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Louisiana’s Teacher Evaluation System Could Remove Tenure from “Autopilot”

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State’s “gold standard model” could be emulated nationwide

Tenure reform should be linked to a new teacher evaluation system set to go into effect later this year that makes use of student test scores, according to Gov. Bobby Jindal and top figures in education and business who back his reform package. Otherwise, the current system will remain on autopilot to the detriment of students who are deprived of quality education and the more effective instructors who deserve recognition, they argue.

The idea does not sit well with the state’s teachers unions, which released an alternative reform package on Friday. Gov. Jindal’s proposal, which has not yet been enshrined into legislation, calls for the use of a new education evaluation system, which evaluates teachers based 50 percent on student growth  to be used as a key metric in determining tenure eligibility. The idea behind the new evaluation system is to review student test and assessment scores to determine whether or not they have made the expected amount of academic progress as they move up in grade levels and then use the same methodology to asses the impact a teacher has had on student preparation and performance.

Jindal’s plan does not eliminate tenure, but it would use student growth, which is now required to be 50 percent of a teacher and leader’s evaluation. These policy changes became law last year under Act 54 in an effort to “end blanket job protection in the form of tenure to teachers who are ineffective after one year,” a “fact sheet” from the governor’s office explains.

This means after being rated as ineffective after one year a teacher would lose tenure and become an “at will” employee. The “ineffective” designation established by The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) applies to the bottom 10 percent of teachers statewide.

Districts could start dismissal proceedings for teachers who are assessed as being ineffective over a two-year period. After three-years of ineffective ratings, a teacher could lose their certification.  Moreover, teachers would not be eligible for tenure until after they have earned high performance marks over a five year period. Under current law, they receive automatic tenure after just three years.

Moreover, nearly 99 percent of teachers are receiving satisfactory evaluations within the current system, which means earning tenure and keeping their job are virtually automatic. Unless a district actively dismisses a teacher, the teacher receives tenure automatically by law on the first day of his or her fourth year in the classroom.

A pilot program that includes nine school districts and the International School of Louisiana, a charter school based in New Orleans that utilizes the value-added system is up and running. Beginning in the 2012-2013 school year, 50 percent of evaluations for teachers in academic classes will be based on the LEAP and iLEAP test scores, while the other 50 percent will be based more on subjective criteria built around classroom observations to determine how effective instructors are in motivating students.

“By changing the way that tenure works, changing the way compensation works, we want to make sure we are rethinking, identifying and keeping the best teachers in the classroom,” Jindal told listeners during the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) annual luncheon on Jan. 17th.

The idea is to “make granting of tenure an active process rather than an automatic one so that tenure becomes a recognition given teachers who have demonstrated excellence, rather than merely surviving for three years,” according to the fact sheet.

A new teacher evaluation system that replaced ineffective teachers with just average instructors would have a measurable influence on the U.S. education system, which now lags behind internationally, a recent study from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University shows. Author Eric Hanushek claims that teacher quality has a much greater influence on student achievement than other factors such as classroom size, curriculum changes and technology.

“At a minimum, the current dysfunctional teacher-evaluation systems would need to be overhauled  so that effectiveness in the classroom is clearly identified,” Hanushek recommends. “This is not an impossible task. The teachers who are excellent would have to be paid much more, both to compensate for the new riskiness of the profession and to increase the chances of retaining these individuals  in teaching. Those who are ineffective would have to be identified. Both steps would be politically challenging in a heavily unionized environment such as the one in place today.”

 

Philip Martin, the superintendent of Terrebonne Parish school system, would go beyond what Gov. Jindal has proposed to abolish tenure all together.

“We no longer need tenure,” he said. “It is an obstacle to student achievement and I don’t think the unions speak for the majority of teachers.”

Martin’s district is part of pilot program experimenting with the new evaluation, which also includes the city of Monroe and the parishes of Jefferson, Lincoln, Orleans, St. Bernard, St. James, St. Martin and West Baton Rouge.

“I view the value-added method as a very exciting instrument that has untapped potential and provides an objective means of measuring teacher effectiveness,” Martin said. “It has enormous potential, and is light years ahead of what we have been doing.”

To be meaningful, any tenure reform package should include the new evaluation system in some form, he added.

Dr. Michael Walker-Jones, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE), disagrees.

“What the public needs to know is that the tests used with the value-added assessments do not apply to 100 percent of the teachers,” Walker-Jones said. Using a test score to try and predict something that that the test was not designed for, and then trying to evaluate the effectiveness of the teacher from this, is not something we view as a fair measurement.”

Moreover, after the LEAP tests now administrated at the high school level are replaced with end of year examinations, a change that will be instituted at the end of this year, Walker-Jones, expects that percentage of teachers impacted by the new evaluation system will decline further. He also said it was possible teacher evaluation system would need to be put on hold for a period of two years if the I-LEAP and LEAP tests were revised. This is because the individuals responsible for creating the new methodology concluded that two of data gathering is needed for the results to be meaningful, Walker-Jones explained.

Rayne Martin, executive Director, Stand for Children and former Deputy Superintendent of Innovation responsible for implementing the new evaluation system, points to statistical data from the state department of education that shows a sizable percentage of teachers will be assessed based in part on student test scores.

“Currently 35% of teachers in Louisiana receive a value-added score, however that number will increase to approximately 50% through the expansion of state summative tests in 2nd grade and additional high school courses,” she said.

The union plan, which de-emphasizes test scores, calls for “revamping the current teacher evaluation system – brought forth in ACT 54 -by incorporating multiple data sources and student growth plans when evaluating teacher performance. LAE’s agenda also focuses on using student achievement to inform teacher evaluation decisions,” a  press release from the organization explained.

Walker-Jones said his organization is opposed to using the value-added assessments for the purposes of tenure reform.

“We are going to fight it because tenure is being portrayed as something it is not,” he added. “At the K-12 level, tenure refers to your right to due process if you are challenged with dismissal, that’s all it means.  The politicians lead the general public astray because they confuse the tenure in higher education with the tenure in our public school system.”

In response, Martin acknowledged that the pilot program should address some of these concerns. But he also insists the test scores do convey valuable feedback that are indicative of teacher performance.

“Part of the puzzle is how do you deal with non-tested grades and subjects,” he said. “I agree with the unions that this does create an inequity in the system.”

Going forward, Martin recommends that the teachers in core-subject areas where tests are used to measure student programs receive higher compensation. The Hoover study concurs on this point.

“Salaries several times higher than those paid teachers today would be economically justified if teachers were compensated according to their effectiveness,” the study says.

Anything less than “drastic change,” will not suffice, Martin said.

“There’s a reason Drew Brees gets paid more as the quarterback for the Saints than the place-kicker,” he observed. “The success of the team depends more on his day to day performance.”

Other teachers and administrators taking part in the pilot program also view the value-added method as a positive change, but also see the next few months as being very critical to the success of the program.

Susan Benedetto is a library media specialist for the St. Charles Parish School Board who has been assigned to the work group responsible for designing teacher assessments in non-tested subjects such as physical education, art and music. Her group is also charged with making recommendations that are reported back to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) . Over the long-term, she anticipates that policy changes flowing out of Act 54 will work to the advantage of teachers and students.

“What I’m seeing so far is a rubric that is both realistic and fair,” Benedetto observed. “This is not an adversarial system and it does not ask teachers to jump through hoops and perform in an unrealistic way, but we do have to set goals. Once the public understands what has been put into place, they will be supportive.”

Gov. Jindal’s reform package would also give districts the flexibility to reward teacher performance with higher salaries. Moreover, teachers that consistently earn high marks will be able to maintain tenure status.

“Our plan to empower teachers has new components for current and incoming teachers,” Jindal said during his LABI address. “But they all boil down to two very simple ideas. We are going to create a system that pays teachers for doing a good job instead of for the length of time they have been breathing and we’re going to give districts the tools to recognize and keep the best teachers.”

The narrow implementation period for the new evaluation method is a cause for concern for Sean Wilson, the executive director of the International School of Louisiana, in New Orleans. But the concept is valid, and with proper training use of student test scores as part of teacher evaluations could produce meaningful dividends for the state’s education system.

“This is a way to ensure that teachers and the school leadership are inextricably focused on the process of student learning and achievement,” Wilson said. “It is important to have student success as part of our overall evaluation system.”

Brigitte Nieland, vice-president and communications director of the Education and Workforce Development Council for LABI, is unmoved by the union criticism. Louisiana now has a “gold standard model” for teacher evaluations that could motivate other states to advance similar reforms, she said.

“We are the national leaders, we are leading the way,” Nieland continued. “There is tremendous interest in this model. I agree that a lot of components go into making an effective teacher that don’t get reflected in the test scores. But having the evaluations split 50-50 between the tests and other subjective factors is more than fair.”

Walker-Jones views proposed connection between tenure and value-added assessments as “nothing more than smoke and mirrors” that make for “great public relations soundbites” without producing meaningful performance measurements.

But the fact the union members are willing to incorporate testing in some form, even if it is just 20 or 30 percent of the equation [as some union representatives have suggested]  as opposed to 50 percent, is very suggestive, Nieland countered.

“That’s a capitulation on their part,” she said. “It’s easier to kill off 20 percent than 50 percent. This is just another delay tactic.”

Kevin Mooney is  the Capitol Bureau Reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached at kmooney@pelicaninstitute.org and followed on Twitter.


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