Santa Maria Valley district administrators, teachers and principals endorse research findings that standardized test results are not the best indication of teaching effectiveness.
Superintendents and curriculum specialists in Santa Maria, Orcutt, Five Cities, Nipomo, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo said the best measures of teacher effectiveness are collaborative and aligned with promoting “tailored” student learning.
Those methods range from informal classroom observation, or walk-throughs, and student feedback about engagement to state-mandated assessments and ongoing benchmarks.
But using the results of state-mandated assessment tests exclusively to rate teachers, stemming from the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, has engendered nationwide criticism.
San Luis Obispo County Superintendent Julian Crocker said testing technology is relatively primitive, relying on a multiple-choice answer system.
“Just because of that kind of testing, it tends to limit what students can show they know or don’t know,” Crocker said. “To use that as an automatic measure of student achievement is probably a bit of an overstretch.”
The route to reaching proficiency
No Child Left Behind’s goal is that all students reach proficiency standards in reading and mathematics subject areas by 2013-14.
In an attempt to reach that goal, the federal administration implemented Adequate Yearly Progress, commonly called AYP, an accountability system to track student achievement at schools with high percentages of students from low-income families.
Schools that do not show sufficient gains are given Program Improvement, or PI, status, which if not corrected have led to school closures or takeovers of schools by state, charter or management agencies.
In the Lucia Mar Unified School District, there are 11 PI middle, high and elementary schools. But district officials say their implementation of the System for Teacher and Student Advancement, commonly called TAP, in seven schools has protected them from the consequences of earning PI statuses.
TAP has been criticized as a form of merit pay, a characterization that Lucia Mar administrators reject.
District Superintendent Jim Hogeboom said No Child Left Behind stipulations in funding and Program Improvement standings do not greatly affect the district.
“TAP has really helped with that,” he said.
In Santa Maria, four high schools and 19 elementary and junior high schools have been placed on Program Improvement, according to the California Department of Education’s 2011-12 Accountability Progress Reporting.
John Davis, assistant superintendent of curriculum for the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, said measures used to grade schools that rely heavily on standardized test scores have been “incredibly short-sighted” and damaging to education.
“Students don’t have any stake in those state tests,” Davis said.
State reports also show smaller districts with schools in PI statuses, including two schools in Guadalupe, three in Orcutt and Benjamin Foxen Elementary School in the Blochman district.
Orcutt Superintendent Bob Bush said he supports greater accountability but that standardized state testing does not give teachers the information they need to tailor instruction. He said he supports the state’s adoption of national Common Core State Standards that promote higher-level thinking skills.
“We don’t do that right now,” Bush said.
Test scores linked to school quality
Santa Maria Valley teachers and administrators say the No Child Left Behind legislation signed into law Jan. 8, 2002, has narrowly linked test scores with the quality of schools.
As school district administrators rethink their approaches to effective teaching, they try to avoid rating teachers the way No Child Left Behind rates schools.
Last week, the U.S. Secretary of Education released a letter to the president of the California Board of Education rejecting California’s waiver request from parameters of No Child Left Behind.
Provisions of the waiver program include tying teacher evaluations to summative student test scores, an effectiveness gauge that the California Teachers Association as well as Santa Maria and Lucia Mar teachers unions vehemently oppose.
California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel said No Child Left Behind school evaluations assume improbable standards and punish schools for not meeting those ever-changing criteria.
“We’re not willing to change the way we evaluate teachers based on a system that’s been proven pretty much around the country not to work very well,” he said.
A three-part study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shows that balanced use of a combination of factors provide the best indication of teacher effectiveness.
The final phase of the foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching Project was released Jan. 8. Researchers observed 3,000 teachers in seven school districts: New York City, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Hillsborough County, Florida, Dallas and Denver.
Steve Cantrell, chief research officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said estimates of teacher effectiveness are more stable from year to year when they use classroom observation, student surveys and measures of student achievement gains than when based solely on student achievement shown in standardized tests.
“You can still achieve quite good results predicting next year’s state performance when using lighter weights on the state tests, between 33 and 50 percent,” Cantrell said.
The study is the first extensive research project to measure teacher effectiveness by using randomly assigned student groups to chart student academic growth.
Evaluations for feedback, not punishment
Northern Santa Barbara County findings about methods to measure teacher effectiveness have aligned with research results.
Susan Salcido, deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction with the Santa Barbara County Education Office, said teaching evaluations should be about supporting teachers by providing deep feedback, not punishment.
She said student perception surveys that ask children what they find challenging and engaging would be a useful measure of teacher effectiveness. She added another useful measure is observation that includes both administrator and peer walk-throughs.
“Only using assessment data is (a) limited (measure), and would really be the wrong thing to do,” Salcido said.
Principals and veteran teachers in Santa Maria elementary, junior high and high schools said there is no general formula for assessing all teachers.
Margaret Ontiveros, principal at Ontiveros Elementary School, has been an administrator for eight years and formerly a teacher for almost 30.
She said evaluating teachers must take into account resources available as well as the knowledge and experiences of students and teachers when they enter the classroom and throughout their time in school.
“There is not one formula that you can apply to every teacher or to every classroom situation to determine whether or not the teacher is effective,” Ontiveros said.