Dear District Reps,
These have been a dizzying few days – the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the divided Congressional response to a bailout, and now the mayor making his decision to try to overturn term limits in the context of this crisis. The mayor will announce tomorrow that he will seek a third term by changing the law on term limits through legislation in the City Council. As the voters have spoken on term limits twice, some of us believe – even those like me who oppose term limits – that any attempt to undo the voice of the people should go back to the electorate in a special election, not to the Council. We have a resolution coming before the next Executive Board precisely on this point. Obviously, because of the ramifications of all this, we are watching carefully and have been in touch with elected officials, civic and educational groups and other labor unions about this.
This makes the other news I wanted to report that much more important. Right before the Rosh Hashanah holiday started, and as the school system was about to release the data it had collected on how kids in particular classes had done on standardized tests, Joel Klein and I reached an agreement that once and for all closes the door on using student test score data to evaluate teacher performance.
You may recall that last year we told you about the DOE’s pilot program to assess individual teachers’ contributions to their students’ achievement growth, controlling for such factors as the children’s poverty, special ed and ELL status, attendance, prior scores as well as class and school conditions. At that time we acted quickly to prevent the use of such data in making tenure determinations and received assurances that the initial reports were not to be used for evaluation purposes. In the meantime, we had a very public dispute with the city about all this last spring in Albany, which ended with the state Legislature agreeing that while teachers are responsible for using data to inform instruction, tenure could not be based on standardized test scores.
The DOE is now planning to release the same kind of data it piloted last year to all math and English Language Arts teachers in grades 4 to 8. The teacher data reports will be issued in November. The reports will be based on last year's New York State math and ELA exams and, if applicable, test score data from the two prior testing years.
In our agreement, which is spelled out in a joint letter appearing in this week’s Principals’ Weekly that is being issued this evening (reprinted below), the DOE makes it clear to principals that the results of these analyses must not be used for evaluation purposes. Instead, they should be used to help teachers strengthen their instruction and to help the school plan instructional and professional development strategies. In addition, the data is available only to the principal and the individual teacher, unless that teacher decides to share it.
Like many other types of data and other professional tools, this information can be a powerful instructional tool if teachers have the access, understanding and time to use it properly to assess and address their own strengths and weaknesses. But used improperly, it can be seen as a tool of intimidation and punishment. The chancellor and I issued the joint statement in order to ensure the most productive and positive use of these reports.
Although the teacher is the most important factor in student learning, there are many other influencing variables that are outside the teachers’ control, many of which cannot be precisely measured. That’s why we have opposed the use of student test score data sorted by individual teachers for high-stakes decisions such as tenure, evaluation or pay.
The commitments expressed in this joint letter should reassure members that the data will not be used against them. However, we must at the same time be prepared to respond to any violations of this understanding. Chapter leaders who believe that the letter or spirit of the agreement is not being followed should alert their district reps immediately.
In addition, the DOE and the union will be providing training for all our members who receive these reports on how to read, understand and use them to boost their students’ progress in the future.
Please share this news with your chapter leaders.
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The joint letter from Weingarten and Klein:
The work of a teacher is not only about teaching; it’s also about learning. As teachers, you know that this learning process isn’t just something that happens in the first week or year on the job. It’s a career-long effort to perfect your craft—to help more students understand, achieve, and progress.
This learning happens in many ways: when you share ideas with other teachers, when you observe your colleagues’ classes, when you participate in professional development sessions or reflect, on your own, about what you’re doing well and what you could do to improve. While information from sharing and observing is critically important, educators have told us that they want as much information as possible about what’s working and not working in their classrooms. How is your work affecting particular students? For the purposes of learning and growing, how do you compare to other teachers? What are your biggest strengths and successes that you could share with your colleagues? What could you learn from your colleagues that could help you fine tune your skills?
We are writing to let you know that this fall, the Department of Education is giving ELA and math teachers in grades 4-8 and their principals a new tool to help teachers learn about their own strengths and opportunities for development. We all appreciate that there is a broad array of factors, many outside of an educator’s direct control, that influence student learning. At the same time, many of you have told us how useful it would be to better understand how your efforts are influencing student progress. This new tool is designed to help you understand just that. The reports will be provided to all 4-8 grade math and English Language Arts teachers and their principals. They will give teachers access to very useful information, including:
* Whether the data suggest that you had a greater influence on the learning of some groups of students than on others. For example, how have special education students and English language learners fared in your classroom?
* How are you doing with students in the bottom of the class or the top of the class?
* What are other English and math teachers in similar circumstances doing successfully and what could you learn from them? What are your biggest successes that you could share with your colleagues—whether they’re other teachers in your school or teachers through the City?
The reports are based on your students’ performance on last year’s New York State math and ELA exams. If applicable, you will also see information for the two prior testing years. The reports isolate individual teachers’ effect on student learning by controlling for more than 35 different factors outside of a teacher’s control, including class size, students’ prior test scores, and the percentage of students with disabilities and living in poverty in each class. Even with these statistical controls, reports like these can never perfectly represent an individual teacher’s contribution to student learning.
We wish to be clear on one point: the Teacher Data Reports are not to be used for evaluation purposes. That is, they won’t be used in tenure determinations or the annual rating process. Administrators will be specifically directed accordingly. These reports, instead, are designed to help you pinpoint your own strengths and weaknesses, and empower you, working with your principal and colleagues, to devise strategies to improve. The data reports will add to the other sources of information—like periodic assessments, examination of student class and homework, and school inquiry teams—that you can use to develop as professionals. These reports will also help your school community plan collaboratively for professional development and make other instructional decisions.
It may be useful to understand the Teacher Data Reports in the context of two values that are central to the collective work of the Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers over the past two years: empowerment and collaboration.
We deeply believe that our students have the best opportunity for success when the school, not the school system, is the central point of focus. That is why the school system has shifted more than $350 million from the bureaucracy to schools and classrooms, and that is why schools have been given substantially more power over professional development, scheduling, budget, and even support. This notion of “empowerment” is premised on the view that we need to give educators—the people closest to students with the best knowledge of what it will take to succeed—the decision-making power and tools necessary to determine how to help students succeed. The Teacher Data Reports are very much in that spirit, empowering teachers and schools with even more information that can be the foundation for improved strategies for student success.
Collaboration is an essential ingredient to school success. Over and over again, we have learned what is already intuitively obvious: when teachers work collaboratively with each other and when administrators value and support a collaborative environment, the probability of success rises. Simply put, students benefit when educators work together to assess what they’re doing well and what they need to improve. When educators use this information in a collaborative way to address school shortfalls and build on strengths, they improve their schools and improve results for students. Successful collaboration is at the heart of a well-functioning Inquiry Team, which empowers teachers to work together to solve problems and help children make academic progress. These new Teacher Data Reports will, in many cases, create additional opportunities for collaboration around instructional improvement, by giving teachers and principals additional information that will help them make more informed decisions for their schools and their students.
In the next few weeks, we’re asking schools to verify the student and classroom information in the reports. When the reports become available later this fall, the DOE and UFT will work together to provide you with information, training, resources, and support so you understand the information fully and can begin to put it to use. In the meantime, we encourage you to visit the Teacher Portal [link to Teacher Portal] to learn more and to view a draft of a sample report.
Joel I. Klein and Randi Weingarten
Teachers to Be Measured Based on Students’ Standardized Test Scores
New York City is beginning to measure the performance of thousands of elementary and middle school teachers based on how much their students improve on annual state math and reading tests.
To avoid a contentious fight with the teachers’ union, the New York City Department of Education has agreed not to make public the reports — which described teachers as average, below average or above average with various types of students — nor let them influence formal job evaluations, pay and promotions.
Rather, according to a memo to principals from Chancellor Joel I. Klein and Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, sent on Wednesday night, the reports are designed to be guides for the teachers themselves to better understand their achievements and shortcomings.
“They won’t be used in tenure determinations or the annual rating process,” the memo said. “Many of you have told us how useful it would be to better understand how your efforts are influencing student progress.”
Still, even without formal consequences for teachers, the plan is likely to anger teachers and parents who are already critical of the increasing emphasis on standardized test scores as a substitute for judging school quality. It follows the city’s much-debated issuance of report cards labeling individual schools A through F largely on the basis of student improvement on state exams.
The State Legislature this spring prohibited the use of student test scores in teacher tenure decisions. The new measurement system — called “teacher data reports” — is an expansion of a pilot program that the city began in January involving about 2,500 teachers at 140 schools. The pilot program was so controversial that several participating principals did not tell teachers they were being monitored.
Christopher Cerf, the deputy chancellor overseeing the program, said it was important to get teachers “comfortable with the data, in a positive, affirming way.”
“The information in here is a really, really important way to foster change and improvement,” he said. “We don’t want people to be threatened by this.”
In introducing the pilot program, Mr. Cerf said it would be a “powerful step forward” to have the teacher measurements made public, arguing, “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.” But this week, he said that for now the reports will be treated as personnel records not subject to public-records laws.
Principals interviewing prospective teachers from other schools would be permitted to ask candidates for their reports, but the candidates would not have to provide them.
Ms. Weingarten said that the assurance that there would not be a public airing of individual teachers’ information made her more comfortable with the idea of the reports, which she said could help teachers identify their strengths and weaknesses.
“This can be used to inform instruction and advance it,” she said in an interview. “If this is something that becomes a ranking facility, opinions will be very, very different. That door has now been closed.”
Still, Ms. Weingarten said the reports answer only “a very narrow question” of how a particular teacher’s students do on tests. She and others have long argued that there are many other criteria on which teachers should be evaluated.
The new reports are part of a broader bid by the city to improve the ways teachers are recruited, trained and measured. Last year, the Education Department began a push to get rid of subpar teachers before they earned tenure, forming a team of lawyers and consultants to help principals amass enough information to oust those who are deemed deficient and do not show signs of improvement.
There have been similar efforts across the country, as politicians and academic experts say that teachers are the most important element in improving student performance and closing the gap in achievement between white and minority students. School systems in Texas and Tennessee, for example, have used student performance and improvement as a tool to evaluate teachers.
New York City plans to generate reports for roughly 18,000 teachers — every math and English teacher in fourth through eighth grades.
Amy McIntosh, the Education Department’s chief talent officer, who helped develop the system, said that her team would continue to explore ways to monitor the effectiveness of the city’s nearly 60,000 other public school teachers, but that for now the state tests were the only data on which to reliably base evaluations of them.
The teacher data report balances the progress students make on state tests and their absences with factors that include whether they receive special-education services or qualify for free lunch, as well as the size, race and gender breakdown of the teacher’s class.
Using a complicated statistical formula, the report computes a “predicted gain” for each teacher’s class, then compares it to the students’ actual improvements on the test. The result is a snapshot analysis of how much the teacher contributed to student growth.
The reports classify each teacher as average, above average or below average in effectiveness with different categories of students, like those who score in the top third or the lowest third on the test, and those still learning English or enrolled in special-education programs. It also contains separate measurements on effectiveness in teaching boys and girls, though it does not distinguish performance by students’ race or income level. Teachers will also be given a percentile ranking indicating how their performance compares to those who teach similar students and to a citywide pool.
“When we have talked to teachers about this, there is real insight about the students,” Ms. McIntosh said. “They will say, ‘I didn’t realize I was teaching to the bottom,’ or, ‘I am really great with boys, and less so with girls.’ ”
Last year’s pilot program also attempted to measure how well a principal’s perception of teachers aligned with the student test score data. According to the Education Department, about 69 percent of the teachers whom principals rated “exceptional” were in the top half on the reports. And 73 percent of those whom principals called “fair, poor or very poor” were in the bottom half.
Frank Cimino, the principal of Public School 193 in Brooklyn, which participated in the pilot program, said he was still uncertain about how useful the reports were.
“I would like to make a comparison to see what it shows this year to what it showed last year,” he said. “I don’t think anything can replace getting into the classroom.”
Marjorie Stamberg Comments:
Now the District Reps are being asked to tell us that the joint Klein-Weingarten letter linking teacher performance to student test scores is some kind of victory for teachers! Weingarten insists it won't be used to deny tenure or for annual teaching rating. Not going to be used punitively?! This has about as much credibility as Treasury Secretary Paulson's assurances up until two weeks ago that the economy was fine. Can I interest you in a bridge that's up for sale?
The union should "just say no" to the whole idea of linking test scores to teacher performance. Instead, they buy ito it, with a caveat on how it supposedly "won't be used." But it's just plain WRONG, by all measures of pedagogy as well as basic union principles.
First off, what this will be used for is for teacher bashing--in the New York Post, Daily News, Times, and the rest of the mainstream media who for years have blamed teachers for the failures of a public education system run by people who are dead set opposed to public education.
The fact that Randi has a joint letter with Joel Klein on something like this speaks volumes about the union's failure to combat head-on the assault on public education and on teachers and students by these educational counter-reformers. This whole exercise is based on this battery of endless standardized tests which has grievously distorted public education, leading to the wholesale eliminatin of music and arts programs to slashing social studies, science and in a number of cases eliminating sports programs and recess.
The joint letter makes much of how providing the information about the performance of each student on standarized tests will suposedly help the teachers to improve his or her educational technique by knowning more about their students' progress or lack thereof. The fact of the matter is, the information on a student-by-student basis, on different area studies (ELA, math, etc) is already available to schools and teachers on ATS.
The only thing this program will do is provide a listing of such scores that will convey no new educational information and can only be used for "evaluating a teacher." The joint letter claims that this will not be used for determining tenure or annual ratings. This is a transparent fiction--the principle will sit there with this information staring them in the face and ignore it?
Furthermore, there's a long history of using what are intended as diagnostic tests for purposes of "evaluation and exclusion." At the City University, the old WAT test was supposed to be used to determine which areas an incoming student needed remedial help. But then in the late 1990s, the Giuliani regime through it's agent Herman Bedillo turned this into a prerequisite for graduation and was used to exclude students from graduating.
Here we have Unity Caucus once again greasing the skids for Bloomberg/Klein's union busting!