Now it’s time to hear from opponents.
And to be clear, no one whose interviews are reported here have problems with the parts of the bill where teachers are recruited, retained, rewarded, and serve as advisors to the legislature.
The big sticking points are those having to do with teacher evaluations: (1) using value-added measures that critics say are unreliable at best, and misleading at worst, and (2) perverting the use of teacher evaluation for external accountability purposes (granting tenure and dismissing ineffective teachers) as opposed to using the evaluation for internal growth purposes.
Let’s hear what these folks have to say.
What is written below reflects interviews conducted both before and after the public hearing for the PREP Act, held on March 8.
Dr. Kirkemier has relied heavily on the teacher evaluation process that the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) has been working to implement.
So first, a quick background on what the ALSDE has been doing and why they started doing it in the first place.
In November 2013, the ALSDE pulled together a multi-layered task force to design a new evaluation system, prompted in part to satisfy requirements of the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) that were part of the waivers allowed moved away from No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
An Alabama work group was created that “was comprised of 60 educators composed of teachers, school-based administrators, central office administrators, college faculty, state education agency employees, association stakeholders, and state board members. All of the teachers were Nationally Board Certified teachers from around the state, two of whom were former State Teacher of the Year. The associations represented during the design included Alabama Education Association, Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools, School Superintendents of Alabama, A+ Education Partnership, and Alabama Association of School Boards,” according to the waiver submitted to the USDOE.
The work was slow and deliberate.
As a result of that work, the Educator Effectiveness model created a structure within which each district could build their own teacher evaluations, basing those evaluations on what mattered most to the teachers and leaders within the district, not based on what the USDOE required.
One-fourth of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on student growth, they decided.
Student growth would be determined in part by test results from the ACT Aspire. Additional measures could be used if the district chose to do so.
The ALSDE’s plan has been rolling out slowly, with fifty of Alabama’s 136 school districts currently implementing various stages of the model.
The ALSDE framework guides implementation at the district level, but the vision for each school district is incorporated in the rubrics and measures created by local teachers and administrators.
While acknowledging similarities between what the PREP Act requires and what the ALSDE is already doing, Kirkmeier said the two differ in philosophy.
The ALSDE’s model is focused on creating conversations and opportunities for teachers to grow through honest evaluation of what is needed and important in the local district, he said.
The PREP Act, with its mandate for effectiveness rankings, could cause the focus to be on a score or a certain benchmark and that may keep teachers from asking “what do I need to do as a teacher to get better?” according to Kirkmeier.
“Our focus (in the Educator Effectiveness division) is on the evaluation process. We had Alabama teachers and leaders build the framework. Our timeline is ongoing and regardless of what happens with the bill, districts are moving forward,” he said.
[Here is Alabama’s ESEA Waiver request. A history of how teachers are evaluated in Alabama since 2004 begins on page 131 of the PDF.]
When asked whether the ALSDE will backtrack on using student growth as part of a teacher’s evaluation now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) no longer specifically requires student test scores to be a significant factor in teacher evaluation, Kirkemier said that because Alabama’s plan was based solely on PLAN 2020, Alabama’s strategic plan for public education, and all were deliberate in their efforts to develop the “best practices to grow teachers and leaders”, he did not expect any changes to any of the components within the Educator Effectiveness model, including the plan to base 25% of a teacher’s evaluation on student growth.
He was quick to point out that while standardized test data, including the ACT and ACT Aspire, “should and will continue to be a data point,” it will certainly not be the only data point.
“The goal of our process is to look at all aspects of the craft of teaching to provide a comprehensive view in order to target adult learning which impacts student learning,” Kirkemier said.
Kirkemier is confident that the ALSDE’s plan will remain as is, unless the legislature substantially alters it.
Brown co-authored an open letter to Marsh in January, before the bill was officially filed.
She has been a vocal opponent of parts of SB316 and continues to battle on social media, garnering an “army of educators” and asking them to contact their legislators, focusing currently on the full Senate, which is set to consider the bill any day now.
She was one of the first teachers to publicly speak against the RAISE Act, and though many of her concerns were addressed in later drafts, SB316 still calls for using value-added modeling, which Brown has said she just can’t support in any form. “I thought it was a joke,” she told Senators last week during the public hearing, giving an example of a value-added measure used in another state that set a goal that wasn’t attainable.
She is concerned that new tests will have to be created to create some type of measurement to be used for teachers who don’t teach reading and math and science (the three state-assessed subjects) and that teachers may choose not to collaborate if effectiveness measures are used to determine who gets laid off if a district declares a “reduction in force”, or RIF.
Using evaluations for employment decisions, including earning tenure, makes them high-stakes and will pervert the intended use of the evaluation, which is to help teachers grow in their craft.
“Evaluations should be about growth, not about judgement. We’ve gotta get past using evaluations for judgement,” she said in an earlier interview.
When asked for her latest thoughts on the PREP Act, Brown shared this, directed at state lawmakers:
Stop writing bills to fix public education. Go visit the schools and ask the students and teachers what they need to be successful on the Aspire and NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) tests. What… You need wifi so you can practice on the computer? You need devices? You mean you can’t get the teacher’s help since there are 38 people in your classroom? You need science textbooks? Your teacher had to creat a DonorsChoose fundraising site so he could raise money to order science labs?
Hmmm. Maybe this problem is bigger than the 25% accountability.
Start with visits to the bottom 6% (76 schools) the Legislature has labeled as failures.
Brown has challenged teachers across the state to invite legislators into their classrooms. Her story aired on NPR and in the video below she asks teachers to invite a legislator into her classroom.
School Superintendents of Alabama Executive Director Eric Mackey said that superintendents are supportive of the bill except for the VAM piece. He strongly believes that value-added modeling, or VAM, is “not good for teachers, not good for children, not good for schools,” but agrees there are good things in the bill.
Mackey complimented Marsh for spending a large amount of time meeting with him and other educators, and said it’s obvious he is listening, but “for some reason, doesn’t want to give up on the value-added modeling”.
Mackey said there are 15 states in the midst of lawsuits over VAMs. “In no state has it been proven conclusively to work, and in some states it has been proven conclusively not to work, so why do we want to go there,” adding, “there are so many things that need to be done to improve our schools that we could be spending our time and efforts and money and resources toward”.
“We’ve had a history of not being able to implement things well because we under-resource everything. So even when have a really really good idea, we under-resource it. Now we have an idea that is ambiguous on whether it works or not, at best, at whether it has any positive effect on the classroom, and we’ll under-resource it, too, and it won’t work,” he said.
Speaking of money, Mackey pointed out that the $18 million worth of appropriations in the PREP Act are not currently in the Education Trust Fund budget that recently made its way through the House. “Something will have to be cut,” Mackey said, in order to fund these components of the PREP Act, adding that he doesn’t know where those cuts will be made.
When asked whether the legislature could short-circuit the ALSDE’s efforts to implement new teacher evaluations, Mackey called the timing “unfortunate”, saying that Alabama’s educators are having a real discussion and making real progress to improve teacher evaluations and “the legislature is inserting itself into an area that I just think they don’t need to go”.
Smith’s concern centered around how the PREP Act is using teacher evaluations in a judgmental way rather than solely as a way to help teachers grow. She shared other concerns in this interview with Brian Lyman of the Montgomery Advertiser.
Smith pointed out one section of the PREP Act that hasn’t gotten much attention: the requirement that a first-year teacher who has a poor evaluation be retained and given $500 for professional development.
Smith said that was a “step backwards” for local control because right now, school districts have the option of letting that teacher go, adding that she isn’t sure what $500 can do to improve a teacher that a principal believes should not be retained.
I spoke with AEA President Sheila Remington, just after the public hearing, where she spoke publicly in opposition to the use of student achievement results in a teacher’s evaluation.
Remington spent 42 years teaching in Alabama’s schools prior to becoming full-time President of AEA in 2015.
Using student test scores to measure student growth was mandated under NCLB, she said, where ESSA does not mandate the use of student test scores in teacher evaluation.
[Remember earlier where the ALSDE’s Kirkemier said that even though ESSA may have loosened restrictions, he did not see the ALSDE eliminating student growth from teacher evaluations.]
Much of Remington’s testimony centered on her opposition to using VAMs based on student test scores. She questioned the validity of VAMs and told lawmakers of states embroiled in lawsuits over the validity of VAMs. Her full testimony to the committee is posted on the AEA’s Facebook page and is shared below.
If student growth based on VAMs was not mandated as written in the bill, Remington said the bill would be more palatable, but she still has problems with other parts of the bill, including the PREP Act’s proposal to eliminate tenure for support personnel. AEA membership includes support personnel.
Back to student growth, Remington said,”I’m for showing student growth, let’s just show it correctly. Let’s use multiple measures.”
Regarding the teacher recruitment and retention parts of the bill, Remington strongly supports both of those components but said “the things that are bad are going to make it hard to make the other things good”.
“I hope that [legislators], when they vote, are thinking in their heart of the children of this state.”
She supports the Educator Effectiveness plan from the ALSDE.
The way a teacher improves is a formative document. We support that 100%.
Here’s is Remington’s testimony to the Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee on March 8, where the PREP Act was passed with a 5-4 vote and is now headed to the full Senate.
AEA President Remington PREP Act testimonyAEA President Sheila Remington testified against the PREP Act, formerly known as the RAISE Act, today in the Senate Education Policy Committee. The PREP Act passed out of committee by a 5-4 vote. Call your Senator and ask them to vote no on the PREP Act. For contact information for your Senator, go to http://www.myaea.org/contact/legislators/.
Posted by Alabama Education Association on Tuesday, March 8, 2016