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Rating teachers on use of data. Huh?

May 4, 2008 pm31 7:14 pm

A few weeks ago the New York State Legislature passed, as part of a funding law, a restriction (for a few years?) that bars school districts from using student test scores in making tenure decisions. However, districts are allowed to evaluate how well teachers use student data.

Districts are allowed to evaluate how well teachers use student data in making tenure decisions. Huh???

Who cares about that? Does that let the data in through the back door?

My union, the UFT, cares how teachers use data. I don’t know why. Silly concession to Bloomberg and his chancellor? An attempt to look “reasonable”? As some sort of half-witted attempted to nudge us towards partial-self-management system in our schools? I just don’t know. Anyway,

in one of the discussions on Edwize, the UFT’s blog, I asked my questions and made my points. (reproduced at the bottom of this post). My biggest question was essentially:

is anyone foolish enough to consider a teacher’s ability to use data in making hiring decisions?

The post’s author never responded to any of my points or questions. But eventually I found my answer. It is yes.

Who considers a teacher’s ability to use data in making hiring decisions? The UFT Charter School.

Ouch. Read it here, boys and girls. I wouldn’t make this shit up. Wanna teach math for them? English? Music? Anything except para or school aide. Better show you are proficient in use of data. Hey, I wonder if that favors younger teachers? But I wonder more, why do this? What was gained? Maybe trying to set a precedent? Create a positive model? (assuming good faith, whoever put this in had to believe that it was of value, right?) Ouch.

Proficiency in formal and informal assessments and the use of quantitative and qualitative student achievement data to drive decision-making;

Below the fold’s my full comment from Edwize –>

Well put. They award and deny tenure based on performance. That’s always been the case, though they may not always perform their jobs with diligence.

The tests have everything wrong with them that you mention. And more.

But I don’t much care for part of the compromise you mentioned

the compromise agreement…makes…clear that tenure will depend upon [observation] as well as the ability of a teacher to use data to inform instruction.

What a shame you agreed to let them sneak in test scores through the back door.

Maybe what bothers me more, use of test scores doesn’t matter.

You’ve sat on more hiring committees than most people I know. Did anyone ever care about how a candidate read data?

You have run into teachers whose tenure was denied. Did a principal ever express frustration about use of data?

Ever hear of letters to file for poor use of data? Other disciplinary action?

In the rest of the world? Problems with teachers using data badly in Canada? Parochial school teachers get rated on use of data? Charter school teachers?

What about at the UFT Charter School? (we need to return to this topic at another time) Do hiring decisions include the ability of the candidate to use data?

Maybe I’m wrong and the use of data is a big part of the culture in some of these places. But I don’t think so.

Schools should have someone, maybe a few people, who can handle data well. But it doesn’t need to be the teacher who wonderfully draws students into discussion of Beowulf, the teacher who makes participatory government come alive, and certainly not the teacher who wipes noses, doles out hugs while teaching the alphabet, counting by tens, and indoor voices.

Those jobs need to be filled by people who can teach.


8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2008 pm31 8:21 pm 8:21 pm

    In our observations we are required to bring our student benchmark data. I missed it the first time this happened and got razzed a bit, but it wasn’t like I was going to miss tenure.

    The second time I went ahead and brought it, and made a couple observations; I realized the teachers giving our benchmark tests (not our math teachers — done classwide via advisory) were *not* giving our students the formula sheets. So naturally every problem involving an obscure formula was on the “most missed” list. This (supposedly) is going to lead to a change in directions for those giving the benchmark.

    In Arizona we’re hooked up with ATI Online though, so it isn’t that much a trauma to look things up. (We know from our data our students are terrible at graphing, although we could have told you that *without* the data.) If they’re just expecting you generate this data yourself that’s a bit much.

    My question is, just how serious is the UFT thing? Is it seriously weighed equally heavily with all the other factors?

  2. May 4, 2008 pm31 8:43 pm 8:43 pm

    It sounds like Arizona is doing some of that data-use stuff. Silly, frankly. Math teachers do it without thinking about it. But why rate English teachers on that? 1st grade teachers?

    I don’t know much about the UFT Charter School. It was approved by our delegates. (really, “they” since there is an elementary school and a secondary school. They have been operating for (hm? 2 years? 3 years?). And I have no idea what their hiring really looks like, but I am aware that they have some turnover problems.

  3. May 4, 2008 pm31 10:39 pm 10:39 pm

    On our most recent benchmarks the most missed standard in the English department was identifying a flawed argument type. (circular reasoning, straw man, etc.)

    Mind you, spending five minutes checking that and maybe setting the topic of the next professional development accordingly isn’t exactly a lifestyle. (Which is what UFT is endorsing?)

    I am teaching an AIMS class next year (for seniors who have not yet passed our standardized test) and I’m supposed to keep individual student data and make action plans and so forth. (Or at least *was*; the mountain of paperwork we were mandated to generate the first time our department taught the class was never seen by anyone.)

  4. Kelsey permalink
    May 5, 2008 am31 1:19 am 1:19 am

    I appreciate this post. I have used data since I began teaching 15 years ago. I give book tests, essays, vocabulary tests, spelling tests, and I use the results to adjust my teaching and determine which students need help in what areas. (Haven’t all teachers have done this forever?) Seven years ago, when I moved from a private college prep school to a continuation high school, I added a reading test and the state added an exit exam. The results of these tests are very useful. I realized I needed to figure out how to get kids from 5th grade reading level to 12th grade; I read lots of books, articles, and research, I talked with other teachers, and I incorporated new strategies into my classes.
    This year our district added Benchmark tests, made by the publisher of our newly acquired curriculum (chosen by an adminstrator with no input from teachers). We get a ton of data from these benchmark tests. I get about 30 pages of data per class (6 classes) about every 9 weeks. Talk about information overload!
    This data is not helpful to me. We are not given adequate time to analyze the data. If we did have the time, we can’t use it to reteach because we have pacing calendars that we must use to be ready for the next benchmark test.
    I agree with you that a school needs a person or two to analyze this sort of data. They could then decide if their curriculum is appropriate, if the pacing calendar is working, etc. Administrators have obviously given up on the idea that they can trust teachers for this kind of information. And isn’t that what businesses do? Don’t people get degrees in this sort of data analysis?
    In our district we have a grant writer who doesn’t write grants but tells teachers about them so we can then do the writing. We have a data person who scans tests and then gives data to teachers to analyze. We have principals in charge of discipline who refer problem students back to teachers. And we have counselors who tell teachers to analyze a student’s credit track to determine if a student is on track to graduate. We need to figure out how to get data that reflects the impact of these types of administrative decisions on student learning.

  5. May 5, 2008 am31 5:21 am 5:21 am

    I agree with part of your argument, agree with the argument you didn’t quite make and strenuously disagree with another part.

    Part you made that I agree with: in many cases with individual students, the analysis of formative assessment should probably be a specialized task. This is in part a debate over whether special education has a role in terms of specialized training.

    Part you didn’t quite make that I agree with: there are plenty of discipine/grade combinations where there is insufficient research on formative assessment to expect teachers to use quantitative data. There are some (generally in elementary schools), but in terms of using complex spreadsheet analysis? Probably not for high school history teachers.

    Part I strenuously disagree with: you don’t think teachers should know what their students are doing and respond rationally to that? Nothing in NY statutes requires that the data be entirely quantitative, and I think you’re conflating the issue of quantification from the professional issue at hand. Yes, I think teachers have to respond when their students are having problems… or showing that they’re bored because the material is easy.

  6. May 5, 2008 am31 7:18 am 7:18 am

    Kelsey and Sherman, thank you for your comments.

    Kelsey, is your experience (as far as you know) typical for your state?

    And Sherman, of course I think teachers should know what their students are doing, and should respond rationally. You’ve read my “manifesto“? (try the fourth point).

    The NY statute certainly does not exclude quantitative data (ignoring, for the moment, the painful perversion of language that converts “anecdote” into “qualitative data”).

    And if you want intent, I am assuming that my union was the inspiration, if not the author. And you see above that they ask for skill with “use of quantitative and qualitative student achievement data”

    If NY wants districts to look at how well teachers adapt instruction for each class… well, that is not something I would object to.

  7. Kelsey permalink
    May 6, 2008 am31 4:36 am 4:36 am

    In answer to your question, my impression is that my school district is much more rigidly run from the top down than many. However, English curriculum is now controlled to the extent that many schools, including my own, don’t allow the teaching of novels (except for the privileged AP students). I don’t really know how other districts handle the data accumulation. But now that you mention it, I need to find out.
    Our benchmark data, in addition to being returned to us, is in a central file, sorted by teacher, and available to all district administrators. We are told it is not accessed to evaluate teachers; no one believes that.


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