Guest Blogger: Education’s Chimera

A few weeks back, I introduced y’all to Ryan Niman, a high school social studies and English teacher in the Edmonds School District north of Seattle. 

Ryan’s a brilliant guy—and more importantly, he’s a brilliant writer. 

He’s also one of the new voices that the Center for Teaching Quality—my long-time mentors and blog benefactors—has landed for their soon-to-go-live TransformED blog, which will give several real-live, full-time classroom teachers a platform for talking about the realities of educational policy from perspective of practitioners.

Ryan’s first bit was an interesting take on teacher compensation.  Recently, he shared another piece with me on teacher evaluation. 

Check it out and tell him what you think—both of his point of view and his voice!


Education’s Chimera

By Ryan Niman

It was good to see the release of the Denver NMI’s first report ‘Making Teacher Evaluation Work for Students: Voices from the Classroom’.

As a member of the Washington NMI group (hoping to get our own report out soon), I was struck by how we are both dealing with state laws that require the use of student data in the evaluation of teachers.

The Denver NMI group is dealing with Colorado’s Ensuring Quality Instruction Through Educator Effectiveness law (EQuITEE, for short).

(Quick aside: Do they realize it sounds/looks like the name of a t-shirt company?)

Washington also has its own “landmark law”: SB 6696 (alas, no cute moniker here). It, too, requires that ’student growth’ be involved in a teacher’s evaluation.

However, here’s where things diverge.

Colorado requires that 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on this ‘student growth.’ Washington, on the other hand, has added ‘Using multiple student data elements to modify instruction and improve student learning’ as one of eight criteria used in evaluating teachers’.

And as to what student data to use and how, the Final Bill Report of 6696 states:

“When student growth data (showing a change in student achievement between two points in time) is available for principals and available and relevant to the teacher and subject matter it must be based on multiple measures if referenced in the evaluation.”

In other words, even less is set in stone here. While much remains undetermined in Colorado, what is clear is that 50% of an evaluation must be based on student data.

In Washington it could end up being a tiny portion of the evaluation.

Note, however, that I’m not passing judgment on which is the better approach. Heck, I don’t know if I even have a personal preference.

What I do know is that both approaches seem to have potential and both seem to be garnering the support of teachers and unions in their respective states.

Here in Washington, we’re in the early stages of creating a new teacher evaluation system. Nine groups (eight districts and one Educational Service District) across the state are in the pilot phase of creating their own systems based on the criteria and guidance provided by SB 6696.

In my eight-ish years in public education this is the only initiative for which I’ve heard support from all sides.

The governor and OSPI support it, the Washington Education Association supports it. At WEA’s Regional Assembly two weeks ago I heard teachers from three different pilot districts support it. In my own district the Professional Excellence Committee (composed of both union and administrative representatives, and, of which I’m a member) seems excited about the potential of this new evaluation system.

This cooperation between so many policy stakeholders in Washington would not have occurred if the law in question had adopted Colorado’s stronger use of student progress data in the evaluation system.

It is too early to know which system will ultimately be more successful.

But what I am willing to wager on is that the Washington system will be more effective than it would have been had there been a strong top-down push to use student growth data more extensively.

This also puts those of us in Washington in a great position to see how things turn out in Colorado and learn from those successes and mistakes.

One obstacle keeping many in Washington from supporting a comprehensive system linking student achievement to teacher evaluation is that we just don’t know if such a system is possible.

Kind of like the chimera, it doesn’t seem to be something that exists in nature. Perhaps Colorado can prove such a thing really can exist.

6 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Education’s Chimera

  1. Academic Writing

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  2. Rcniman

    Deanna – Good point. One of the interesting questions surrounding ‘Using multiple student data elements to modify instruction and improve student learning’ here in Washington is whether the numbers themselves matter: or whether it is your USE of the numbers to inform your teaching that matters.
    In situation #1, which would be the scenario you suggest, teachers are evaluated based on how their student data elements increase.
    But scenario #2 is a district saying “Listen, we want your classroom to be driven by data. Show us that you pay attention to how students do on assessments and react accordingly.” In this scenario, going from A to A.1 wouldn’t in and of itself affect the teacher’s evaluation.

  3. Deanna Whiteside

    As a special education teacher, I could see even less teachers interested in working with special needs students if evaluations are based on student progress scores.
    I LOVE my job and my students, but I teach the most significantly disabled students in our District at the high school level. My students are non-verbal, non ambulatory, some diapered, all preforming at preschool levels. I spend my own money on communication devices and computer technology I know will work with them. I push my students to get the most progress
    I can get from them, and we celebrate each little step. But they are little steps after months
    of trying, students may go from point A to point A.1. There are many teachers in similar situations. I can see this law having unintended side effects, and many vacant special education
    teaching positions.

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