With the Metro school board elections just over a week away, City Paper editor Steve Cavendish and All-Local-Everything reporter Joey Garrison got beyond the horserace with a wide-ranging discussion of Nashville's education landscape.
At the table: David Fox, former MNPS board chair; Jeremy Kane, founder and CEO of Nashville charter operator LEAD Public Schools; Beth Baker, H.G. Hill Middle School math teacher; Ron Woodward, principal at Maplewood High School; and Mary Catherine Bradshaw, the veteran MNPS teacher (formerly at Hillsboro, now at MLK Magnet High School) who is attempting to launch a charter school.
The discussion is thorough and informative throughout, covering issues from the unprecedented interest — financial and otherwise — in this year's school board races to Teach for America and (duh) charter schools. After the jump, an excerpt from the discussion touching on the state's new teacher evaluation system.
CP: Jeremy cited the state Department of Education’s one-year report on the teacher evaluations, and of course, I think like 35 percent of that is value-added; 50 percent of that is classroom evaluations — essentially, the Department of Education said there’s a disproportionate number of 4s and 5s [teachers are graded on a 1 to 5 scale], top-level scores being graded by evaluators from those in-class observations, disproportionate to the much lower number at the value-added level for the category. Ron, I assume you conducted many of those?
CP: What’s your take was on that? If there was maybe too much of — they called it either an inability or unwillingness to hand out low in-class observations. That’s what the state said.
WOODARD: I can comment on my thoughts on the evaluations, just I haven’t seen that report. But I will say the new evaluation system puts a stern focus on teaching and learning. I think it has caused principals to have to really focus on instruction in schools, and also helps our assistant principals focus on their instruction leadership as well.
CP: And what about to the teachers, Mary Catherine and Beth? Essentially, they said 76 percent of all teachers received a 4 or higher on the in-class evaluation portion.
BAKER: I think there’s a lot of ways to look at it. For me, the first one is teachers see the rubric that they’re being evaluated on, and on the announced visits, teachers should and can do their very best to get the very best score. The TVAs, the value-added, comes from students taking their test; it’s a one-time test. How do you know that child didn’t have something big happen in their life the moment they sat down before they took that test, and for two hours, they couldn’t focus on it because something tragic had happened at home? So I think there’s a very different thing, but what I’m getting at really is — are we using the evaluation system to catch teachers doing well, or was it to see and find teachers not doing well? In my classroom, my motto is “I want to catch you doing good.” I don’t like discipline issues. My theory is I’m going to catch you doing a good thing. I’m going to congratulate you on doing a great thing. I don’t want to point out every wrong thing you do. So which way was it being used? You know, I personally like the evaluation, the classroom, the rubric, because in the four years that I have taught — honestly, this is the first year that I really prepared questions to ask my students every day. I mean, it had been off-the-cuff talking to kids, listening to feedback, but really thinking about questioning, and I think it drives instruction to be better, which should at some point show better test scores, but again, the test scores that are used for value-added, it’s a one-time test, and how do you know something didn’t happen?
BRADSHAW: I think I would say the assessment — the TVAs, the in-course assessments and those kinds of things — they’re one-shot, just like she said. The teacher evaluations are a portfolio approach with different pieces, and I go back to the International Baccalaureate assessments [Bradshaw formerly headed the IB program at Hillsboro High School], where there are multiple ways for students to show what they know, and so if the state is looking at teacher evaluations that are a portfolio approach, but they’re looking at student assessments that are a one-shot deal, there’s a disconnect there. I don’t think we need to blame children or teachers when there are two different systems that aren’t really giving authentic information. And another piece of what has happened in this last year is the Advanced Placement and IB classes that were end-of-course tests; those students were told in the spring they don’t have to take the end-of-course test, so they took the AP or the IB, but there’s no data to really say, from anywhere in the state, from a large pool, significant pool, of AP students, say, in AP U.S. History. My AP U.S. History students took the AP test; they didn’t take the other course tests, so we don’t know.
CP: So they’re not even factored in there?
BRADSHAW: They’re not even factored in, and there’s a huge difference in the kind of test that AP is versus the end-of-course test, because there are essays, there’s multiple choice, there are document-based questions, all those kinds of things, so I would say we need data, but we need data that has parallel assessment pieces for teachers and for students. A portfolio system is best; some of it needs to be internal assessments, some of it needs to be external assessments.
KANE: I would just caution about — it’s year one, you know, in this evaluation system. I think you can look at it in a negative way, like we talked about earlier, the politics. You can say, “Well, all the principals are just giving their teachers 4s and 5s,” and we can look at it in a negative light. We can look at it in a positive light, and I think where we are is the state didn’t release videos on what a 4 or a 5 or a 3 was until very late in the year, and I’m not even sure if they’ve been released yet, we’ve been looking for them. So this takes a while to build a common language. We talked about the data is we’re in a process, and it’s going to take 10 years, and I know we don’t like to think in 10 years of time, because that’s more than a generation of kids, but it’s going to take a while for Ron and I to both say, “This is exactly what a 4 is, or this is what a great teacher measures.” I think we’re seeing a discrepancy in why we need to move faster, but I think I would caution us to look on the positive side, to keep pushing Dr. Register and the staff and the school board to say — this year it was what, you said 75 percent difference?
KANE: If next year it’s still 75 percent, we haven’t made progress. If it’s 50 percent, 40 percent, and we’re pushing that, and the school districts and the state are using, getting more training — I heard the state recommend doing retraining with principals, and this is not an easy training, so I would just caution us to look at the positives, continue to push the — you know, push on the gas. But again, look at the positives versus the negatives on it, because I think that will move us to abandon any data, and we’ll have a new teacher evaluation system two years from now — let’s stick with what works, refine it, really improve it.
The full discussion is well worth your time.