Should Calif. change its teacher evaluation law?

A California law prohibits the state from linking student data to individual teachers “for the purposes of pay, promotion, sanction, or personnel evaluation.” State Superintendent Jack O’Connell says the law doesn’t keep local districts from doing so, but federal education officials still don’t like it.

Why would Californians care? Because the state is competing for over $4 billion in federal stimulus money — also known as Race to the Top funding — and the law might make the Golden State ineligible.

Dana Hull, my colleague at the Mercury News, writes about the issue in much greater detail. You can find her piece here.

What do you make of this whole situation?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Andrew Meblin

    Paying teachers more or less depending on how well their students perform is a bad idea. Imagine that an NFL team was given a roster of players selected by a group other than the coach and team owner. The coach can not drop any players or select any other players, and he/she must give all the players equal time on the field. Now you tell the coach if the team does not make it to the playoffs the coach’s salary will be cut. Who wants that job?

  • Steven Weinberg

    As this debate proceeds, it is important to note that there is no fair way to use California’s test scores to fairly evaluate teachers. You cannot compare one teacher’s results to another, because the students they are teaching may start out with widely different beginning scores. You cannot measure growth from one year to the next, because the tests for each grade level have not been calibrated in that way. Here is what the CDE website says about comparing test scores:
    “When comparing results for the CSTs, you are limited to comparisons within the same subject and grade; that is, grade two English–language arts in 2007 compared to grade two English–language arts in 2008 or grade six mathematics in 2007 compared to grade six mathematics in 2008. No direct comparisons should be made between grades or between content areas.”

    Everyone who has studied value-added systems for evaluating teachers has noted that it would take many years of data to achieve any consistent result. I learned this at a conference sponsored by the Commission of Teacher Credentialing where most of the speakers favored some type of value-added system, but even they saw huge pitfalls. Here is a summary of a Florida study that shows that these systems do not produce consistent results: “…in a study of ‘student learning gains in four Florida school districts,’ researchers ‘found that only about one in four to one in three teachers whose student gains put them in the top 20 percent of teachers one year’ retained that position the next year. Florida State University economics professor Tim Sass, one of the researchers for the study, said that such statistics are problematic if testing data are used to determine ‘high-stakes things like teacher pay or teacher tenure.'”

    If California were to cave in and change the law in hopes of grabbing more federal money, we would be prostituting ourselves. And when we realized how invalid the results of our tests are for making high stakes decisions, we will realize that we will have sold ourselves for counterfit currency.

  • jJim Mordecai

    The San Jose Murphy reporter Dana Hull’s coverage of the Obama/Duncan carrot for making way for using student standardized test scores as basis of evaluation of California teachers has problems from my point of view.

    One problem I have with the reporting is that reference is made to “the bill” but neither a reference or any of the text of “the bill” is provided.

    Another problem I have with the reporting is, that the article is framed so the issue is about relationship of legislators to labor (CTA) and the question of whether or not teachers should be evaluated on the basis of standardized test scores is hardly touched.

    In fact, there is a dropping of the phrase standardized test scores and a replacement that critical part of the law with the word evaluation that is entirely misleading. It makes it seems as if teachers are prevented from being evaluated or taking tests.

    The fourth paragraph beings with “Advocates have long argued that data linking student achievement directly to teachers is critical piece of serious education reform.” Repeating in the article the phrase of the advocates “serious education reform” implies that the advocates reform is superior to other types of reform. Why is the reporter making that case for the advocates without any facts or foundation?

    Who are these long times advocates? Test publishers? Right wing nuts? Is the only qualification for being an “Advocate” being that for a long time someone advocates tying student standardized test scores to teacher evaluation?

    Finally, the logic of Obama’s Education Secretary Duncan drives me crazy with his “if” argument. California has 300,000 teachers. He then states if you could identify the bottom 10% you could get rid of them. And, he says, “…no one in California can tell you which teacher is in which category (meaning top or bottom 10%). He thus implies that if the law is changed that someone will be able to tell the top 10% from the bottom 10 percent.

    “If” is a condition that may or may not be obtainable. Having someone that can rank all 300,000 California teachers is easy. To rank them in a meaningful way is impossible as Mr. Weinberg shows above.

    Yet, Secretary Duncan implies that the impossible can be obtained if only the laws preventing use of standardized test scores are dropped.

    There is no data that shows that ranking teachers by their student test scores would be a better way to evaluate teachers. There is only advocates without data to back up this toxic idea and the Race-to-the-top money and the faulty logic of Secretary Duncan.

    Jim Mordecai

  • oak261

    Duncan’s statement taps into a real frustration of many parents, and thats why its not easily dismissed. I suspect that most parents could legitimately argue that one in ten of the teachers of their children performed below reasonable expectations and should not be teaching. After dismissing teachers who don’t abide by contractual obligations (that’s a long an slow process in itself), measuring performance against student gains is tricky to do correctly. I haven’t heard a way to do it right. You want to incentivize the teachers who are teaching predominantly chronically low performing students, but on the average they will not be making the strides in learning as the rest of the population.

  • Gordon Danning

    It might be possible to equitably use test scores to assess teachers if:

    1. Students are pre- and post-tested at the beginning and end of the year; and

    2. The tests assess valuable skills, rather than simple memorization of trivia, as is the case with much of the State’s testing

  • Nextset

    Andrew has got the right issue here. Any attempt to tie teacher pay to student performance will reinforce avoiding black students (to start with) in favor of, say, German Jewish students (if you can find enough to go around!). Other permutations of this will logically follow.

    We do need to cull the worst of the teachers so perhaps a system like Costco can be developed where you get rid of the bottom 10% every year at a school assumning the teachers were randomly assigned students from the same pool. (I have heard Costco and other stores periodically remove the bottom 10% of checkers to allow fresh talent to try checking and keep the lot of them working hard. I don’t know if this is still true.)

    But if the incoming students weren’t evenly distributed, if the teachers could manipulate their student herds – certain people would carry negative premiums and would be avoided.

    So what can we reasonably do?

    brave New World.

  • http://j1t.blogspot.com Charlie Sutherland

    In response to Gordon Danning’s comment: I agree, but then again…how should better tests be designed and scored, and by whom? The problem is that “Let’s get better tests” actually raises more questions than it answers. Fairtest.org has some ideas, and I’m certainly all for dumping the ridiculous STAR regime asap, but what ought to replace it?

  • Cranky Teacher

    I welcome this change. I am very good at test-taking and enjoy bubbling in answers! My students will enjoy the day off.

    Or is there going to be paid army of test-givers to prevent cheating? I’m sure a private company can provide proctors, at $7.50 an hour, to read out the test instructions and keep an eye on the shifty teachers…

    Oooh, I sense a business opportunity!

  • Let’s Get Real

    Gordon, even with pre and post-testing, results would not allow for accurate comparison between teachers because some schools have far more resources than others.

    I have found, for example, that students’ reading skills (in most cases) can improve quite a bit if they are given one-on-one assistance at least two or three times per week. Unfortunately, many schools do not have enough funds to hire the extra personnel who are needed to assist their low achievers.

    With minimal funding, schools rely more and more on volunteers. Last year I was fortunate enough to have two parents who each volunteered two mornings per week, and helped several of my students strengthen their reading ability. But effective parent volunteers can be few and far between, depending on the school.

    Another example of inequity in resources is that some schools have functioning libraries, and others don’t.

    Back to my main point about testing, students at two different schools may pre-test on the same level, but the students at the school with more resources will probably post-test higher, regardless of the teachers’ ability. I hope you would agree that it would be unfair to give the teacher with higher scoring students a better rating under these circumstances.

    It is in the best interest of our students for folks to stop trying to refine a method of condemning teachers and to start listening to our advice about what can really improve public education. Most teachers will tell you that the two things that would help urban schools the most are: 1) to improve school climate (i.e., enforce effective discipline policies), and 2) to provide more resources for students who need extra help.

  • oak261

    In many schools parents (and many good teachers) know which teachers should be avoided because they aren’t carrying their weight. The bottom 10% are easily identified, with a fairly significant consensus. If you’re not sure, conduct your own survey; ask other parents at your school, and pay attention to the signals from the teachers and principals. That is, its generally not controversial who needs to move on. So why is it so complicated and time consuming?

  • Gordon Danning

    Charlie: Here is my suggestion: http://www.cae.org/content/pro_collegework.htm

    Let’s Get Real: I understand your concern, but my concern is this: How do I know whether I am being as successful as I can be? Sure, students learn something from me, but might they learn more if I did something different? I have no idea, nor is there currently any way to know. Without some sort of common assessment, I could easily spend my entire career mired in mediocrity, and not even know it. That would be a waste, and would be a disservice to my students.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-356-SF-Education-Examiner Caroline

    A Florida pilot project awarding teachers merit pay for student achievement had the predictable result: Teachers in wealthy schools got the money and teachers in low-income schools got screwed. Clearly that’s not effective — why is it even being discussed?

    And by the way, it’s wrong for Dana Hull to quote Terry Moe and simply describe him as a political science professor — that’s misleading to the point of being unethical. He’s a longtime opponent of public education and outspoken advocate of anti-teacher “reforms.” When you quote an obvious, avid partisan, you need to clarify that your source is an obvious, avid partisan. Just issuing a little reminder that the shaky newspaper business cannot afford to harm its credibility with this kind of misbehavior.

  • Let’s Get Real

    Gordon, I probably wasn’t clear. I think there is value for teachers in giving their students pre and post-tests as well as district and state-wide assessments–as long as they accurately address the curriculum and are not excessive in frequency.

    I just don’t think it’s fair to rank teachers based on test results when resources and other conditions vary from school to school.

    It is helpful, also, to collaborate with colleagues who share your grade level or subject. You will hear from others what has worked or hasn’t worked for them. I think this is supposed to be the driving force behind PLC’s, but they haven’t seemed to unfold that way at most school sites.

    Your concern indicates that it’s unlikely you will ever
    wind up “mired in mediocrity”. Best of luck to you in your teaching career.

  • Oakland Teacher

    Students who test well continue to test well, even during years when they have substandard teachers. Some of the best teachers I have seen were in schools which serve populations that are part of the “achievement gap” (as measured by standardized testing). They did not have prep time available or any additional support in the classroom.

    I have also seen mediocre teachers at schools with many resources, high parent support, and daily volunteers in the classroom. The teachers at one of my children’s elementary schools never even did their own copying or bulletin boards (done by parents). The K-1 teachers each had aides in the classroom for half the day. There were daily enrichment classes during which teachers could do prep. They had parent volunteers, so were able to run center activities which were supported. The students all were read to every night, had a houseful of books, and were given support for their homework. While many of these teachers were also good or even excellent, they were by no means harder working, more qualified, or more deserving than the teachers who taught in schools with low test scores.

    One year in high school, one of my children had a teacher who did not teach (math). There was no homework, no tests, no work. (Yes, in case you want to know, I tried to get her out of the class) My child still scored as proficient on the CST’s. I can guarantee that there were students taking the same class with a good teacher, who did not score as basic or above.

    It is impossible to base meaningful interpretations on which teachers should be rewarded and which should be penalized by test scores alone.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com Sharon

    My daughters have experienced nearly 80 teachers in their years attending Oakland’s public schools. We’ve encountered a few pure duds over the years, but there weren’t as many in the public schools as most people are led to believe.

    From my family’s experience, it is clear that it is the lack of administrative “umph” that allowed the teachers to stay at the schools year-after-year. Some principals definitely did their jobs better than others.

    High principal turnover greatly hampers the ability for school leaders to build the case against their bad teachers. It takes time to size up situations and handle them, but this can’t happen without consistency from year to year.

    Principals who dislike and avoid hearing parent complaints about teachers are less likely to deal with their worst ones. PE-teachers-turned-administrators aren’t adequately qualified to evaluate secondary level academic core subject teachers, yet they do.

    An experienced principal accumulates information about a poor teacher over time and deals with it effectively. There is a process in place already that can work, and if we want the schools to unload their bad teachers, this is where attention should be focused. We don’t need test scores to guide the way to having better teachers.

    To eliminate the worst teachers, we need non-nepotistic administrators who have been properly trained to do their job, who have an internal sense of what good teaching looks like, and who have the courage — and are given the time and support — to do what needs to be done. Why aren’t the skills and competence of the school supervisors ever talked about?

    I’ll tell you why. Because underlying the current propaganda that constantly fixates on teachers as the sole cause and cure for our educational problems is a desire to demoralize, weaken, and destabilize the profession. Arne Duncan is very much affiliated with the corporatists who have the destruction of unions in mind.

    Now I’m not a teacher and I don’t belong to a union, nor does my family have tons of pro-union ties. But I am disgusted from watching how corporate powers have manipulated everything over the past few decades, and how they are treating the average citizen and worker, not to mention members of the underclass. More of the same is what is behind Duncan’s phony education reform movement.

  • Lori

    Having read through the comments, I appreciate the thoughtful replies that readers have made. One point that has not been raised is that if you are using test scores to evaluate teachers (which in itself is a bad idea), how will you evaluate Kindergarten and 1st Grade teachers, who do not have their students tested with standardized testing, at least not in my district? I teach kindergarten, and have some students entering school at age 4 with little to no prior literacy experience, and/or facility with the English language. Would I be evaluated on the progress they make, or by some designated setpoint assigned by someone miles away from a real classroom?

  • Nextset

    I tend to follow Sharon’s thinking except that I believe the dark forces she speaks of are not Corporate forces (whatever that is – Clorox Corp? American Express?? Berkshire Hathaway?) but rather the Democratic Party left wing/Statists among others. There are “forces” at work in this country that intend to destroy the USA as we know it and bring to power a collectivist/socialist/totalitarian state with themselves – certain elites – in permanent control. Ayatollahs if you will. And in doing this there is plenty of reason to suspect collaboration between the extreme left and right into some kind of National Socialism. It’s happener before.

    And they are taking lessons from history and Stalinism. Getting a weak and decedant electorate is a nice start which explains the systematic destruction of the urban school systems. Out of the nonschools can rise – the “Obama Youth” or whatever flavor of dumb and simple cannon fodder street workers one might need.

    But then, nobody could ever be THAT ambitious, could they?

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-356-SF-Education-Examiner Caroline Grannan

    Today’s Chronicle editorial calls for basing teacher pay on student test scores. So I’m calling for basing editorial writers’ pay on whether their endorsements convince enough voters, and for basing all newsroom staffers’ pay on whether circulation rises or falls. Sorry, Katy — as a former Mercury News editor, I realize that you and my other former co-workers are screwed by that notion — but gosh, it’s only fair, right?

  • TheTruthHurts

    Normally, this is something I would have a strong opinion about. I don’t really care this time. It is interesting that there is a law on the books to prevent teachers being held accountable for student results measured by scores. That’s a pretty sad statement however well intentioned.

    What I’d rather focus on is PARENTS BELIEVING their kids can learn and DEMANDING that the District (that’s everybody, not just teachers) ensure that they do. Right now where that happens, kids learn or schools close. They get it right or the parents vote with their feet.

    The shame is that it is the most underserved communities where that parent activism is not happening. That’s what we’ve got to fix, not teacher evaluation and compensation. When parents demand performance, the evaluation systems will follow. When they demand performance, the compensation to bring that performance will follow. It will follow or they will seek alternatives. The well off had always had their alternatives and now many underserved communities are getting alternatives too.

    The ENTIRE Oakland District better get its act together or only the most committed and the most unengaged will be left.

  • Katy Murphy

    Well, Caroline, in the past year or two, dozens of my colleagues have vacated their desks (and were not replaced), the pay of our non-union staff has fallen and those of us guild members who remain will soon be negotiating a pay cut.

    So I guess you could say our pay — and our very employment — is tied to something even less out of newsroom staffers’ control than circulation: ad revenue.

    But to your half-serious point: Basing our wages on general circulation numbers (and would you include online readership?) isn’t the best comparison to teachers and test scores, because it wouldn’t differentiate between newsroom staffers.

    It might tell us something about the quality of our product, as a whole, but not about the individuals who create it.

  • Let’s Get Real

    Katy, I think Caroline’s comparison works fine. A student’s test score is the result of numerous factors, only one of which is his/her teacher’s instruction. Just substitute the word “student” for “product” in your final sentence. I think it fits quite well.

  • Katy Murphy

    Hmmm… I still don’t see it. Besides, I thought Caroline was comparing newspaper readership to test scores, not the quality of the newspaper to the quality of the students.

    But back to the thread: Test scores and teacher evaluations.

  • Donna

    I agree with Oak261 (#10) that it doesn’t take test scores to identify the bottom 10% of teachers at a school. Involved parents know, as do colleagues, and yes, the students know, too.

    Also, I have observed at private and public schools that parents with means hire tutors, send their child to a tutoring school, or now, purchase similar services online if they feel their child is falling behind. Thus, the ineffectiveness of a teacher can be masked if his or her students master the material via parental involvement or outside tutoring assistance.

    Because test scores involve numbers, so they somehow give people the false assurance that evaluations based on them are linked to *hard* evidence and are thus more trustworthy. Hah!

  • Cate

    So if teachers shouldn’t be evaluated on test scores, on what should they be evaluated?

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-356-SF-Education-Examiner Caroline Grannan

    Katy, my husband is a displaced 33-year Chronicle reporter (March 2009 round of buyouts) who’s now a teacher. And whichever of his clueless ex-co-workers wrote and endorsed that editorial are quite likely to have to make major career changes just as he did — likely as not following him into teaching.

    I maintain that my analogy is perfectly apt.

    1. Basing editorial writers’ pay on whether their ballot endorsements convinced voters would pressure editorial writers to take only wishy-washy, easy-to-like positions that would win support, avoiding challenging situations. Analogy to teachers? Check.

    2. Basing newsroom staffers’ pay on increases and drops in circulation unfairly rewards or penalizes them for forces mostly — if not almost entirely — beyond their control. Analogy to teachers? Check.

    As I continue to emphasize, with their job security and future teetering, credibility is what journalists have left. When they behave like idiots, they lose that too. Sheesh…

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-356-SF-Education-Examiner Caroline Grannan

    (And I should add that I’m a longtime Mercury News editor who would be in your exact shoes, same employer, if I hadn’t taken a sabbatical to raise my kids. My field imploded in the meantime, of course.)

  • Katy Murphy

    I guess we can agree to disagree then. (About your analogy, not the issue at hand.) And best of luck to your husband!

  • Let’s Get Real

    Cate, the state of California already has a detailed system of evaluation for teachers in place. Teachers in Oakland are subjected to this process at least every two years–if the school administrator follows through as required. The process involves at least three formal and several informal observations by the administrator during the course of the year with pre and post discussions for the formal ones. The teacher is “graded” on numerous teaching skills by the administrator after each formal observation.

    As Sharon mentioned, high principal turnover can interfere with this process as well as principals having too much on their plates to visit classrooms and support their faculty and students to the degree that they should.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-356-SF-Education-Examiner Caroline Grannan

    Thanks for the good wishes, Katy.

    Even if one disagrees with my analogy, it’s hard to argue that it’s pretty likely that the writer of the editorial will be in the job market soon, and that teaching is one avenue that a number of newsroom refugees are pursuing. So the “what goes around comes around” issue looms every time some ignorant editorial writer endorses E-Z solutions that amount to teacher-bashing.

    Cate, I don’t think it’s a given that employees in any area can or should be judged, rewarded and punished based on overly simplistic criteria on which the quality of their work has limited impact.

    How about doctors? It’s so easy — just pay doctors more based on how many people they cure and dock them based on how many of their patients die. Oh, wait a minute — wouldn’t that mean that doctors would be more likely to avoid trying to save people in dire situations, and to be willing to treat only the easily curable? And pretty soon, the desperately ill and gravely injured wouldn’t be able to find any doctors willing to try to save them? A system in which they’re rewarded or penalized due to circumstances beyond their control could have really bad unintended consequences.

    So how do you measure a good doctor? Well, there just isn’t an oh-so-simple way. Extend this to any professional. So why do we think it’s right to support an easy one-step way to evaluate teachers? (Sorry to be so sarcastic, but I am really itching to slap someone at 901 Mission.)

  • Ms. J.

    I think the analogy works on the levels you explained, Caroline, and your health care comparison isn’t just a what if, it’s true, isn’t it? Not that individual doctors cherry-pick their patients, but health care providers certainly do, with their pre-existing condition get-outs…
    And to Cate, in q 24, I think that several people already wrote quite extensively about what can be/is done to evaluate teachers.

  • Ms. J.

    But actually, reflecting more on the health care issue, maybe that is part of the point–if you believe that a lot of the pressure for education “reform” in the form of NCLB, the rise of charters, the push for vouchers and merit pay, is part of an attempt to privatize education. We do not have public health care in this country, and soon we may not have true public education either.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-356-SF-Education-Examiner Caroline Grannan

    In a discussion about this in another online forum, a poster pointed out that when there’s a “pay for performance” process in the private sector, the top personnel are held responsible, not the laborers in the trenches. Yes! How about Arne Duncan, Jack O’Connell etc.?

  • Ms. J.

    Are they really held responsible? Haven’t we been reading lots of stories lately about all these CEOs CFOs etc who are getting HUGE (ridiculous) amounts of money, when in fact they haven’t performed the way they were expected to? Yet another problem with the idea that the private sector is a good model for schools…

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  • BayAreaTeacher

    Just for fun, check the openings for teachers on http://www.edjoin.org
    This website lists almost all the open positions in California for all kinds of school employees. Do an advanced search to see how many positions are posted for TEACHERS, not aides or administrators or counselors, etc., and you’ll see it’s probably less than 10% of the number of teachers who were laid off in June. For each position, there is a separate credential requirement, and sometimes more than one credential is required (eg, a particular kind of Special Ed credential AND a single subject credential), so the pool of applicants is further narrowed. You’ll also see that schools are scrambling to gather applications, interview applicants, and place teachers in classrooms even as school is starting this week– because we didn’t have a budget for schools earlier in the year. The ideal candidate has all the right credentials and experience, can scan and upload all the right documents by the deadline including a brilliantly tailored cover letter, can answer all questions correctly in a very rushed last-minute interview, winning the job after competing against more than 100 other applicants. The prize is a chance to start after the first day of school, scrambling to catch up. Then there’s a good chance the teacher will be laid off, as first-year teachers in any district are the first to go when budgets are tight, no matter how good they are.

    Will all this winnowing-out produce great results on next year’s tests?

  • Cathleen

    Teachers and Teaching is the only profession in the world that I know of that has the audacity to suggest that they shouldnt be judged on their performance or product. YOUR JOB AS A TEACHER IS TO TEACH! YOU SHOULD BE EVALUATED ON WHETHER OR NOT YOU CAN DO THAT! YOU SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO STAY IN YOUR PROFESSION OR GO WITHOUT PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND GET THE HELP THAT YOU NEED TO HELP KIDS INDEFINITELY WHILE THOUSANDS OF CHILDREN FALL THROUGH YOUR CRACKS! This is insanity. And for the record – the regs are CLEAR that it is not based SOLELY on tests, but rather that tests are a part of myriad of items that teachers are evaluated on. Who matters most in education? I would have thought the students but that clearly is not the sentiment of the teachers union and others. Its sad and disgusting. We are really going to allow an already sunk system to sink further because adults dont want to be held accountable for their behavior???

  • Ms. J.

    Hey Cathleen,
    Wow, I guess earlier commentators should have YELLED their remarks–maybe then it would have been clear that the posters here do feel evaluation is appropriate, but that they question the use of standardized tests being used for evaluation.

    I think the main take-home point is that to suggest that a teacher can control the outcomes of her classes is naive (at best–I don’t think the folk behind NCLB and charters are naive, but their agenda is a separate issue).

    I am insulted by the suggestion that I don’t want to be evaluated or to improve. I am a highly motivated, hard-working, educated person who has always been successful, because of circumstance and hard work. But as an elementary school teacher the very real, wonderful, tangible successes I have attained–the many students who have made great progress while in my class–do not count. The test scores count.

    I also feel offended by the implication that I and my colleagues don’t seek professional development. I am always hoping to become better at what I do. I don’t define what I do, however, as teaching how to get a mark of proficient on the state tests.

  • Gordon Danning

    Ms. J – I agree with much of what you say, but in fairness to Cathleen, I know of many, many teachers who do not seek out professional development and who seem so spend very little time thinking about how effective they are and how to improve. Certainly, when I go to district professional development in my subject, I see the same faces every time — and they are rather few in number

  • Ms. J.

    Oh yes, I know that there are many (as in any profession) who do not make the effort to improve or learn.

    On the other hand, what are these PDs you mention? Are they required within our contract? Or are they extra PDs which you choose to attend, getting some form of remuneration, but not your actual salary scale, in addition to the benefits to you as a professional?

    My point is that if we are expected to be professionals–to be accountable, to improve, to meet challenges–then that should be in our contract. If our nation, state, and district value education–value our students, and yes, us–then they (we) need to fund education. If what it takes for teachers to do a good job is longer school years, including more days of PD built in (at full pay), then we should pay teachers accordingly.

    I think a system which relies on die-hards being intrinsically motivated to excel in the face of low pay, extreme disrespect from the public (and often from students and administrators), and pressure which increases every year is unsustainable.

  • Gordon Danning

    They are usually extra PDs, for extra pay. But I dont see why PD has to be built into the contract, nor why I should be paid more to attend a PD than some of my less experienced colleagues who are lower on the salary scale than I am.

  • D. Holcomb

    Schools want parents to get involved in education – why don’t they let parents have some small (even microscopic) part in evaluating the teachers. I am sure that some parents are biased and will base their comments about a teacher on how they perceive their student was treated but you can maybe filter out the top and bottom scores or something.
    I don’t think this should be the only metric. I also think this and other metrics should be looked at over time. I have seen wonderful teachers who were given a difficult class situation – that would probably produce results in any scoring that would not be typical of that teacher.
    As a parent, I have been very actively involved with my kids and their teachers. I volunteer in the classroom as much as I possibly can. I have generally been happy but I think I could fairly assess some of their strengths and weaknesses as I see them. Some of the teachers my kids have learned the most with have not followed typical standards (although they met them) but have gone above and beyond in other areas – I am not sure a simple test would demonstrate those strengths.
    Another problem with using tests scores to evaluate teachers is really bright students. Some teachers want to teach only GATE kids because those kids will definitely test well regardless of what is taught. The problem with a before and after test is those kids aren’t learning only in school. Parents often will supplement and the kids themselves will learn on their own. The sad part is if the teachers don’t challenge those kids – they check out – even if it isn’t necessarily reflected immediately on their test scores.
    I think though that right now – it is almost impossible to be a good teacher in California. Classes are randomly generated, there are too many kids in them, there is no academic, counseling, or impact support, there is a lack of supplies, funding and programs are being cut, the environment is pretty toxic. I am very impressed by the teachers who are pushing on despite that. I am very worried about the impact it will have on the 1 in 7.7 kids in the U.S. who graduate from California schools.

  • Ms. J.

    I like that idea, D. Holcomb. For the parents who are involved already it would be honoring your commitment; for the others, it might give them a stake. However it would have to be done very carefully as you note.

    Gordon, I’m with you in that I don’t want to be paid more than a novice teacher for a PD–that’s a good point. So maybe salary scale isn’t the right idea. But I don’t think it should be left to teachers to be motivated, that’s all. It should not only be expected us of that we will develop our skills; the situation should facilitate this. As it is, if I want to take a PD during the summer, I’ll pay more for child care (not to mention not getting to be with my kids) than I’ll make at the PD. If we choose to make these sacrifices that’s fine, but I think the whole system assumes teachers should sacrifice their own time in a way that is not (as I said) sustainable, or respectful.

  • Gordon Danning

    D. Holcomb: I hear what you are saying about challenges faced by teachers, but I strongly disagree that it is impossible, or even particularly difficult, to be a good teacher in Oakland (at least at the HS level). IMHO, teachers make too many excuses; I have a huge amount of power over what happens in my classroom, and if my students are more or less successful than similarly situated students, then most of the credit (or fault) rests with me.
    PS: Parents? What parents? I have barely met any in my 12 years of teaching, other than briefly at back-to-school night

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    I love our President with all my heart (and appreciate the luxury of being able to say that, btw). But here’s the elephant in the living room regarding state test scores:

    A lot of our students don’t give a hell about them.

    We’re spending entirely too much time testing these kids, and the tests they DO care about are the exit exams and the SATs.

    The STAR tests have no bearing on whether or not the students graduate.

    The STAR test scores do not follow them to college.

    The STAR tests couldn’t impact their grades if we wanted them to, because the kids take the tests in the spring, and it’s the FOLLOWING year’s teachers who receive the score reports in the fall.

    My eyes were first opened to this the year I asked one of my most dedicated students, an outstanding writer, why he’d tested “Far Below Basic.” Guess what?

    “Ms. McLaughlin, that test doesn’t mean anything. I just bubbled in zigzags so I could take a nap.”

    Some of our brightest students stay home during STAR test week to study for their exams or work on their senior projects. And who can honestly blame them? What reason do THEY have for buying into these tests?

    It’s doubtful that most dedicated teachers worry much about being evaluated according to the learning that takes place in their classrooms, but the STAR tests are a poor gauge of that, or of much else, in my opinion.

    They’re also a waste of the student’s time, and that makes me angry. Weighing the children over and over again will not make them grow any faster. It does, however, benefit the test publishing companies…and I’ll save my growling about those opportunistic sheisters for another time.

    What would benefit everyone else…the students, the teachers, the taxpayers…would be streamlining the testing nightmare. Eliminate the extraneous STAR tests altogether, and gauge everything and everyone on the exit exam scores. Have one test in elementary that the students MUST pass before they move on to middle school. Have a similar test in middle school as a prerequisite for high school. Those two scores, combined with the current high school exit exam, would provide a far more realistic picture of students’ knowledge and capabilities.

    As for the parents, I’ve spoken to hundreds of them by telephone, and their concern and support over the years has made me proud to live in Oakland. Many of them just don’t know what their kids are up to in school until we let them know, and there have been countless times when just one call to Mom or Dad or Grandma has caused a 180-degree turnaround in a students’ demeanor and/or academic commitment and/or just leaving the damned CELL PHONE HOME during the school day.