Report: 95% of teachers highly rated; administrators disagree

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The vast majority of Rhode Island teachers received high marks on their mandatory educator evaluations last school year, yet more than two-thirds of administrators admitted they gave a teacher a higher rating than they believed was warranted, a new report shows.

All told, 95% of the state’s 14,260 public school teachers were rated “effective” or “highly effective” during the 2012-13 school year while fewer than 1% of educators were labeled “ineffective,” a rating that could trigger a loss of certification if the teacher does not improve over the course of several years, according to a report released by the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE).

At the same time, 66% of building administrators admitted in an end of the year survey that they assigned an inflated rating to teachers, which the report called a “powerful reminder of the strong cultural forces” in schools that make it difficult for evaluators to offer honest scores.

“No system is ever going to be perfect, but the comment you reference [there] from administrators, as well as the percentage of educators rated either effective or highly effective, demonstrates that we can do better,” Kimberly Bright, chief of staff for Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, told WPRI.com.

Bright said the 10-page report offers a glimpse into the first full-year implementation of Rhode Island’s teacher evaluation system, a controversial program that was first approved in 2009 and later became a crucial component of the state’s $75-million federal Race to the Top grant, awarded by the Obama administration in 2010.

The report, which analyzed more than 6,000 mid-year and end-of-year surveys from teachers, building administrators and central office administrators, found that just 42% of teachers agreed that the evaluations offered accurate reflections of effectiveness. Only 27% of teachers said they improved as a result of working with an evaluator, a figure the report called “unsurprising” since so many teachers earned positive ratings.

“The great news is that I think there is genuine effort on the part of all educators to get it right,” Bright said. “It does not help anyone – students, colleagues, parents, or the wider community – to have an educator in the classroom or a leader in a school who needs support that he or she is not receiving.”

The new evaluations judge teachers on several sets of criteria that include multiple classroom observations, proposed curriculum, professional responsibilities – such as how they work with colleagues and parents – as well as student growth and achievement.

Student growth and achievement is measured in two different ways: progress on statewide testing, and student learning objectives; the objectives are set by school districts and can vary by classroom. The state has asked the U.S. Department of Education to allow it to delay the use of student NECAP scores on teacher evaluations without endangering its Race to the Top grant, according to Bright.

The evaluations give teachers a rating on a four-tier scale ranging from “highly effective” to “ineffective.” If a teacher is deemed ineffective, he is required to develop a personal improvement plan, according to RIDE. Two consecutive years of ineffective ratings could be grounds for dismissal.

“In the end the teacher evaluation system is not about getting rid of people but about improving each educator’s capacity to perform, which will in turn have a positive impact on student achievement,” Cumberland High School Principal Alan Tenreiro told WPRI.com. “We need to ensure our judgments as evaluators are aligned with the rigorous but attainable requirements of the rubrics so that the system works as designed.”

The evaluation system has been met with strong opposition from teachers’ union leaders, who have raised concerns about the use of test scores as well as the use of student learning objectives that can vary by school or district. A study released last month by the Community Training and Assistance Center, a national think tank, argued linking evaluations to teacher certification is “punitive.”

Lawrence Purtill, the president of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Education Association union and a member of the R.I. Board of Education, said he believes teachers should have more of a say when it comes to evaluations, but also indicated he believes the high ratings were accurate.

“Absolutely 94% of the teachers are effective or highly effective and if RIDE wants to dispute their own ratings of their evaluation system then maybe they need to sit with administrators and teachers and come up with a system that is fair and valid,” Purtill told WPRI.com. “Apparently RIDE did not get the results they wanted.”

But critics say there is something wrong for a state to give 95% of teachers positive ratings when 4,000 of its 12th-graders at risk of not graduating because they were unable to score “partially proficient” on the math or English sections of the  NECAP exam.

“When we have single-digit proficiency rates in some schools and a wide achievement gap across the state, we need to look at all factors that contribute to student achievement, acknowledge the need for improvement, and be honest with ourselves about where our challenges lie,” Christine Lopes, executive director of the advocacy group Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now, told WPRI.com.

Nearly every state in the country has overhauled its teacher evaluation system over the last four years, according to a comprehensive report released this week by the Center for Public Education, a school-data information bank founded by the National School Boards Association in 2006.

The report found that most states have fine-tuned their strategies for classroom observations while also implementing systems that include multiple measures for teacher evaluations, rather than simply relying on student test scores. While 38 states do factor in student achievement, no state has a system that allows more than half of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on student performance.

Five of the 50 states mandate the dismissal of teachers who are consistently labeled low-performing, according to the report. Twenty-seven states make teachers eligible for termination after consecutive years of poor evaluations, but leave the final decision up to local school systems.

The report also suggested that while improvements have been made across the country, local school districts still need more flexibility in designing and implementing teacher evaluation systems so they are aligned to specific districts.

Alex Lucini, a middle-school teacher at Roger Williams Middle School in Providence, told WPRI.com that Rhode Island’s evaluation process relies heavy on complying to timelines, but fails to support the growth of teacher quality.

Lucini – who indicated he was rated “highly effective” – said better teachers aren’t given the opportunity to identify where they can improve because they are forced to undergo the exact same evaluation process every year. He said Rhode Island needs to decide whether its goal is to rid schools of poor teachers or improve teacher quality.

“If it is to provide growth and support, then evaluations should not be summative high-stakes exercises for teachers, but a formative representation of what teachers are doing well, and what they should be doing to improve their practice,” Lucini said.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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