What first led you to enter the teaching profession and what spurred your decision to leave the classroom and work towards using data to improve education?
I entered the teaching profession as a Career and Technical educator to give high school students the business, marketing, and computer skills they need to be successful. Whether going to college or entering the workforce, all students need strong business writing and oral communication skills to market themselves. They also need the personal finance and computer skills to hit the ground running in any postsecondary endeavor. Students never had to ask the question, “Why do we need to learn this?” in my class, and that made me feel like I was making a positive impact.
After seven years in CO and NC classrooms, I had taught 13 different subjects, earned National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification, and taken on various leadership positions without moving into administration. I was ready for my next career challenge in order to impact teaching and learning on a broader scale. My role as an Education Specialist at SAS Institute has exposed me to state and federal education policy and cutting-edge work around student data analytics.
As you know, Hope Street Group established national and state teacher fellowship programs to empower teachers to contribute their voices to the creation of education policy. What difference have you seen in policy created by teacher input and buy-in?
When teachers have a seat at the table, it brings voice to the profession as a whole. Policy created with, or by, teachers often encompasses the nuances of the profession and engages more teachers in a trickle-down effect. Teacher voice correlates to an increase in teacher buy-in and participation. It is the difference between having a compliant teacher who simply goes through the motions, and a committed one who embraces new processes or systems.
An example would be the development of the educator evaluation system in North Carolina. A variety of groups including teachers had multiple opportunities to provide input and help create the multiple measures. Teachers were also used as advisors to the State Board of Education and Governor’s Education Transformation Committee to weigh in on policy discussions. As a result, I feel like we have not experienced as much pushback on the evaluation process in NC, as has been seen in some other states.
Teacher evaluation has been in the news lately with the announcement by Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan that the federal government will support the suspension of test scores in teacher evaluations for one year. What are your views on what makes for an effective teacher evaluation system?
Evaluating educators is certainly a complex task as there is so much that goes into the art and science of teaching. Using multiple measures of effectiveness is vital to capture as much of a teacher’s contributions as possible. I believe the impact teachers make on student learning is absolutely an important part of an evaluation system. That is the crux of why we do what we do- to help students grow academically.
In most states, the majority of a teacher’s evaluation is determined through research-based, subjective, observable factors. However, much debate seems to fall on those lesser-weighted measures of student growth, which are objective and outcomes-based. Professionals in many industries are held accountable, in part, by objective outcomes and even the American public seems to agree with this notion. In a recent Education Next/Gallup poll, a representative sample of American adults where asked whether teachers should demonstrate that their students are making adequate progress on state tests in order to receive tenure. “Overall, 60% of the public liked the idea. Even 65% of respondents who favor tenure say it should be based on student performance.”
The bottom line in my mind is that an effective teacher evaluation system supports professional growth and improvement of teacher practice. Teachers need both subjective/qualitative and objective/quantitative feedback to understand if all of their hard work is really helping kids learn and grow. I can remember days when I worked harder and not smarter as a teacher. After much heart and sweat is put into our curriculum and instruction, we need to understand what is moving the needle. Multi-year, value-added measures can serve as one of the most reliable and valid ways to measure that impact.
So much of a student’s performance in school can be tied to outside factors, such as health and economic wellbeing. What do you think is the best way to account for this when evaluating teachers?
This question gets at the distinction between student achievement and student growth. They are very different things, which I blogged about here and here. Achievement is typically highly correlated to outside factors such as socioeconomic status, and in my opinion, is not something teachers can fully control. However, the growth students make, regardless of where they started, is not as highly related to socioeconomic factors. Growth is most greatly influenced by teachers. There are many ways to measure student growth and these approaches are not all created equal. It is important that growth models do not look like status models whereby low-achieving students show lower growth and high-achieving students show higher growth. If that is the case, who will want to work in our lowest achieving (highest needs) schools? In order to be fair, valid, and reliable for all teachers, these growth or value-added systems should:
- Provide more than a single estimate of effectiveness—teachers need more than a number to improve their practice. Diagnostic information and data visualization can help show teachers their strengths and areas for improvement.
- Take all students testing data into account, across grades and subjects, to minimize the effects of measurement error around a single test score.
- Include all students in the model, even if they have missing data points, in order to not skew the analysis and disadvantage certain teachers.
- Use a multiple year rolling average of teacher effectiveness in order to be more stable and prevent misclassification.
What do you see as the most pressing issue facing the teaching profession that is not getting enough attention?
Teacher compensation. As a former teacher with a master’s degree and National Board certification, I was at the top of my pay scale, yet it was honestly hard to make ends meet. A teacher’s job never ends, but I always managed to find the time to squeeze in two or three side jobs to supplement my income. If we want the best and the brightest in the profession, we have to figure out a way to adequately compensate teachers so they can give 100% of their energy to that one, most important, job.