Teacher reviews spark new arguments

The first snapshot of how public school teachers fared under Louisiana’s new job reviews has reignited arguments over the value of the revamped evaluations.

“We have taken huge steps forward,” state Superintendent of Education John White said.

But White and department officials also said that the rigor of the teacher reviews statewide is uneven and, in some cases, principals went too easy in their grading.

“I would say that, as on any first-year effort, we have areas to improve and I think one of them is consistency of classroom observation,” he said.

State laws allows classroom assessments — mostly by principals — to make up half of a teacher’s job review.

The other half is supposed to come from the growth of student achievement.

The heavy role of principals stems largely from the fact that, politically speaking, the Legislature would not adopt a new system where more than half of a job evaluation was based on test scores, especially since principals did virtually all of the reviews previously.

Principals also play a major role in hammering out yearly academic expectations for teachers who cannot rely on standardized tests to see whether students improved — around two thirds of those reviewed.

However, state officials stopped just short of saying some principals abused that authority in the first year of the new reviews.

Ascension Parish, which is one of the top districts in the state, rated only 6 percent of its teachers as “highly effective” in the classroom observation part of the reviews, which sparked praise for rigor.

Meanwhile, the much lower-rated East Baton Rouge Parish School District said 24 percent of its teachers got the top rating on that component, prompting White to say the system needs to raise its bar.

Others also exceeded Ascension in awarding “highly effective” labels to their teachers in the classroom observation part of the review, including Avoyelles, 25 percent; Assumption, 20 percent; Evangeline, 21 percent; Iberia, 19 percent; and Iberville, 15 percent.

The state average is 27 percent.

That rate was 40 percent or higher in a dozen of Louisiana’s 69 school districts reviewed.

The state Department of Education said the St. Bernard Parish School District, whose students are in the 88th percentile in student achievement, ranked only 8 percent of its teachers as “highly effective” based on observations by principals.

The agency also praised 81 schools for the rigor of their reviews.

But that represents 6 percent of Louisiana’s 1,391 public schools.

The state has about 43,000 public school teachers.

Results issued last week show that:

32 percent are highly effective, the top level.

57 percent are effective/proficient, which is above average.

8 percent are effective/emerging, which suggests problems.

4 percent are ineffective, which can pave the way for dismissal if not reversed.

Teacher union leaders, who have opposed the new reviews throughout the debate, said the fact that only 4 percent of teachers finished in the bottom category suggest that White and others overpromised the impact of the overhaul.

“It doesn’t vouch for the system being better,” said Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

Under the old system, teachers were rated as satisfactory or unsatisfactory based mostly on classroom observations by principals.

The satisfactory rate was typically 98 percent or higher, which prompted criticism.

Echoing state officials, Rayne Martin, a former top official in the state Department of Education who helped craft the new reviews, said she thinks the first evaluations underestimated the number of teachers who need help.

Martin said that, while lots of attention was directed at the lowest-scoring teachers, more should have been classified in the second lowest rung effective emerging for the system to work.

“I was not at all surprised by the ineffective number,” Martin said. “I was a little disappointed in the effective/emerging.”

The initial results show that 12 percent of teachers were classified in the two lowest rungs of the ratings, or about 5,000 teachers.

Martin said she thinks that, in the future, around 20 percent or 30 percent of teachers, or up to 13,000 teachers, will or should fall into the bottom two categories.

The state lists ineffective teachers as those with low expectations of their students, low rigor, that they fail to challenge students, run classrooms where few students take part in discussions and either move daily classroom operations too fast or too slow.

Teachers classified that way face locally-crafted improvement plans that can last up to two years.

Those classified as effective/emerging are said to have only moderately high expectations of their students and are marked by partially effective classroom routines, inconsistent management and require only minimal thinking by their students.

Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said the initial results put a question mark on the value of the reviews, which the LAE has long criticized.

Meaux said results showing 4 percent of teachers were rated as ineffective is lower than people were led to believe when the new evaluations were pushed through the Legislature.

“I think he loses a little steam on this,” Meaux said, referring to White.