The State of Education I

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The State of Education

The regular session of the Louisiana legislature is scheduled to begin on Monday, March 14th. The legislature has the power to impact many different aspects of the educational experience for Louisiana’s students and educators. This series will examine some of those most pressing issues.

Is Louisiana's System for Teacher Evaluations Accurate?

There are many components that go into being a truly effective teacher. In Louisiana, policy dictates that two observations and an assessment score should narrowly judge the entirety of a teacher's work; every component and nuance of teaching for multiple students. Once a score is issued, there is almost no opportunity for teachers to redress any inaccuracies or inconsistencies in their evaluation.

VAM: One of the assessments in the state's Compass Evaluation System is the value-added model (VAM). On its face, this might seem to make sense: a teacher is rated higher if their students show growth, but it is not that simple. "Growth" is measured by a standardized test, which may or may not accurately reflect what that student has learned, and can be impacted by many things entirely outside the control of the student's teacher. Moreover, the tests do not always produce enough data to create a statistically significant score. If, for example, a student enters the class with a "mastery" rating in that particular subject, then it is nearly impossible for the teacher to get a high VAM score, which has negatively impacted many of our state's gifted teachers time and again.

Educational experts across the country have widely rejected the VAM system. The American Educational Research Association stated emphatically, “Value-added performance measures do not reflect the content or quality of teachers' instruction.” The American Statistical Association has urged states and school districts against using VAM systems to make personnel decisions because they do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.”
For the many of Louisiana’s teachers, this highly flawed VAM score will make up 35% of their overall evaluation.
SLTs: The other assessment metric used in teacher evaluations is the Student Learning Target (SLT) score. The LDOE defines this score as “a measurable goal for student achievement over a given period of time.” These SLTs are supposed to be drafted by teachers at the beginning of each school year, based on the needs of their students.
While not as inherently flawed as VAM, the state’s SLT system does present problems that can interfere with the overall accuracy of a teacher’s evaluation. Despite the current guidelines, sometimes a principal or district will determine SLT targets without the teacher's agreement. Or, new students will enter a teacher’s classroom later in the year and that can interfere with their original targets. Theoretically, if a teacher’s class “changes significantly” the teacher and their evaluator are supposed to update their targets, but that often doesn’t happen, or they may disagree on what constitutes a “significant” change.
The most glaring problem with the SLT system is that it doesn’t account for circumstances that could interfere with learning targets outside teacher' control. For example, the state SLT system remained the same during the 2020-2021 school year, despite the pandemic: the sporadic school closings and quarantines and virtual instruction, and everything else that interfered with our student’s instruction. School districts received a reprieve from evaluations during this time, but teachers did not.
For purely political reasons, we haven’t changed our accountability system in years, even when we know it isn’t working.  
In the decade prior to the implementation of the Compass Teacher Evaluation system and the Common Core State Standards, “Louisiana schools have achieved unprecedented academic growth” according to the LDOE. Since the implementation of these “accountability” measures, Louisiana’s students have fallen further and further behind. In 2010 Louisiana schools ranked 32rd out of 50 states. As of 2022, Louisiana has fallen to 48th.
Louisiana’s outdated evaluation system is burning out our teachers. Only 15 states still mandate the use of VAM in teacher evaluations. As more of Louisiana’s teachers consider moving to neighboring states that pay teachers more, they also see that none of those states mandate the use of VAM in teacher evaluations, which just gives teachers one more incentive to move out of state.
When Representative Frank Hoffman proposed Act 54, the legislation that created Louisiana's current accountability model, he said that if it did not work, he would be the first to propose a repeal. True to his word, Hoffman made numerous attempts to repeal the law to remove the VAM requirement in accountability measures and teacher evaluations. His legislation repeatedly died in the House Education Committee, often without a vote; leaving parents and educators in the dark as to their legislators' position on this important issue.
VAM has been driving away teachers and hurting students for too long. It is a failed experiment, and it is long past time that the legislature rectify their mistake and repeal the use of VAM in district accountability and teacher evaluations. Your legislators represent you, their constituents. It is crucial for them to hear from you in your own words.

Click here to send a letter to your legislators.