Ratings for Louisiana teachers improved in the 2013-2014 school year as more teachers received ratings of "effective" or better, but student achievement on standardized tests did not increase at the same level. That has raised a question over whether a more subjective teacher evaluation method used last year measured teachers' effectiveness stringently enough.
Using the Compass evaluation system, the Louisiana Department of Education rated teachers with four labels, writes Jessica Williams of The Times-Picayune. They ranged from "ineffective" to "highly effective" and were based on student achievement and teacher evaluations. Approximately 92% of the state's teachers received "effective" or "highly effective" ratings in the last school year, which was three percentage points above last year's ratings.
However, the number of students who passed standardized tests went up by less than a point. Before that time, Louisiana had introduced a "value-added" model so that teachers and students could adjust to the harder tests.
The inflation of the teachers' ratings is concerning, says the State Education Superintendent John White.
"When we evaluate ourselves at a level that is more generous than our students, we are not doing our kids any favors," White said.
Principals' ratings seemed skewed as well. Evaluations for principals are often given by superintendents and are higher than teachers' even though student achievement has not increased.
In 2012-2013, the Compass system based half of a teacher's rating on student performance on standardized test and half on instructional style based on classroom observations. But in 2013-2014, the evaluation was based on how well students met learning targets, test-performance goals set by teachers and administrators. Some student growth data was provided, but may schools did not use that data for evaluating their teachers.
The subjective targets and subjective classroom observations looked very much like evaluations from years past. Before the switch to the "value-added" model in 2012-2013, 98.5% of teachers were graded satisfactory, a rating that state officials suggested was "meaningless".
Now, "value-added" will not be used again until, possibly, the 2015-2016 school year, because of the transition to Common Core standards. Louisiana's goal is to raise its test passing standards to "master" or better by 2025.
Forty-three percent of the state's teachers rated "highly effective" as compared to 32% last year, says Will Sentell, reporting for The New Orleans Advocate. Teacher evaluations statewide varied greatly. Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, is an opponent of the reviews and hopes more criteria is added to evaluations in the future.
"I think that points up that there is no commonality among the evaluators," she said. "In other words, they are not seeing and then scoring the same things in the same manner. There are discrepancies in the training of the evaluators."
Seattle PI reports that the best-performing schools make it more difficult for teachers to earn "highly effective" marks.
"There is a clear connection between schools and school districts making significant academic gains and the practice of setting a high bar for teacher excellence in classroom observation. Statewide, 38 percent of teachers received "highly effective" observation ratings. The districts that achieved the most progress with students, however, generally reserved the "highly effective" designation for only the most exceptional observed teaching," the report said.
It seems that schools and districts with high expectations are working just fine. Where expectations are lower the result is obvious. The department has shared several ways to improve the evaluation process, one of which is working with a special education commission to come up with ideas for using student achievement improvements in evaluations.
Compass has less importance in New Orleans, since most of the city's schools are charter schools which are independently run, writes Danielle Dreilinger of The Times Picayune. If a teacher's evaluations continue to be "ineffective" over time, they may lose their tenure or be laid off, though tenure and long-term contracts are no longer prevalent in New Orleans. Charters have to pass performance hurdles every few years, so administrators are vigilant about teacher performance ongoingly.
"We're already on the hook," said Ben Kleban, chief executive of New Orleans College Prep. "If we've done our job right, we've developed internal performance measurement systems with faster and accurate feedback to teachers on their performance well before the end of the school year."