Louisiana Federation of Teachers
Reaction to Preliminary LDOE and other Stakeholder Recommendations to the Act 240 Subcommittee
Conducted January 13-February 9, 2015
Teachers and other stakeholders from around Louisiana seem to agree that high-stakes standardized tests are the wrong way to measure teacher effectiveness and student progress, that local school leaders should have more say in how teachers are evaluated, and that leaders should be better trained in how to help teachers improve.
Those are a few of the results of a Louisiana Federation of Teachers survey taken after the state education board’s Accountability Commission released a list of proposed changes to the teacher evaluation program. The survey also included suggested changes from a consortium of principals, teacher groups, school board officials. Not surprisingly, respondents found greater favor with the recommendations presented, as characterized by one educator, “those closest to the action.”
These findings are consistent with assessments made by LFT leaders across the state after consulting with members.
The survey, taken by more than 800 respondents from around the state, revealed broad agreement that the Value Added Model, which grades teachers, schools and school districts on the results of standardized tests, is a very unpopular instrument.
VAM uses an extremely complicated algebraic formula to calculate student progress and make assumptions about teacher and school effectiveness. Numerous researchers have criticized the model.
The sentiment of many respondents is perhaps best captured in the comments of one respondent: “The lead associations of statistical researchers as a group as well as majority of researchers have agreed that VAM is not an appropriate tool for evaluation of teachers. If our state is going to use the best research to improve our public education, then we will drop VAM or at least suspend it so that policy-makers can have clearer understanding of VAM.”
The survey made it clear that some of the issues raised by the Accountability Commission need to be much better explained to teachers. Large numbers said that the “need more information” before they can express an opinion on some of the ideas.
An example is the suggestion that the TAP (Teacher Advancement Program) Initiative be expanded statewide.
TAP stresses collaboration and mentorship in schools, and rewards teachers with bonuses for meeting targets. As policy, TAP once was on center stage, and it was not without controversy.
TAP has a mixed record of success, and questions have been raised about whether schools can depend on corporate grants to sustain the cost of the program.
Opinions for (170) and against (211) TAP are closer than some other survey results, but many more (402) say they don’t have enough information about the program.
Two comments exemplify the opinion gap on TAP:
• “TAP is a great system that has a tremendous impact on teacher development and student success as a result of teacher growth.”
• “After 39 years of teaching, I have not seen any improvement with the TAP initiative. The evaluation portion, particularly, has devastated the education community with its unfairness. Morale is at an all-time low.”
Large numbers of “need more information” responses for such questions demonstrate that the state should fully explain proposed changes to teachers and administrators – and win their approval - before implementation. This is consistent with reports from our own Federation leaders who assert that teachers in their respective areas are wary and have wearied of “concepts ---beautiful proposals--- that all too often have revealed themselves as quite the opposite once implemented as policy.”
Broad areas of agreement among teachers who completed the survey include the following:
• Teacher evaluations should be based on multiple sources of information, and not a single test.
• Local school leaders should have more leeway in evaluating teachers, but should also have all the training necessary to accurately judge teachers.
• There is little trust in the Department of Education or Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop an appropriate evaluation instrument.
• Use of the Value Added Model should be indefinitely suspended. It is quite evident that the “jury is in” regarding VAM, and the vote is “no confidence.”
• Student Learning Targets should be the result of collaboration between teachers and school leaders, and not imposed by principals or school districts. The bottom line, echoed by our own organizational leadership, is teachers want to be treated as professionals in actions as well as words.
• Teachers of various specialties should have subject-specific evaluation instruments. One size does not fit all. Federation leaders do not accept the argument that enlightened districts already have the discretion to bend the current rubric to fit the discipline. Such an argument simply fuels an unnecessary and counterproductive blame game.
• There should be no “quota system” or bell curve to determine the numbers of ineffective, effective and highly effective teachers.
Here is a complete list of the issues surveyed, with the numbers of responses and a few sample comments made by teachers.
Issues 1 through 7 are the suggestions of the Accountability Commission’s subcommittee on teacher evaluation. Issues 8 through 13 were raised by teacher organizations, principals and school boards.
Issue 1: Train school leaders on how to create and manage schools where teachers have daily conversations about student growth and personal skill development.
Agree: 407 Disagree: 124 Need More Information: 268
• Absolutely! This is what it is all about.
• Teachers have enough on their plates daily. To add daily conversations about student growth and personal skill development would continue to overwhelm teachers and lower moral. This is a good idea but shouldn't be done on a daily basis.
• This is important because teachers are on the forefront and work with students on a daily basis. They are the ones that have direct knowledge of the improvements that students are making in their classrooms.
• I barely have time to use the bathroom, let alone add something else to do to my day. I'm not sure what this means,
• Sounds good, but what does this look like...where does the time come from???
Issue 2: Expand the TAP Initiative.
Agree: 170 Disagree: 211 Need More Information: 402
• TAP is a great system that has a tremendous impact on teacher development and student success as a result of teacher growth.
• As a teacher in a parish where we piloted TAP I can tell you from experience the TAP program fosters an unhealthy environment. Teaching is a profession where when you have a good idea or find something that works you should share it with others... if you are competing for the highest test scores so that you receive the higher pay, you are not as apt to share. Also, when the evaluations take place (master and mentor teachers evaluate their peers) and again when pay is distributed there are very hard feelings.
• I have heard that TAP works but after working at a TAP school all I saw was stressed out teachers, confused students and clueless administrators.
• After 39 years of teaching, I have not seen any improvement with the TAP initiative. The evaluation portion, particularly, has devastated the education community with its unfairness. Morale is at an all-time low.
• TAP was a wonderful resource for all professionals involved in students’ academic instruction.
Issue 3: Develop a statewide principal mentorship program (to include the use of the Compass tool to support teacher improvement through collaboration, observation and feedback).
Agree: 429 Disagree: 190 Need More Information: 174
• Because principals bring a wide array of experiences to the profession and collaboration between school leaders from diverse backgrounds can be very beneficial to one another.
• Before you roll this out you should do a trial run with principals with an accountability check for consistency. The results should be confirmed by an outside observer for consistency and accuracy prior to implementation.
• Principals are also overloaded with the compass observations. They rarely have time for other duties because this is so time consuming.
• I am not against helping or mentoring another principal; however, it is hard to do so with all the changes that have been made by the DOE. Veteran principals have a tough time keeping up with all the recent changes that I feel it would be difficult to mentor a new principal when we ourselves are not comfortable with the changes.
Issue 4: Goal setting for school leaders with the principals setting goals based on SPS improvements and DOE setting example targets to support principal and superintendent goal setting.
Agree: 354 Disagree: 180 Need More Information: 251
• The goal setting should move from teachers and school leaders out to parents, students, and community members, not to DOE, which is currently composed of bureaucrats and ideologues with little to no experience in instruction.
• The SPS are arbitrary numbers based on some ever-changing guide. The numbers can be inflated or devalued based on the State's needs. Why rate schools? All it does is give an unreal number that means absolutely nothing about the population of the school.
• Principals should set school goals and answer to their local superintendents and school boards as they are the ones familiar with the particular school population and issues. The DOE is supposed to make policy and should stay out of local business... especially since many DOE are not actually educators.
• So a principal would have to write SLTs based on the SPS and the DOE would dictate parameters? Unfair on many levels: (1) There should be no SPS until the transition to PARCC is complete. (2) There should be no SPS until the DOE stops tweaking test results. Will we ever know for sure that the test scores were/were not manipulated? Probably not. (3) SLTs should be set be the individual and approved by the individual's evaluator. The evaluator should approved or reject SLTs based on prescribed conditions. The DOE should not interject themselves in district activities.
• This may work if the principals are actually allowed to set realistic goals based on their schools and students and without interference by politicians.
• Shouldn’t the goal be to teach students to love learning? Quit sucking the joy out of school
Issue 5. Empower school leaders to provide feedback, final ratings, and contemplate multiple sources of information.
Agree: 553 Disagree: 63 Need More Information: 170
• Nothing wrong with a school leader having more authority and influence but if they haven't all gone through the same training with similar expectations, requirements, and replicable program components, then you’re shooting in the dark trying to figure out what does and does not work consistently and in a repeatable manner.
• Every evaluator should be responsible for explaining and justifying ratings and comments.
• The DOE, especially John White, has frequently accused principals of being too lenient in their evaluations of teachers. If they already don't trust in principals' integrity and ability to fairly and accurately evaluate teachers, do they really expect us to believe that they are going to allow principals to be the ones to assign teachers' final ratings?
• Using one measure to evaluate teachers is not fair; multiple sources should definitely be used.
• An effective ranking system would take into account all of the variables that should be considered. As we know, all schools are not equal.
Issue 6: Final ratings should be informed by multiple sources of information, not a single data point (VAM).
Agree: 761 Disagree: 5 Need More Information: 33
• Frankly, VAM scores are COMPLETELY unfair and should not be used, because there is NO WAY for all teachers to be evaluated using the VAM model, because every class does not have a "high stakes" test associated with it. VAM needs to be trashed.
• Each and every student is different... situation is different... teacher is different... subject is different. You can never legitimately say they are the same.
• Triangulation of data is always a great way to weed out prejudices.
• Students are assessed in a multitude of ways throughout the academic year; consequently, teachers' evaluations should reflect a combination of these methods to gain a clearer picture of student growth.
Issue 7. VAM should not override school leader decision making.
Agree: 686 Disagree: 21 Need More Information: 94
• I agree that VAM should not override school leader decision making. At same time, school leader decision making should be expanded along lines of Peer Assistance and Review and other similar models.
• Principals are here with us every day, doing walk-a-rounds, doing formal observations, reading our lesson plans...they know us and what we are capable of and what we are doing our students...and they know the students, what they can and can't do and what they are and are not doing. They are also in contact with parents, keeping them informed along with the teachers.
• A well trained and just administrator should be the one in the school who is best informed regarding a teacher's competency and value to his/her school.
• But AGAIN be careful with this powerful decision-making. CREDIBLE DUE PROCESS must be guaranteed to help eliminate the very real political decisions which can throw great teachers to the "wolves."
• VAM should be only one part of what school leaders take into account during decision making. School leaders should know more about their teachers' accomplishments than what little VAM can show.
• An effective school leader knows the competency levels of his or her teachers. VAM scores should not override the principal's decisions.
• Principals gather data and observe their staff throughout the year. If a principal's data validates a teacher's effectiveness, then the principal should have the authority to override the VAM score, so that a teacher can receive a score that accurately reflects their work with students.
Issue 8. Remove the override provision that allows an “ineffective” rating on either the quantitative or qualitative portion of the evaluation to result in an overall “ineffective” rating.
Agree: 582 Disagree: 59 Need More Information: 156
• I've never understood this because that actually makes an ineffective 100% of the evaluation. I have actually thought about resigning because of this provision. I've taught 30 years, and I never thought I would feel so worthless because of some ridiculous number (VAM). On my principals' evaluation, I'm highly effective. On VAM 2 years ago, I was almost ineffective.
• Since SLTs are unequally established across the state and within various disciplines, a rating at either extreme should not determine final ratings.
• Other mitigating circumstances influence student performance on standardized tests. Therefore, an "ineffective" rating may not be totally accurate. The principal should have additional knowledge that will allow him/her to make an informed decision regarding the teacher's performance.
• It does not make mathematical sense that being rated "ineffective" for 50% of an evaluation would override the 50% "effective" score. An average score should be reached.
Issue 9: Indefinitely suspend the use of the Value Added Model for the quantitative portion of a teacher’s evaluation.
Agree: 670 Disagree: 39 Need More Information: 99
• The lead associations of statistical researchers as a group as well as majority of researchers have agreed that VAM is not an appropriate tool for evaluation of teachers. If our state is going to use the best research to improve our public education, then we will drop VAM or at least suspend so that policy-makers can have clearer understanding of VAM.
• VAM has never worked. My teachers that have the highest percentage of students passing the LEAP have some of the lowest VAM scores. This is a slap in the face to teachers that were happy about their students passing the test.
• Isn't it obvious? Every single year testing changes! How can you compare last year's test to this year's test! Until the test is the SAME in every subject across the board, there is no reason quantitative VAMs should be used!
• VAM helps teachers at my school. SLT's set by our district based on test scores are unattainable.
• We need a chance to adjust to the Common Core and new standardized testing, and then evaluations could be based on student growth. VAM needs to be for all teachers. Also independent testers should be utilized to ensure honesty among test givers.
• Too many changes are taking place for VAM to be accurate.
Issue 10: BESE policy should specifically require that Student Learning Targets be determined in consultation between the teacher and immediate supervisor.
Agree: 584 Disagree: 83 Need More Information: 131
• In my district, elementary teachers' SLT's were written FOR us. We were NOT allowed to write our own SLTs.
• No. Teachers should be able to establish their own learning targets within established parameters independent of an approval from an immediate supervisor. This option gives to much subjectivity to an outcome that is an attempt to be objective in nature.
• Think this is a great idea, but in practice the collaboration has been used as an intimidation. The SLT's should be attainable goals, not over-reaching goals for the principal to get kudos. The teacher and principal should come to an agreement based on the class expectations and not some arbitrary goal designed by the parish or principal.
• Districts setting one size fits all SLTs is not fair
• With the emphasis on 'consultation' instead of the current system that has removed a teacher's right to challenge the immediate supervisor's opinion.
• Last year my SLT was arbitrarily set by Central Office without any input whatsoever from me.
Issue 11: All quota systems of mandatory percentages at each level of proficiency should be removed from evaluation systems.
Agree: 642 Disagree: 27 Need More Information: 132
• As students progress to higher performance levels, there should be no quotas. It is an inefficient way to measure teacher performance. As an example, a student begins school reading 2 grade-levels below their current grade and progresses to on-level by the end of the year. That student will still be behind the next year, but will be closer to on-level than before having made a 2 grade-level leap in performance.
• Yes, I agree. Quota systems cause educators to focus on the quota not classroom learning.
• Again we are placing a number, or a "label" on out students. We have stopped teaching the individual and begun teaching the number. Teachers are forced to divide their time inequitably between students labeled with a high number and those labeled with low numbers.
• Quota system implies a bell curve normal distribution which does not exist in the real world.
• Requiring that 10% of teachers have to be rated ineffective is a slap in the face of dedicated educators that give their lives to their students. If there are problems - get rid of the problems. There should not be a set amount of "problems" to look for. Use the data to determine the percentages - not the other way around!
Issue 12: Create a committee of teachers and administrators to develop different criteria for teachers of various specialties.
Agree: 678 Disagree: 49 Need More Information: 75
• Do we really need another committee? And will they actually use "real" classroom teachers?
• As a librarian, I totally agree with this. Our area is almost impossible to measure on an achievement basis, as we provide more support than direct, consistent instruction.
• If teacher had input into COMPASS it wouldn't be such a mess.
• Who better to develop the criteria than those directly involved?
• Absolutely!! For special education and lower elementary teachers, it is almost impossible to meet the rigor of the current evaluation rubric.
• Common sense on this one. A math teacher and an art teacher cannot be evaluated with the same criteria.
• Need Unions in this process.
• Only teachers actually teaching in that specialty area should be consulted.
Issue 13: Give principals the option of having to complete only one Compass observation if the teacher scores effective proficient or highly effective on the first observation.
Agree: 756 Disagree: 34 Need More Information: 24
• If a teacher does his/her job daily and well, the administrative team would be better suited to spend time with educators who need a little more support to really help them be successful.
• With the exception of random walk-in observations. Principals and other administrators should do these to see effectiveness and ineffectiveness of teachers and students.
• Principals are totally deluged with paperwork already. Give them more flexibility.
• This will lessen undue stress on teachers, as they are already required to work with changing curriculum, policies, and evaluation procedures.
• Why keep coming back to observe someone who is already doing well?