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Teachers All Above Average, Students Still Failing

Teachers have come out looking pretty good—too good—in evaluations conducted by states across the country. According to the NYT, the new evaluations, instituted by education reformers to “weed out weak performers”, haven’t uncovered very many weeds:

In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations. In Tennessee, 98 percent of teachers were judged to be “at expectations.”

In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better.

Yet somehow, only 78.2 percent of American students graduated high school in 2010. Sixty-seven percent of all fourth graders could not read at grade level in 2009. And only 32 percent of eighth graders and 38 percent of twelfth graders were reading at or above grade level that same year. If all the teachers are above average, are students the problem? The NYT cites recent reports on ADHD:

Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention….Fifteen percent of school-age boys have received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis, the [new CDC] data showed; the rate for girls was 7 percent. Diagnoses among those of high-school age — 14 to 17 — were particularly high, 10 percent for girls and 19 percent for boys. About one in 10 high-school boys currently takes A.D.H.D. medication, the data showed.

There are two separate problems here, both of which cripple the American public school system.

First, evaluations can’t be useful or accurate if they show that teachers are performing “exceptionally well” while students across the country are failing. In Atlanta, New York, and elsewhere, teachers and administrators have been caught gaming the system in order to boost their own performance scores. Full-scale cheating may still be relatively rare, but the discrepancy between the students’ middling results and their teachers’ high marks suggests that the teaching standards may be the problem.

Second, a system where students sit at desks for 13 straight years, moving in lockstep from one grade to the next, doesn’t suit everyone. When a student doesn’t fit in, he shouldn’t just be drugged into docility. We ought to be developing alternative methods of education rather than relying on chemical tools to force students to conform.

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  • Mark Michael

    I risk being a broken record, but if true competition doesn’t exist where parents can choose to pull their child out of the regular public school and put him in a charter or private school without major financial loss, we’ll never “test” our way to excellent academic achievement and excellent teaching. Everyone involved must have in the back of their minds, “If we don’t do a good job, the parents can take Johnny out of the school and go next door to the charter or to a private school.” Then, the student tests and the teacher evaluations are much easier to do properly.

    I worked in DOD for 25 years and saw repeated attempts to “improve” the employee and management evaluation tests/forms/procedures. But civil service employment has a certain monopolistic quality to it, given its seniority rules, difficulty in firing people, and lack of true measurement of the organizations’ output product quality. This applied to military officer evaluations and civil servants. I recall civil service managers (myself at times) spending a full day to fill out an AF officer’s OER, since nearly everyone was nearly “perfect” as far as the numerical rating went, so they tried to make their employees stand out from the other near perfects by choice of the wording explaining each rating. Similarly things happened with civilian managers.

  • johngbarker

    “We ought to be developing alternative methods of education. . .” I concur, but what passes for educational reform and change is not based on research of the highest quality. Compared to other knowledge based industries, only trifling amounts are spent on research in education. What happened to model schools like the one sponsored by the University of Chicago in the past?

    • A Goy

      Eh… we don’t need more money poured into “research”. We already have a perfectly acceptable benchmark for good education. Simply roll back the methods and curriculum to pre-1980 or earlier, when STUDENTS received a Classical Education from TEACHERS and PROFESSORS in an environment that wasn’t overburdened with administrators and an atmosphere that wasn’t driven by moral adolescence and indoctrination.

      Since that time, the entire system has been turned on its head by an extra-constitutional federal funding mechanism which pushes education down to the lowest common denominator, teachers’ unions whose vested interests are NOT excellence in education, and a cult of “academics” now running our education shools which idolizes Marxists, socialists and collectivists.

    • richard40

      Your gov and educational college directed education “research” gave us disasters like new math and whole word reading, no thanks. How about market based competition, with charters and vouchers instead. That is how we get quality and cost improvements in every other part of US society.

  • Scott Morgan

    The NYT story raises good points about the high percentage of teachers being ranked as “effective” or “highly effective” by new evaluations. It all depends on what the evaluations are intended to evaluate but any evaluation finding 98 percent of any group as “effective” is not very helpful.

    My issue is that you take this review of teacher evaluation and use it as a hook to tee off again on public education. To some extent, that is appropriate and warranted. However, you fall into the same trap of using NAEP scores and graduation rates as part of your damning evidence of public education’s futility without, I believe, understanding what those numbers mean.

    The problems in education are real enough without them being exaggerated or misidentified. Just as the evaluations of teachers seem to be proving to be less then helpful, your inability to grasp the true nature of the issue diminishes your ability to influence needed reforms. These are real numbers that have real meaning but you don’t seem to grasp what the meaning is. I know that this post is too long but I want VM to pause and make sure it understands the numbers it is utilizing.

    As an example, you cite the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores for eighth graders and write “Sixty-seven percent of all fourth graders could not read at grade level in 2009. And only 32 percent of eighth graders and 38 percent of twelfth graders were reading at or above grade level that same year.”

    The NAEP scores are broken down into three categories: Basic, Proficient and Advanced. The
    percent figures you use are only those found meeting Proficient and Advanced. Clearly we want all children to fall into those two groupings.
    However, those falling into Basic are not reading below grade level. Adding those in the Basic in with the top two groupings brings the total students reading at level in the eighth grade in 2009 to 75 percent and 76 percent in the newer 2011 results.

    The NAEP defines eighth graders reading at Basic as “able to locate information; identify statements of main idea, theme, or author’s purpose; and make simple inferences from texts. They should be able to interpret the meaning of a word as it is used in the text. Students performing at this level should also be able to state judgments and give some support about content and presentation of content.” That does not mean “reading below grade level.” We seem fixated on “Proficient or above” because that is what No Child Left Behind stated as the goal.

    Maybe an even bigger error you continue to make is interpreting the numbers as a failure if everyone isn’t at the top. By that definition, you should love the new teacher evaluations. The point of educators is to take students in whatever place they are in when they are sent
    to school and to improve (as in “educate”) them. The NAEP scores aren’t even used by educators
    in working with individual human students.
    Most districts will have their own evaluations in place that allow them to see if students are making progress or if they are just treading water. This is true for the high achiever as well as the struggling kid not at his or her grade level.

    Trying to get students to take NAEP tests seriously when those scores in no way affect their own grades has been a struggle for all
    districts. NAEP tests are helpful but they are not intended to help students but rather policy makers. That is not meant to dismiss them but rather point out what their purpose is and what it isn’t. NAEP scores should not even be included in a teacher’s evaluation as they say so little about what kind of an affect that teacher had on individual students. NAEP scores may be included in some evaluations because policy makers place so much emphasis on them and they can affect funding but they do not get at the heart of educating the next generation.

    Your grasp of graduation rate figures is also limited. It is true that one way of calculating the
    high school graduation rate will give you a figure of 78.2 percent. That is called the “Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate.” It takes the number of graduates in the 2009-2010 school year and compares it to the average membership of the 8th grade in 05-06, the 9th grade in 06-07, and the 10th grade in 07-08. Doesn’t matter if the
    student died, moved away, went to a private school, became home schooled or whatever, once a student leaves it counts against this figure. By the same token, doesn’t matter why a kid shows up after any of the latter grades, it helps your rate. The figure is not worthless but it is not the hard figure you indicate.

    You want to be further confused? The “event” dropout rate in 2010 was 3.4 percent. What does that tell you? How about the fact that in 2002, 84.2 percent of Americans 25 and older had graduated from high school but in 2011, 85.9 percent had graduated. Does that tell you anything? It can but you have to dig into definitions and populations.

    Let me repeat that I am not claiming public education does not need reform. It most certainly does. What I am claiming is that real
    reform requires a real understanding of facts on the ground and not some foggy picture that fits a predetermined analysis. You damn with such a broad brush that all of the effective reform
    already happening would be thrown out with the garbage that should be thrown out. Facts and figures are helpful but they are only part of the story and even then, only if they are understood.

    • richard40

      Your point that you should count not just scores, but score improvement is a good one, but can be added in easily with a better formula, like:
      Modified_avg_scores = 2 * avg_scores_class_start – avg_scores_class_end
      This formula gives a lot of credit for improvement in any students score, while penalizing any decline from good scores, while still rewarding a teacher with good scores who keeps them there. Thus it fixes the stuck with bad students problem you cited. Also by using a class average, instead of just how many make proficient, you give just as much credit for raising a proficient to advanced as you get for raising a basic to proficient.
      This aproach also provides a good way to detect both test cheating and knowledge retention problems since:
      1. The class_end test for this year is the same as the class_begin test for next year.
      2. The teacher giving the class_end test has an incentive to get high scores, but the teacher giving the class_begin test has an incentive to get low ones (which they can then improve).
      3. If the 2 scores differ, it provides an indicator of possible cheating by one or the other teacher, or that knowledge was lost after the class_end test, either outcome being bad and deserving investigation.

  • davesnothere

    If we had better teachers, then maybe more parents wouldn’t be looking for excuses like ADHD to explain their kid’s lack of performance. If a teacher can’t keep his or her kids interested, then maybe the problem is with the teacher, not the kids’ attention spans. Anybody can teach kids who are good students. Good teachers can teach kids who aren’t good students (but aren’t necessarily “bad” students either, they’re just bored).

  • moron

    Suggestion. Simply look at the demographic student make up. Riddle solved. It’s not the money and it’s not the teachers. It’s the demographics.

    • Nagohal

      Well, obviously you learned something…

    • richard40

      Again use my formula based on improvement. It works equally well with either good or poor students. To do well with it you have t keep the good students where they are, and improve the grade level of the poor ones.

  • bonds

    In the state I teach in, there is NO average category for either teachers or students. That is, there are four categories for each. The bottom two are, for students, basic and below basic. The bottom two categories are considered failing for both teachers and students. The “top” two categories are passing for both. If a teacher is in the lower of the two categories (“effective” for Florida), that teacher in my state would be considered average. I do not know if Florida has a 4 category system or a 5 category system, although I suspect the former. If so, the reporter did a poor job of reporting in not making that clear.

  • Laka

    It’s just terrible how those nasty students have failed all those hardworking teachers.

  • jfrank

    Education starts in the home. Even the best teachers can’t reach everyone if there is no support from parents. Maybe the evaluation system is rigged in favor of the teachers, but no REAL conversation about education can exclude parents.

  • IanG

    I would expect that there would at least be a mention of the fact that Standardized tests only reliably measure socio-economic status of students, and…wait for it…NOTHING ELSE. It is not surprising that the majority of teachers would get excellent evaluations (unlike the media portrayal it is not a country club, they have to love their job and the abuse that comes with it) and not have those correlate to student “performance”. Why? Because there is no correlation! We have a socio-economic problem in this country, not a teacher problem…hanging teachers out to dry when students are coming to school hungry, with little family support, without clean clothes is ridiculous!

    • Nagohal

      Bull. Why then are there many successful students coming from the same neighborhoods and the same socio-economic backgrounds? Why are there many failures coming from much better schools and neigborhoods and higher standards of living?

      It has to do with individual performance and responsibility as much or more than anything else.

    • PGlenn

      Are you suggesting that, compared to recent decades, there were relatively fewer students in the 1910s or 1940s who came to school hungry, with little family support, without clean clothes? Otherwise, your key variables wouldn’t be very predictive, right?

    • richard40

      It depends on how you do the measurement. If you use the formula I described in another post above:

      Modified_avg_scores = 2 * avg_scores_class_start – avg_scores_class_end
      Then you are either rewarded for keeping good students good, or rewarded for improving poor students, and penalized if your students get worse. This way your complaint about student quality disappears, you do the best you can with what you are given.

    • richard40

      Your theory also does not explain why so many catholic schools, and charter schools, with students from poor economic backgrounds, do quite well. It also does not explain New Orleans, which had terrible scores pre katrina, but post katrina, after their entire system became charter schools, they had a dramatic improvement, with similar students.

  • Nagohal

    If you adopt a narrow set of criteria by which a workers performance will be evaluated it is to your advantage and the workers advantage that you make sure that worker achieves that set of criteria. In other words, you will both ‘game the system’ to get excellent evaluations. Those excellent evaluations frequently do not reflect reality but only measure, again, that narrow set of criteria.
    End result? Excellent evaluations and crappy performance.
    If you want excellence expect excellence and reward it. Don’t define what excellence is. If you as a worker or manager don’t know what excellence is, you have the wrong job..

  • richard40

    The Atlanta cheating scandal was entirely within the public school system, so dont blame it on charters.

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