compensation but no mandatory adjustments to local schedules exist.

This year, Governor Haslam and the General Assembly commendably added another four percent increase to BEP salary funds. The adjustment to the state’s minimum salary schedule, however, is up to the State Board of Education upon recommendation of the Commissioner of Education.

This year’s recommendation was a three percent increase. Today, the State Board of Education adopted that recommendation, making $32,445 the new base salary for Tennessee teachers, effectively the minimum a teacher in the state can earn.

As the State Board of Education notes:

An estimated total of 29  school districts will be required to make
increases to at least one level of their local salary schedule resulting in a specific and earmarked salary expenses.

Admittedly, this year’s increase in funding and the State Board action represent progress.

Last year, I made the following recommendations representing a way to truly improve teacher compensation in our state while supporting local districts:

  • Set the minimum salary for a first-year teacher at $40,000 and create a pay scale with significant raises at 5 years (first year a TN teacher is tenure eligible), 10 years, and 20 years along with reasonable step increases in between
  • Fund the BEP salary component at 75%
  • Adjust the BEP to more accurately account for the number of teachers a district needs
  • Fully fund RTI2 including adding a BEP component for Intervention Specialists
  • Adopt the BEP Review Committee’s recommendations on professional development and mentoring so teachers get the early support and ongoing growth they need

While the General Assembly did pass some BEP reforms this year, more should be done. For example, the new BEP formula freezes funding for the BEP salary component at 70%. Also, an adjustment in the calculation for number of teachers is still needed.

Again, however, this year’s legislative action and today’s State Board of Education action represent measurable progress.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

The Biggest Losers

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has a breakdown of Governor Haslam’s BEP changes. While this year’s budget includes an influx of dollars, it also freezes BEP 2.0.

Tatter explains:

Though the governor’s plan nixes BEP 2.0, it permanently increases the state’s spending on English language learners (funding ELL teachers at a 1:20 student ratio and translators at a 1:200 student ratio), and special education students, technology and teacher pay, especially when it comes to teachers insurance. For years, the state only paid for teachers to have 10 months of health insurance. Last year, the General Assembly mandated that the state provide for 11 months of insurance. Haslam’s proposal this year finally gives teachers’ year-round insurance.

It’s important to note here that districts are already paying for year-round insurance for teachers, now they will receive some funding for it. The state funds teacher insurance at 45% of the projected cost for a district’s BEP-generated teaching positions. Until last year, it funded 45% of this cost for only 10 months, now it will shift to 12 months. It’s also worth noting that every single district in the state hires teachers beyond the BEP-generated number. Typically, around 12-15% more than what the BEP formula generates. Districts cover the full cost of salary and insurance for all teachers hired beyond the BEP number.

If districts only hired the BEP number of teachers, they could reduce local costs, but they’d also likely have some pretty unhappy parents on their hands. So, yes, the Governor’s proposed changes do direct additional funds to districts. But the changes do not address the underlying problem with the BEP. Doing so would cost another $250 to $300 million. That would be the cost of adjusting the ratios by 10-15% for teachers. That’s not to mention nurses, counselors, and other positions. And it doesn’t include capital funding.

The BEP Review Committee has been highlighting these deficiencies for years to no avail.

Additionally, Tatter mentions:

Another carryover from BEP 2.0 is the eventual elimination of a “cost differential factor,” known as CDF, that 16 districts in five counties receive to address a higher cost of living. Reducing the CDF would cut state spending by about $34.7 million. Almost half of that money would have gone to Shelby County Schools and the municipal districts in Shelby County. Other counties that would be impacted are Davidson, Anderson, Williamson and Sullivan.

While BEP 2.0 envisioned elimination of the CDF, it also envisioned the state covering 75% of teacher salaries for BEP-generated teachers. The Haslam changes makes the current 70% permanent.

Here are the districts losing money under the CDF elimination. The CDF is cut in half for the upcoming year and then completely eliminated in 2017-18.

Shelby
             30,873,136
Davidson
             17,570,727
Williamson
             11,073,924
Bartlett
                2,111,966
Collierville
                2,007,525
Germantown
                1,411,972
Franklin SSD
                1,260,978
Arlington
                1,169,503
Millington
                   672,030
Anderson
                   473,867
Oak Ridge
                   320,368
Lakeland
                   243,331
Sullivan
                      78,161
Clinton City
                      72,903
Kingsport
                      54,638
Bristol City
                      30,682
Total
69,425,713

It’s not clear whether these changes will impact the current lawsuits regarding funding adequacy. And the additional funds still don’t address the unfunded RTI mandate.

The ultimate impact of the changes will take a few years to determine. However, without significant structural changes, it is difficult to see this “new BEP” adequately meeting the needs of Tennessee’s schools.

More on the BEP:

Bill Dunn Wrong

They Noticed

Clay County and the Broken BEP

Why is TN 40th?

About BEP 2.0

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

MNPS Budget Invests in Salary, Literacy, and EL.

MNPS recently released their proposed budget for the next school year. The budget shows that MNPS is investing in some very important areas, including teaching pay.

Teacher Salary: All teachers will receive a pay raise, but it will not be the same across the board. The pay raises will be dependent on years of experience. This shows that MNPS is prioritizing experienced teachers in the system. We need to retain our experienced teachers.

The vast majority of funding for employee pay raises will go toward changes in the certificated salary schedule. It is being completely rewritten to correct issues where our teacher pay is below market levels, particularly for teachers with 5-10 years of experience.

All teachers will receive a pay increase, though amounts will not be the same across the board as they have been in years past. The pay increase teachers can expect will depend on their years of experience.

While we are competitive in starting teacher salaries, market data shows we’re not increasing teacher pay quickly enough during the first half of a teacher’s career to be competitive with how similar cities in our region pay more experienced teachers.

The revised certificated salary schedule has not been finalized. We’re in the process of seeking input from various stakeholders, including MNEA.

Literacy: Literacy scores have been stagnant across the state. We need more support for literacy intervention in Nashville. MNPS has heard the call for more resources and is proposing just that. The proposed budget includes:

  • 48 more Reading Recovery teachers plus 2 additional teacher leaders to assist with training Reading Recovery teachers.
  • 15 part time reading interventionists that will be trained in the Comprehensive Intervention Model and work with elementary students who are two grade levels behind in reading.
  • Expands the literacy coaching partnership with Lipscomb. This expanded partnership will include 14 more schools and allow 16 EL coaches to participate.
  • 4 more reading clinics.
  • 10 summer school sites to work with struggling readers.

Wow. I am so excited for the investment in literacy intervention by MNPS. This is awesome.

English Language: Those working in MNPS know the importance of our EL teachers. Fifteen percent of MNPS students receive direct EL services. This budget proposal includes:

  • 88 more teachers that will “bring EL teacher-student ratios to 1:35. Lowering ratios would help the district meet state compliance, under the allowed maximum of 1:40.”
  • 12 bilingual tutors will be hired for a new program that will focus on refugee students.
  • 2 registrars and 6 part time assessors to help with registering students.
  • Pay raises for parent outreach translators.
  • The addition of mentor teachers and model classrooms. (This is a great addition. My school will see this in our building, and we are very excited to have a teacher model for other schools while also mentoring teachers within the building.)

The budget proposal also adds more community achieves site locations and stipends for teacher leaders.

As a teacher, this is a very exciting budget proposal. Go here to find more information on the budget proposal. This is far from a done deal, but it’s a great start.

What do you think of the proposed budget?


 

Haslam on K-12 Education

Governor Bill Haslam delivered his annual budget address tonight. Here are his remarks on K-12 education as prepared for delivery:

Right now, the spotlight is on Tennessee. Who would have thought a decade ago that Tennessee would have significant positive attention around education? Strategic investments, increased accountability, and higher standards have changed the game.

We’ve always known that post-secondary education was not just about access. It’s really about success. And we knew that our students couldn’t succeed if they weren’t prepared when they left our high schools. It’s why we’ve worked so hard to improve student outcomes in our K-12 schools. And why it’s important that Tennessee students are still the fastest improving students in the country since 2011.

In Tennessee our public schools have roughly 1 million students. Since 2011, 131,000 more students are on grade-level in math and nearly 60,000 more are on grade-level in science. For the third straight year, Tennessee public high school students improved on their ACT. Our graduation rate has increased for the third year in a row and now stands at 88 percent.

We need to stop and take a moment – not to pat ourselves on the back – but to let all of that sink in.

A lot of you in this chamber remember when this state continually ranked near the bottom in national rankings, and you understand the progress Tennessee has made in just a few short years. Think about the teachers who continually rise to the challenges their students might bring through the door every day. Teachers and students are doing more than ever before, and their achievements must be recognized. We’ve raised our expectations and our standards. Through the process approved by the General Assembly last year we are well on the way to having in place our new Tennessee Standards that we spent so much time discussing over the last two years. Teams of educators have been working to review each standard, and their work is being reviewed by other professional educators with input from thousands of Tennesseans. The new standards should be voted on by the Board of Education this April.

While much of the rest of the country is still arguing about what to do on Common Core standards, Tennessee went to work developing our standards that continue to raise the bar of expectations. This is what we do. We respond to a changing world and make sure our students are prepared for tomorrow.

I personally believe that investing in education is the smartest thing we can do for economic development. But I also believe it’s a smart long-term investment. One of the things I want to make certain that we do with this budget is invest money that will save us money down the road. The facts are clear: a more educated population will spend less money on health care. Less money on incarceration. If we’re going to be about anything, it has to be about opportunity for all Tennessee students.

One of the things I think we should be the most proud of is that Tennessee – working together – has been a national leader in investing in K-12 during this administration. Tennessee is in the top 10 for elementary and secondary state education expenditures in the nation. We are also outpacing the national average increase in teacher salaries, and that’s before this year’s investment.

Hear me now, our commitment to education continues in a big way tonight. This budget proposal includes the largest investment in K-12 education in Tennessee’s history without a tax increase. We’re funding the Basic Education Program (BEP) portion of teacher salaries with $105 million. Between the current fiscal year’s $153 million and this year’s proposed $261 million investment in K-12 education, Tennessee state government will invest more than $414 million new dollars in our schools, more than $200 million of those additional dollars for teacher salaries.

We’re also including nearly $30 million for the 12th month of health insurance so teachers are offered year-round insurance through the state. And we’re doubling the state investment for a total of $30 million in recurring state dollars going to technology needs at our schools.

Our TCAP tests this year showed that we are making great progress in math and English in our high schools and that proficiency in math and science is increasing in all grades. However, those same tests showed that we are not making the kind of progress that we would like to see in third through eighth grade reading. Because of that, we’re investing $9 million to create a network of literacy coaches and regional coordinators supporting literacy efforts all across the state. Our students have shown incredible growth, but reading remains a challenging area that we have to get right.

What’s important in all of this is that we’re not investing in the same old public education system in Tennessee. We’ve raised our standards. We’ve linked teacher evaluations to student performance. And we’ve expanded education options for children. We are showing historic progress, and we can’t back up. We are a system that is committed to the basic premise that all children should have access to a quality public education regardless of zip code, and we are shrinking the achievement gap for historically underserved and low-income students. None of us should want to go back to ranking in the 40’s. This state will continue to do what has brought our students success: investing more in education while raising our standards and making certain that how well students are learning is reflected in teacher evaluations. I’m grateful to no longer be in the 40’s, but I’m not satisfied to be in the 30’s.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

Trade Your Pension for Better Pay?

That’s one proposal made by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce in its Report Card on Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS).

The idea is that if new teachers forego their pension, they could take the savings in higher pay. The Chamber believes that higher pay would help the district attract teachers and encourage them to stay in the district once hired.

An analysis of teacher pay across similar districts found Nashville to lag behind its peers in terms of both starting pay and lifetime earnings.

While raising teacher pay certainly has merit in terms of both attracting talent and keeping teachers in the system, it’s important to look at the tradeoff between pensions and salaries.

Under the current pension system (recently revised) Tennessee teachers are eligible to retire with full pension benefits after they reach a combined number of 90 in years of service and age. That means a teacher who starts at 22 would need to teach until they are 56 in order to retire with full pension benefits.

At current salary levels, a teacher would sacrifice a pension benefit of around $25,000 per year. Factoring an average life expectancy, a teacher who decided to give up her pension would lose benefits totaling $625,000.

That means to make up the actual dollar value of the pension benefit, teachers would need to make about $18,000 more per year than they do now. Again, this assumes retirement after 34 years.

At current levels, this would move starting pay in MNPS to around $59,000 per year.

Alternatively, the district could make starting pay a bit lower and build in larger raises later. That may have the benefit of encouraging teachers to stay. To be competitive, starting pay should probably be raised to around $50,000. Again, though, if teachers are foregoing a $625,000 potential benefit, raises should be built-in to ensure they can earn that benefit over the course of their service.

While the Chamber may be correct that younger teachers are not necessarily as concerned with pensions as those in the past, it should be made clear that giving up a pension is a big financial sacrifice in the long-term. If such an idea is pursued, teachers should certainly be compensated at a level that makes up for that sacrifice over time.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

It’s Raining Money, But Not on Schools

Tom Humphrey reports on the most recent budget projections which predict a surplus of between $300-$400 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016.

This money, combined with the $600 million surplus from the fiscal year which ended on June 30, 2015, means the state will have about $1 billion in unanticipated, uncommitted revenue.

On top of that, economists are projecting growth in the $400-$500 million range for the upcoming budget year.

As Humphrey notes, proposals are floating so spend the surplus on road projects or tax cuts or both.

What’s not being mentioned?

Schools.

Despite a pair of lawsuits contending the state’s school funding formula, the BEP, is inadequate, lawmakers and the Governor are not rushing to suggest significant new investments in Tennessee schools.

This in spite of the fact that after a one year bounce on NAEP results, our state is now holding flat. Maybe that’s because Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham is suggesting our state aspire toward “mediocrity” while holding a forum on disastrous (and expensive) school voucher schemes.

If the state invested half of the available surplus on the BEP formula, that would be a $500 million injection of funds to local schools. That would be a sure way to hold down local property tax increases while also beefing up the resources school systems have to provide an education. The revenue projections for the 2016-17 fiscal year indicate an investment of this magnitude is sustainable. And, by holding a portion of the surplus in reserve, the state could ensure against any unanticipated shortfalls.

All of that would still leave $200-$300 million available to spend on one-time costs like road projects.

Will Tennessee put its foot on the accelerator and invest in schools so our students have the resources they need to compete with the rest of the country? Will Bill Haslam use the surplus and projected new revenue to truly make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher pay?

The General Assembly will have answers to these questions starting in January.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Pay For Test Scores: The Price of my Humanity

MNPS Teacher Molly Handler offers her thoughts on merit pay:

 

When I first began teaching 9 years ago in MNPS, Vanderbilt was beginning a pay for performance study in Nashville middle school mathematics classrooms. This was the first scientific study of its kind in the US, and it sought to answer if merit pay alone, independent of other resources and support, increased student achievement as measured by test scores. Teachers in my middle school were eligible to be part of this study; I declined to participate, and explained extensively in the questionnaire the ideological reasons for this. The results of this study suggest that performance pay alone did not improve student outcomes.

 

A few years later, the same school in which I was working was eligible for the TIF grant which, “supports efforts to develop and implement performance-based teacher and principal compensation systems in high-need schools.” Eligibility for performance awards is based on student achievement growth, educator effectiveness and professional growth. If you examine the matrix used by my district to determine these performance awards, there is one lone area in which a teacher may earn incentive pay that is not directly tied to standardized test scores. This was not something I could opt out of, as I had the Vanderbilt study so I vowed that if I ever received money from this grant that I would not be able to keep it.

 

My third year of working at a TIF eligible school (2013-2014) I received $1,000 via the grant. When I first found out I would receive this money I began to think about the organizations to which I would donate it, and was excited that I could represent an ideology in which I had strongly believed since my first year of teaching. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that my thought process strayed from this for a while, and I strongly considered keeping the money. It’s no secret that teachers don’t make great money, and I had some bills I could put it toward. I told myself I deserved this money that it would be a small token for the overwork and underpay scenario in which I had been living for my entire teaching career. While it did not incentivize me to do anything differently than I would otherwise, it was a small portion of the money I was owed. During this time I also heard Diane Ravitch speak at Vanderbilt, and one thing she discussed was how merit-based pay systems have never worked in the teaching profession. She called them a ‘zombie idea,’ something that fails over and over yet just won’t die. This made me realize I could not abandon this ideology that I held before I ever even began teaching, before I knew significantly less than I do now about the realities of this profession. I decided to give this money (which ended up being about $600 after taxes and other deductions) to the Metropolitan Nashville Education Fund (affiliated with Metro Nashville Education Association) and the Johnella H Martin Scholarship fund. This scholarship is awarded to an MNPS graduate who plans to study teaching and learning, and is awarded for all 4 years of college. The following outlines my ideologies of why I oppose merit-based pay, and why the cause to which I gave this money represents the complete opposite of what merit-based pay (and privatization of public schools) suggest.

 

  1. Our profession deserves to be compensated, not individuals within the profession whose students score well on tests. Money should support increasing pay for all teachers, rather than only given to some. I’m not suggesting that every teacher should make the exact same money; I believe that differences in pay should be reflected by experience, commitment to the profession, and education. When merit pay is given only to some and based on a flawed accountability system we are being forced into the competitive free market mentality on which privatization is dependent. Differences in pay should not be inconsistent and retroactive as they are when based on test scores, and they should represent equitable choices that all professionals in the field may access if they desire rather than based on the whim of a single score. The field of teaching is the most successful and best advanced when teachers work in collaboration not competition.

 

  1. Rather than awarding some people extra money for test scores, that money would be better spent on services that actually serve the needs of students and families. Schools need resources…not always physical resources, but resources to help support the failures of our society that seem to fall squarely on the shoulders of our public schools (health care, a living wage, affordable housing, hunger, etc.). Receiving the actual social services that are needed in schools and classrooms is more valuable, useful, and rewarding to teachers than possible incentive pay. It is certainly more valuable to the neediest students and families. I believe all teachers would choose support services for their students and classrooms as a job ‘incentive’ rather than merit-based pay.

 

  1. The field of teaching is being de-professionalized, and merit-based pay is one of many vehicles for such de-professionalization. Giving this money in support of MNEA suggests that the teacher voice should be the one guiding the field of education, not the bureaucratic one. Decision makers in our field have become people with little to no teaching experience, and this dynamic has run rampant. Returning decision-making (not to be confused with power and authority) to the collective teacher voice is vital.

 

  1. The Johnella H Martin Scholarship fund supports students of the school system in which I work who want to make a commitment to become career teachers. We need young people to study and commit to this field and profession, rather than filling our classrooms with teachers from programs like Teach For America.

 

  1. The testing and accountability movement is the foundation on which the privatization movement is based. Its use to credit or discredit individual students, teachers, schools, or school systems, is ill willed, and flawed. Tests are important and useful, but they are simply indicators that should be used as such. Teachers should use them in the classroom to guide specific aspects and topics of instruction, and systemically they might provide the ability to generalize information over a longer period of time. Interpreting and using them narrowly and then attaching a high stakes institutionalized practice to them, which is used to make sweeping generalizations and important decisions that affect peoples’ lives, for example, how much income they bring home is misuse, ill informed, and morally reprehensible.

 

  1. What I witnessed on the ground level, during the implementation of these various plans, at various schools, amongst various staff, is that they did nothing to change the actual practices of teacher pedagogy and student learning for better or worse. Despite the fact that matrices laid out the desired input a teacher must achieve in order to earn merit-based pay, such understanding of teaching practice is problematic and ignorant both pedagogically and logistically. I watched as extra money was awarded or not awarded to people who taught subjects never tested, to people who far exceeded the number of absences within the matrix, to teachers who actively improved their practice, to people who did not intend to be career teachers, to people who showed strong compassion for students, to teachers who worked in isolation or collaboration, and to teachers who did or did not focus exclusively on teaching to the test. My point is, that if the goal of such a system is to change the practice of teaching and learning in a consistent way for the better, there seemed to be no correlation between earning merit-based pay with such an outcome. The idea that matrices will somehow allow teachers to understand exactly what they need to do in order to get higher test scores amazes me to this day, as if teaching and learning is like a function table, and all we must do is understand the right input in order to get the desired output. Then, we must be rewarded for such output because otherwise we aren’t incentivized to implement the input in the first place. The over simplicity of such a system is linear in thought and organization, as compared to the cyclical complexities of classroom teaching. This juxtaposition speaks strongly to the alienation and true motives of those trying to implement merit-based pay in the first place.

 

It seems we, as teachers, are powerless over many of these changes that seek to devalue our profession both monetarily and pedagogically. Even if law imposes TIF-like plans on us, it is our money and we may do with it what we like. Much in the same way that sick banks are established in large group health insurance plans, teachers might find a way to establish group plans that seek to redistribute merit-based pay that recognizes the entirety of the profession rather than the narrow measures of the few. Such a system could interpret this redistribution in any way deemed fit, as it could be divided up equally amongst its members, donated to a valuable cause, or used to purchase additional supports and services that go unfunded but that its members felt were vital to their work and for their students. Most importantly, however, it might empower us to reclaim that the true nature of our profession is to work collaboratively in service of our students and our field, rather than to compete with one another for individualized monetary benefit that is awarded via a single measure.

 

Allowing our field to be stratified and quantified based on attaching payment to test scores dehumanizes the realities of our day-to-day work. This alienation robs us of our humanity. I feel this dehumanization seeping into my profession and the lives of my students and myself more and more each day, as data and test scores supersede true learning, service, and compassion. We accept practices and ideologies with which we do not agree, that our training and experience contradict, as we are fearful for our livelihoods and our profession. As a teacher, I needed something to reassert myself and the humanity of my career. For me, accepting this money would have further forfeited my ability to define the relationships, actions, and knowledge that have become part of my identity and the profession of teaching. Teaching is an art, talent, service, belief, career, and skill set, and I cannot trade those things for a practice that suggests otherwise, even if such a practice involves a thousand dollars.

 

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Don’t They Want to Teach?

A recent article in the New York Times detailing a nationwide struggle to find and hire qualified teachers mentions Nashville as one of the large, urban districts “having trouble finding teachers.”

Data from the Appalachian Regional Comprehensive Center suggests the problem, in Tennessee at least, is not just limited to Nashville:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

But, looking specifically at Nashville, a review of teacher salaries in similar urban districts reveals that Nashville teachers don’t fare so well compared to their counterparts.

Just a few hours away, in Louisville, KY, teachers make significantly more money than their Nashville peers. While MNPS offers competitive starting pay, there’s a gap that widens as teachers gain more experience.

While in Nashville, mayoral candidates lamented the growing difficulty teachers face affording housing, in Louisville, teachers make a solid middle class income from the start to the end of their career.

Money isn’t the only factor behind the teacher shortage, but it certainly plays a role. Tennessee should take steps to improve the overall compensation of its teachers and begin building the supports and providing the resources teachers need to succeed.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

The Worst Teachers?

“There is a decently large percentage of teachers who are saying that they feel evaluation isn’t fair,” he (state data guru Nate Schwartz) said. “That’s something we need to think about in the process we use to evaluate teachers … and what we can do to make clear to teachers how this process works so they feel more secure about it.”

This from a story about the recently released 2015 Educator Survey regarding teacher attitudes in Tennessee.

One reason teachers might feel the evaluation is unfair is the continued push to align observation scores with TVAAS (Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System) data – data that purportedly captures student growth and thereby represents an indicator of teacher performance.

From WPLN:

Classroom observation scores calculated by principals should roughly line up with how a teacher’s students do on standardized tests. That’s what state education officials believe. But the numbers on the state’s five point scale don’t match up well.

“The gap between observation and individual growth largely exists because we see so few evaluators giving 1s or 2s on observation,” the report states.

“The goal is not perfect alignment,” Department of Education assistant commissioner Paul Fleming says, acknowledging that a teacher could be doing many of the right things at the front of the class and still not get the test results to show for it. But the two figures should be close.

In order to be better at aligning observation scores with TVAAS scores, principals could start by assigning lower scores to sixth and seventh grade teachers. At least, that’s what the findings of a study by Jessica Holloway-Libell published in June in the Teachers College Record suggest.

Holloway-Libell studied value-added scores assigned to individual schools in 10 Tennessee districts — Urban and suburban — and found:

In ELA in 2013, schools were, across the board, much more likely to receive positive value-added scores for ELA in fourth and eighth grades than in other grades (see Table 1). Simultaneously, districts struggled to yield positive value-added scores for their sixth and seventh grades in the same subject-areas. Fifth grade scores fell consistently in the middle range, while the third-grade scores varied across districts

Table 1. Percent of Schools that had Positive Value-Added Scores in English/language arts by Grade and District (2013) (Districts which had less than 25% of schools indicate positive growth are in bold)
District      Third      Fourth    Fifth     Sixth     Seventh      Eighth
Memphis      41%       43%        45%      19%        14%           76%
Nashville      NA        43%        28%      16%        15%           74%
Knox             72%       79%        47%      14%         7%            73%
Hamilton     38%      64%        48%      33%      29%            81%
Shelby           97%     76%         61%       6%        50%            69%
Sumner         77%     85%         42%       17%      33%            83%
Montgomery NA      71%         62%       0%        0%              71%
Rutherford     83%   92%         63%      15%     23%             85%
Williamson    NA      88%        58%      11%      33%           100%
Murfreesboro NA     90%        50%     30%     NA              NA

SOURCE: Teachers College Record, Date Published: June 08, 2015
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17987, Date Accessed: 7/27/2015

In examining three-year averages, Holloway-Libell found:

The three-year composite scores were similar except even more schools received positive value-added scores for the fifth and eighth grades. In fact, in each of the nine districts that had a composite score for eighth grade, at least 86% of their schools received positive value-added scores at the eighth-grade level.

By contrast, results in math were consistently positive across grade level and district type:

In particular, the fourth and seventh grade-level scores were consistently higher than those of the third, fifth, sixth, and eighth grades, which illustrated much greater variation across districts. The three-year composite scores were similar. In fact, a majority of schools across the state received positive value-added scores in mathematics across all grade levels.

So, what does this mean?

Well, it could mean that Tennessee’s 6th and 7th grade ELA teachers are the worst in the state. Or, it could mean that math teachers in Tennessee are better teachers than ELA teachers. Or, it could mean that 8th grade ELA teachers are rock stars.

Alternatively, one might suspect that the results of Holloway-Libell’s analysis suggest both grade level and subject matter bias in TVAAS.

In short, TVAAS is an unreliable predictor of teacher performance. Or, teaching 6th and 7th grade students reading is really hard.

Holloway-Libell’s findings are consistent with those of Lockwood and McCaffrey (2007) published in the Journal of Educational Measurement:

The researchers tested various VAM models and found that teacher effect estimates changed significantly based on both what was being measured AND how it was measured.

That is, it’s totally consistent with VAM to have different estimates for math and ELA teachers, for example. Math questions are often asked in a different manner than ELA questions and the assessment is covering different subject matter.

So, TVAAS is like other VAM models in this respect. Which means, as Lockwood and McCaffrey suggest, “caution is needed when interpreting estimated teacher effects” when using VAM models (like TVAAS).

In other words: TVAAS is not a reliable predictor of teacher performance.

Which begs the question: Why is the Tennessee Department of Education attempting to force correlation between observed teacher behavior and a flawed, unreliable measure of teacher performance? More importantly, why is such an unreliable measure being used to evaluate (and in some districts, reward with salary increases) teachers?

Don’t Tennessee’s students and parents deserve a teacher evaluation system that actually reveals strong teaching and provides support for teachers who need improvement?

Aren’t Tennessee’s teachers deserving of meaningful evaluation based on sound evidence instead of a system that is consistent only in its unreliability?

The American Statistical Association has said value-added models generally are unreliable as predictors of teacher performance. Now, there’s Tennessee-specific evidence that suggests strongly that TVAAS is biased, unreliable, and not effective as a predictor of teacher performance.

Unless, that is, you believe that 6th and 7th grade ELA teachers are our state’s worst.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

 

 

Reform is Working

That’s the message from the Tennessee Department of Education based on recently released TCAP results and an analysis of the data over time.

You can see for yourself here and here.

The one area of concern is reading, but overall, students are performing better than they were when new TCAP tests were started and standards were raised.

Here’s the interesting thing: This is true across school districts and demographic subgroups. The trend is positive.

Here’s something else: A similar trend could be seen in results before the change in the test in 2009.

Tennessee students were steadily making gains. Teachers and schools were hitting the mark set for them by policymakers. This in an age of collective bargaining for teachers and no TVAAS-based evaluation or pay schemes.

When the standards were made higher — certainly a welcome change — teachers again hit the mark.

Of course, since the standards change, lots of other reforms have taken place. Most of these have centered around teachers and the incorporation of TVAAS in teacher evaluation and even pay schemes. The State Board of Education even gutted the old state salary schedule to promote pay differentiation, ostensibly based on TVAAS scores.

But does pay for TVAAS actually lead to improved student outcomes as measured by TVAAS?

Consider this comparison of Putnam County and Cumberland County. Putnam was one of the original TIF recipients and among the first to develop a pay scheme based on teacher evaluations and TVAAS.

Putnam’s 2014 TVAAS results are positive, to be sure. But neighboring Cumberland County (a district that is demographically similar and has a similar assortment of schools) also shows positive TVAAS results.  Cumberland relies on the traditional teacher pay scale. From 2012-13 to 2013-14, Putnam saw a 50% increase in the number of categories (all schools included) in which they earned TVAAS scores of 5. So did Cumberland County.

Likewise, from 2012-13 to 2013-14, Putnam saw a 13% decline in the number of categories in which they earned TVAAS scores below a 3. In Cumberland County, the number was cut by 11%.

This is one example over a two-year cycle. New district level results for 2015 will soon be available and will warrant an update. But, it’s also worth noting that these results track results seen in Denver in analysis of their ProComp pay system. Specifially, University of Colorado’s Denver ProComp Evaluation Report (2010-2012) finds little impact of ProComp on student achievement, or on teachers’ professional practices, including their teaching practices or retention.

The Putnam-Cumberland initial analysis tracks with that of the ProComp studies: Teacher performance pay, even if devised in conjunction with teacher groups, cannot be said to have a significant impact on student performance over time.

So, prior to 2008, student academic achievement as measured by Tennessee standardized tests showed steady improvement over time. This occurred in an environment with no performance pay. Again from 2009-2015, across districts and demographic groups, student achievement is improving. Only a small number of Tennessee districts have performance pay schemes — so, that alone would indicate that performance pay is not driving improved student outcomes.  Then, a preliminary comparison of two districts suggests that both performance pay and non-performance pay districts see significant (and similar) TVAAS gains.

Reform may be working — but it may not be the reform the reformers want to push.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport