Gov. Cuomo: “Only 38 percent of the students are graduating at class-level, but 99 percent of teachers are doing well.” What’s the Fix?

Last week our new blogger Tina Posterli, a parent on Long Island, described her frustration with New York State’s teacher evaluation system. For those catching up, Gov. Cuomo, the State Legislature, and the Board of Regents originally signed off on an accountability system that would link 50 percent of student outcomes on standardized tests to teacher evaluations. (A bit too high, in my opinion, but commendably ambitious.)  However, after blowback from teacher union leaders and suburban parents aiming the weapon of test refusal squarely at Cuomo’s political aspirations, the Governor folded and declared a four-year moratorium on that linkage.

This backslide makes anti-accountability folks happy;  under this system almost every teacher is rated “effective.” This backslide makes parents who care about measuring teacher effectiveness unhappy. Here’s Tina’s take:

[M]y daughter and a number of her friends took an Advanced Placement World History course last year and none of them — all of whom are National Honors Society students — received the end-of -year test score needed for college credit. I find this to be highly disturbing and it raises red flags about evaluating the effectiveness of her teachers. With these types of testing results — a direct result of instructional effectiveness — removed from the evaluation equation during my daughter’s high school years, will she receive the quality of education necessary for her college years?

Many education advocates struggle with Tina’s concerns. We wholeheartedly support our children’s teachers, most of whom are effective instructors. We worry about their morale given the recent upgrades in course content and accountability.  We closely watch retention rates because we like stability in our schools.  We support raising salaries. But we also care deeply about teacher quality and question the credibility of the current system which, in 2015, rated just 1 percent of NYS teachers “ineffective.”  Or, as Governor Cuomo said in 2015 before his flip-flop, “we now have a teacher evaluation system that came back—99 percent of the teachers are doing great! Only 38 percent of the students are graduating at class-level, but 99 percent of teachers are doing well. It can’t be—99 percent of no class does extraordinary!” 

And so, we wonder, would a linkage between student outcomes and evaluations increase the odds of  boosting our kids’ achievement without driving out great teachers?

According to a new study from Education Next, the answer is “yes.” EdNext analyzed the 8-year impact of IMPACT, the District of Columbia Public Schools’ (DCPS) system of  linking  teacher effectiveness to job security and compensation. Unlike NYS’s almost universally high estimation of teacher quality, in 2009-2011 in D.C., 14 percent of teachers were rated “highly effective,” 69 percent of teachers were rated “effective,” 14 percent were judged “minimally effective,”  and another 2 percent were deemed “ineffective.” Those with ineffective ratings were dismissed. Those rated “minimally ineffective” got one year to improve and if they didn’t they were dismissed. Those rated “highly effective” for two consecutive years were awarded with increases in their base pay of up to $27,000, with teachers willing to teach in high-poverty schools eligible for even larger increases.

And what did this focus on linking job security and instructional effectiveness as measured by student outcomes mean for DCPS kids and their parents?

From the report:

Our studies provide clear evidence that IMPACT’s exceptionally high-powered, individually targeted incentives linked to performance influence retention and performance in desirable ways. This multiple-measures system boosts performance among teachers most immediately facing consequences for their ratings, and promotes higher rates of turnover among the lowest-performing teachers, with positive consequences for student achievement.

In other words, ineffective teachers, like those Tina worries about, quickly leave the system on their own or are dismissed.  Ineffective  teachers, we know, tend to disproportionately cluster in high-poverty schools and, thus, “more than 90 percent of the turnover of low-performing teachers occurs in high-poverty schools, which constitute 75 percent of all [D.C.] schools. The proportion of exiting teachers who are low performers is twice as high in these high-poverty schools as in low-poverty schools. In comparison with almost any other intervention, these are very large improvements for some of the school district’s neediest students.

The impact of this sort of multiple-measure teacher evaluation system on high-poverty schools leads to replacement of ineffective teachers with effective ones.

What’s not to like?

The authors conclude, ““our results indicate that, under a robust system of performance evaluation, the turnover of teachers can generate meaningful gains in student outcomes, particularly for the most disadvantaged students. The eight-year history of IMPACT shows that such efforts are not politically impossible.”

Perhaps it’s time for New York State education leaders to reconsider their aversion to data-informed teacher evaluations and instead focus on what’s best for students.

What do you think?

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