QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Question: Can we eliminate the “score” on the spot observations?
Answer: This question was asked last time, and I wrote that we would consider it. After meeting with the Principal Focus Group last week, School leadership and I decided to allow the leadership team at each school to decide whether to eliminate the score or change the way parts of the spot observation are assessed. Beginning on 5 January 2015, this will now be a building level decision. While it is ultimately a principal’s call, I have encouraged principals to meet with their teachers about the spot observation score and to make a collaborative decision.
Question: What is the TEI expert group?
Answer: The TEI expert group is a key element of our continuous improvement model for teacher effectiveness. The group comprises two or three teachers from every school, who represent the schools on TEI matters. The experts disseminate information related to TEI, provide input to School Leadership, solve problems and make recommendations, and make some key decisions related to TEI.
Campus leadership selected the members last spring. The experts attended additional training sessions to learn more of the details about TEI. They receive a $500 stipend for the 2014-2015 school year. The members of the TEI expert group have met in August, October, and November. Their next meeting is on 6 January 2015.
During the January meeting, the group will consider and then make decisions about a few significant issues:
- The number of spot observations DTR eligible teachers will receive next semester.
- Whether teachers will be allowed to see the student survey questions as early as January.
- Whether to keep or modify the SLO portion of TEI.
- Whether teachers who achieve a Proficient II, Proficient III, or Exemplary effectiveness level should be given a two-year contract.
Additionally, the TEI expert group will provide input on proposed changes (increases) to the compensation levels of the TEI system. A task force of the expert group will also work with another group we are convening in February to discuss changes to the art, music, and P.E. ACPs at the elementary level.
Teachers are highly encouraged to communicate their concerns, questions, suggestions, and thoughts regarding any component of TEI to the TEI experts on their campus so those items can be discussed at future TEI expert meetings.
Question: How many assessments are required by the district or state?
Answer: For most students, the District only requires mid-term exams (ACPs) and end-of-year exams (ACPs). Additionally, the District requires a couple exams for the primary grade students, and the State requires the STAAR and EOC exams:
- Brigance exam (kindergartners)
- I-SIP (K-2)
- ITBS/Logramos (K-2)
- State STAAR (grades 3-5)
- State Fitnessgram (grades 3-5)
- PSAT (10th grade), SAT (11th grade), ACT (12th grade)
- State STAAR/EOC exams
- State Fitnessgram
All other exams are at the discretion of campus leadership. [We recognize that there are also some state-required tests for special populations or for ELL students. There are also entry assessments for some students applying to enroll in magnet schools.]
We have suggested to principals that the ACPs serve as the final exams, so that teachers may avoid giving students yet another major test at the end of the semester. The District no longer requires six-week exams. Principals can choose to do six-week or more frequent exams – that is a building-level decision. We recommend that schools limit the number of six-week exams, benchmark exams, and practice exams.
Question: Why are there so many ACPs?
Answer: K-2 elementary students take three ACPs and students in grades 3 through 5 take five ACPs at the end of each semester. [Keep in mind that an elementary student takes only one of the three exams for specials – music, art, or P.E.] The average middle school student takes four to five ACPs, but can take up to seven ACPs at the end of each semester – one per period. High school student can take up to eight ACPs at the end of each semester – one per period.
We have reduced the length of the ACP and the amount of time needed to take an ACP from two hours to 90 minutes. So, while a student may take six ACPs, it does not take six days to take those ACPs. More accurately, with set-up time, it should not take more than two hours a day for six days to take the elementary ACPs in a semester.
DID YOU KNOW?
- We put $200 dollars into our teachers’ paycheck each September. Dallas ISD has been doing it for at least the last 8 years.
- 7,822 teachers are in at least their third year of teaching, which is the number of years of experience required in order to qualify for the DTR process. Approximately 1,400 of those teachers were designated by their principal and received the qualifying summative performance score to make them eligible to participate in the DTR process.
As TEI unfolds, we will have many more discussions about assessments and how teachers demonstrate the degree to which their students have learned the standards. We will join others across the nation who are having the same debate and are developing local solutions to the issues.
Let us keep the debate healthy and constructive, relying on collaboration, research, and common sense. As professionals, we should refrain from over-generalization and making the exception the rule. Excerpts from the following article, for example, frames one of the key issues in a fairly balanced way.
From Elisabeth Rosenthal’s Testing, the Chinese Way, The New York Times, 11 September 2010.
Andrew and Cara, now 16 and 18, have only the warmest memories of their years at the International School of Beijing — they mostly didn’t understand that they were being “tested.” As educators and parents in the United States debate new federal programs that will probably expose young children to far more exams and quizzes than is the current norm, I think often of the ups and downs of my children’s elementary education. What makes a test feel like an interesting challenge rather than an anxiety-provoking assault?
Testing of young children had been out of favor for decades among early-childhood educators in the United States, who worry that it stifles creativity and harms self-esteem, and does not accurately reflect the style and irregular pace of children’s learning anyway. (There may be some truth to that. My son, who suffered the flash card assault, was by age 7 the family’s most voracious reader.) Testing young children has been so out of favor that even the test-based No Child Left Behind law doesn’t start testing students’ reading abilities until after third grade — at which point, some educators believe, it is too late to remedy deficiencies.
But recently, American education’s “no test” philosophy for young children has been coming under assault, as government programs strongly promote the practice. First there was No Child Left Behind, which took effect in 2003 and required states to give all students standardized tests to measure school progress. Now, President Obama’s Race to the Top educational competition — which announced billions of dollars in state grants this month — includes and encourages more reliance on what educators call “formative tests” or “formative assessments.” These are not the big once-a-year or once-in-a-lifetime exams, like the SATs, but a stream of smaller, less monumental tests, designed in theory, at least, primarily to help students and their teachers know how they’re doing.
Some education experts hail the change as a step forward from the ideological dark ages. “Research has long shown that more frequent testing is beneficial to kids, but educators have resisted this finding,” said Gregory J. Cizek, a professor of educational measurement and evaluation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Of course, the tests have to be age-appropriate, Professor Cizek notes, and the Race to the Top program includes funds for research to develop new exams. Filling in three pages of multiple-choice bubbles may not be appropriate for young children. Likewise “high stakes” tests — like the Chinese university entrance exam, which alone determines university placement — create anxiety and may unfairly derail a youngster’s future based on poor performance on a single day.
But Professor Cizek, who started his career as a second-grade teacher, said the prevailing philosophy of offering young children unconditional praise and support was probably not the best prescription for successful education. “What’s best for kids is frequent testing, where even if they do badly, they can get help and improve and have the satisfaction of doing better,” he said. “Kids don’t get self-esteem by people just telling them they are wonderful.”
Other educators recoil at the thought of more tests. “The Obama administration is using the power of the purse to compel states to add more destructive testing,” said Alfie Kohn, author of “The Case Against Standardized Testing” and many other books on education. “With Race to the Top the bad news has gotten worse, with a relentless regimen that turns schools into test prep courses.”