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Posted at 12:40 PM ET, 03/28/2012

Researchers blast Chicago teacher evaluation reform

Scores of professors and researchers from 16 universities throughout the Chicago metropolitan area have signed an open letter to the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and Chicago school officials warning against implementing a teacher evaluation system that is based on standardized test scores.

This is the latest protest against “value-added” teacher evaluation models that purport to measure how much “value” a teacher adds to a student’s academic progress by using a complicated formula involving a standardized test score.

Researchers have repeatedly warned against using these methods, but school reformers have been doing it in state after state anyway. A petition in New York State by principals and others against a test-based evaluation system there has been gaining ground.

Here’s the Chicago letter:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, and the Chicago School Board
Regarding Chicago’s Implementation of Legislation for the Evaluation of Teachers and Principals


Chicago Public Schools (CPS) plans to implement dramatic changes in the 2012-2013 school year.  As university professors and researchers who specialize in educational research, we recognize that change is an essential component of school improvement.  We are very concerned, however, at a continuing pattern of changes imposed rapidly without high-quality evidentiary support. 

The new evaluation system for teachers and principals centers on misconceptions about student growth, with potentially negative impact on the education of Chicago’s children.  We believe it is our ethical obligation to raise awareness about how the proposed changes not only lack a sound research basis, but in some instances, have already proven to be harmful.

In this letter, we describe our concerns and relevant research as we make two recommendations for moving forward:

1.     Pilot and adjust the evaluation system before implementing it on a large scale.

2.     Minimize the percentage that student growth counts in teacher or principal evaluation.

We also urge consulting on the above steps with the professors and researchers among us who bring both scholarly and practical expertise on these issues.

Background

In January 2010, the Illinois State Legislature—in an effort to secure federal Race to the Top funds—approved an amendment to the Illinois School Code known as the Performance Evaluation Review Act (PERA), which requires districts to include “student growth” as a significant portion of teacher and principal evaluation.  While most of the state does not have to implement a new evaluation plan for teachers until 2016, CPS was able to get written into the law an early implementation date of September 2012 for at least 300 schools.

The proposed rules associated with PERA will not be finalized until April 2012 at the earliest. Nevertheless, CPS is moving ahead with teacher and principal evaluation plans based on the proposals.  The suggested rules define “significant” use of student growth as at least 25% of a principal’s or teacher’s evaluation in the first two years of implementation, and 30% after that, with the possibility of making student growth count for as much as 50%.

The PERA law mandates that multiple measures of student growth be used in teacher evaluation.  The proposed rules identify three types of measures: standardized tests administered beyond Illinois (Type I), assessments approved for use districtwide (Type II), and classroom assessments aligned to curriculum (Type III).  Under the proposed rules, every teacher’s student growth will be determined through the use of at least one Type III assessment, which means that two Type IIIs would be used if no Type I or II is appropriate.

In what follows, we draw on research to describe three significant concerns with this plan.

Concern #1: CPS is not ready to implement a teacher-evaluation system that is based on significant use of “student growth.”
For Type I or Type II assessments, CPS must identify the assessments to be used, decide how to measure student growth on those assessments, and translate student growth into teacher-evaluation ratings.  They must determine how certain student characteristics such as placement in special education, limited English-language proficiency, and residence in low-income households will be taken into consideration.  They have to make sure that the necessary technology is available and usable, guarantee that they can correctly match teachers to their actual students, and determine that the tests are aligned to the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

In addition, teachers, principals, and other school administrators have to be trained on the use of student assessments for teacher evaluation.  This training is on top of training already planned about CCSS and the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching, used for the “teacher practice” part of evaluation.

For most teachers, a Type I or II assessment does not exist for their subject or grade level, so most teachers will need a Type III assessment.  While work is being done nationally to develop what are commonly called assessments for “non-tested” subjects, this work is in its infancy.  CPS must identify at least one Type III assessment for every grade and every subject, determine how student growth will be measured on these assessments, and translate the student growth from these different assessments into teacher-evaluation ratings in an equitable manner.

If CPS insists on implementing a teacher-evaluation system that incorporates student growth in September 2012, we can expect to see a widely flawed system that overwhelms principals and teachers and causes students to suffer.


Concern #2: Educational research and researchers strongly caution against teacher-evaluation approaches that use Value-Added Models (VAMs).

Chicago already uses a VAM statistical model to determine which schools are put on probation, closed, or turned around.  For the new teacher-evaluation system, student growth on Type I or Type II assessments will be measured with VAMs or similar models.  Yet, ten prominent researchers of assessment, teaching, and learning recently wrote an open letter that included some of the following concerns about using student test scores to evaluate educators[1]:

a. Value-added models (VAMs) of teacher effectiveness do not produce stable ratings of teachers.  For example, different statistical models (all based on reasonable assumptions) can yield different effectiveness scores. [2]  Researchers have found that how a teacher is rated changes from class to class, from year to year, and even from test to test. [3]

b.  There is no evidence that evaluation systems that incorporate student test scores produce gains in student achievement.  In order to determine if there is a relationship, researchers recommend small-scale pilot testing of such systems. Student test scores have not been found to be a strong predictor of the quality of teaching as measured by other instruments or approaches. [4]

c. Assessments designed to evaluate student learning are not necessarily valid for measuring teacher effectiveness or student learning growth. [5] Using them to measure the latter is akin to using a meter stick to weigh a person: you might be able to develop a formula that links height and weight, but there will be plenty of error in your calculations.


Concern #3: Students will be adversely affected by the implementation of this new teacher-evaluation system.

When a teacher’s livelihood is directly impacted by his or her students’ scores on an end-of-year examination, test scores take front and center.  The nurturing relationship between teacher and student changes for the worse, including in the following ways:

a.  With a focus on end-of-year testing, there inevitably will be a narrowing of the curriculum as teachers focus more on test preparation and skill-and-drill teaching. [6]  Enrichment activities in the arts, music, civics, and other non-tested areas will diminish.

b. Teachers will subtly but surely be incentivized to avoid students with health issues, students with disabilities, students who are English Language Learners, or students suffering from emotional issues.  Research has shown that no model yet developed can adequately account for all of these ongoing factors. [7]

c. The dynamic between students and teacher will change.  Instead of “teacher and student versus the exam,” it will be “teacher versus students’ performance on the exam.”

d. Collaboration among teachers will be replaced by competition. With a “value-added” system, a 5th grade teacher has little incentive to make sure that his or her incoming students score well on the 4th grade exams, because incoming students with high scores would make his or her job more challenging.

e. When competition replaces collaboration, every student loses.

Our Recommendations

1.   Pilot and adjust the evaluation system before implementing it on a large scale.

Any annual evaluation system should be piloted and adjusted as necessary based on field feedback before being put in place citywide.  In other words, Chicago should pilot models and then use measures of student learning to evaluate the model.  Delaware spent years piloting and fine-tuning their system before putting it in place formally statewide.  Conversely, Tennessee’s teacher-evaluation system made headlines when its hurried implementation led to unintended negative consequences.

2.   Minimize the percentage that student growth counts in teacher or principal evaluation.

Until student-growth measures are found to be valid and reliable sources of information on teacher or principal performance, they should not play a major role in summative ratings.  Teacher-practice instruments, such as the Charlotte Danielson Framework, focus on what a teacher does and how practice can be strengthened.  Students benefit when objective feedback is part of their teachers’ experience.  Similar principal frameworks serve the same purpose.

We, Chicago-area university professors and researchers who specialize in educational research, conclude that hurried implementation of teacher evaluation using student growth will result in inaccurate assessments of our teachers, a demoralized profession, and decreased learning among and harm to the children in our care.  It is wasteful of increasingly limited resources to implement systemwide a program that has not yet been field-tested.  Our students are more than the sum of their test scores, and an overemphasis on test scores will not result in increased learning, increased well-being, and greater success.  According to a nine-year study by the National Research Council[8], the past decade’s emphasis on testing has yielded little learning progress, especially considering the cost to our taxpayers.

We support accountability and high standards. We want what is best for our students.  We believe, however, that an unproven and potentially harmful evaluation system is not the path to lasting school improvement.  We must not lose sight of what matters the most—the academic, social, and emotional growth and well-being of Chicago’s children.[9]


Signed by 88 educational researchers across Chicagoland, as of March 26, 2012.  University affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.
1.     (Primary Contact) Kevin Kumashiro, University of Illinois at Chicago, kevink@uic.edu, 312-996-8530

2.     Ann Aviles de Bradley, Northeastern Illinois University

3.     William Ayers, University of Illinois at Chicago

4.     Martha Biondi, Northwestern University

5.     Leslie Rebecca Bloom, Roosevelt University

6.     Robert Anthony Bruno, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

7.     Brian Charles Charest, University of Illinois at Chicago

8.     Amina Chaudhri, Northeastern Illinois University

9.     Ronald E. Chennault, DePaul University

10.   Sumi Cho, DePaul University

11.   Katherine Copenhaver, Roosevelt University

12.   Gabriel Cortez, Northeastern Illinois University

13.   Todd DeStigter, University of Illinois at Chicago

14.   Renee Dolezal, University of Illinois at Chicago

15.   Sarah Donovan, University of Illinois at Chicago

16.   Aisha El-Amin, University of Illinois at Chicago

17.   Stephanie Farmer, Roosevelt University

18.   Rocío Ferreira, DePaul University

19.   Joby Gardner, DePaul University

20.   Erik Gellman, Roosevelt University

21.   Judith Gouwens, Roosevelt University

22.   Eric Gutstein, University of Illinois at Chicago

23.   Horace R. Hall, DePaul University

24.   Cecily Relucio Hensler, University of Chicago

25.   Peter B. Hilton, Saint Xavier University

26.   Lauren Hoffman, Lewis University

27.   Marvin Hoffman, University of Chicago

28.   Nicole Holland, Northeastern Illinois University

29.   Amy Feiker Hollenbeck, DePaul University

30.   Stacey Horn, University of Illinois at Chicago

31.   Diane Horwitz, DePaul University

32.   Marie Tejero Hughes, University of Illinois at Chicago

33.   Seema Iman, National Louis University

34.   Valerie C. Johnson, DePaul University

35.   Susan Katz, Roosevelt University

36.   Bill Kennedy, University of Chicago

37.   Jung Kim, Lewis University

38.   Michael Klonsky, DePaul University

39.   Pamela J. Konkol, Concordia University Chicago

40.   Emily E. LaBarbera-Twarog, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

41.   Crystal Laura, Chicago State University

42.   Pauline Lipman, University of Illinois at Chicago

43.   Alberto Lopez, Northeastern Illinois University

44.   Norma Lopez-Reyna, University of Illinois at Chicago

45.   Antonina Lukenchuk, National Louis University

46.   Christina L. Madda, Northeastern Illinois University

47.   Eleni Makris, Northeastern Illinois University

48.   Christine Malcom, Roosevelt University

49.   Kathleen McInerney, Saint Xavier University

50.   Elizabeth Meadows, Roosevelt University

51.   Erica R. Meiners, Northeastern Illinois University

52.   Marlene V. Meisels, Concordia University Chicago

53.   Gregory Michie, Concordia University Chicago

54.   Daniel Miltner, University of Illinois at Chicago

55.   Tom Moher, University of Illinois at Chicago

56.   Carol Myford, University of Illinois at Chicago

57.   Isabel Nuñez, Concordia University Chicago

58.   Tammy Oberg De La Garza, Roosevelt University

59.   Esther Ohito, University of Chicago

60.   Tema Okun, National Louis University

61.   Irma Olmedo, University of Illinois at Chicago

62.   Bradley Porfilio, Lewis University

63.   Amira Proweller, DePaul University

64.   Isaura B. Pulido, Northeastern Illinois University

65.   Therese Quinn, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

66.   Eileen Quinn Knight, Saint Xavier University

67.   Josh Radinsky, University of Illinois at Chicago

68.   Arthi Rao, University of Illinois at Chicago

69.   Dale Ray, University of Chicago

70.   Sarah Maria Rutter, University of Illinois at Chicago

71.   Karyn Sandlos, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

72.   William H. Schubert, University of Illinois at Chicago

73.   Brian D. Schultz, Northeastern Illinois University

74.   Amy Shuffleton, University on Wisconsin at Whitewater

75.   Noah W. Sobe, Loyola University Chicago

76.   Sonia Soltero, DePaul University

77.   Gerri Spinella, National Louis University

78.   David Stovall, University of Illinois at Chicago

79.   Simeon Stumme, Concordia University Chicago

80.   Tom Thomas, Roosevelt University

81.   Richard M. Uttich, Roosevelt University

82.   Robert Wagreich, University of Illinois at Chicago

83.   Frederico Waitoller, University of Illinois at Chicago

84.   Norman Weston, National Louis University

85.   Daniel White, Roosevelt University

86.   Jeff Winter, National Louis University

87.   Chyrese S. Wolf, Chicago State University

88.   Kate Zilla, National Louis University

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[1] Baker, E., et al. (2011). Correspondence to the New York State Board of Regents. Retrieved October 16, 2011 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/the-letter-from-assessment-experts-the-ny-regentsignored/2011/05/21/AFJHIA9G_blog.html.

[2] Papay, J. (2011). Different tests, different answers: The stability of teacher value-added estimates across outcome measures. American Educational Research Journal, 48(1), 163-193. [3] McCaffrey, D., et al. (2004). Evaluating value-added models of teacher accountability. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.

[4] See Burris, C., & Welner, K. (2011). Conversations with Arne Duncan: Offering advice on educator evaluations. Phi Delta Kappan, 93(2), 38-41.

[5] Goe, L., & Holdheide, L. (2011). Measuring teachers’ contributions to student learning growth for nontested grades and subjects. Retrieved February 2, 2012 from http://www.tqsource.org/publications/MeasuringTeachersContributions.pdf.

[6] Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education of the National Research Council. (2011). Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

[7] Baker, E., et al (2010). Problems with the use of test scores to evaluate teachers . Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved October 16, 2011 from http://epi.3cdn.net/b9667271ee6c154195_t9m6iij8k.pdf; Newton, X., et al. (2010). Value-added modeling of teacher effectiveness: An exploration of stability across models and contexts. Education Policy and Analysis Archives. Retrieved October 16, 2011 from http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/810/858; Rothstein, J. (2009). Student sorting and bias in value-added estimation: Selection on observables and unobservables. Education Finance and Policy, 4(4), 537–571. [8] Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education of the National Research Council. (2011). Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

[9] Note: This letter was adapted from the letter written by Sean C. Feeney, Ph.D. and Carol C. Burris, Ed.D., which was signed by more than 1400 New York principals in opposition to New York’s evaluation plan. http://www.newyorkprincipals.org.

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