Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) recently spoke with Don Dailey on Alabama Public Television’s Capitol Journal’s Week in Review about the PREP Act, which mandates a number of requirements affecting teachers in Alabama.
Marsh spoke about the push-back he has received from the education community and his reasons for sponsoring the bill, characterizing Alabama’s education system as failing.
Marsh started out relaying what various data points show about students in Alabama’s public schools: Alabama’s students are ranked 51st in math and 40th in reading in the latest round of NAEP scores, only 15% of high school graduates are “college-ready” according to ACT tests, and 30% of graduates enrolling in college end up taking remedial classes.
Marsh called those results “alarming,” adding, “I’m amazed quite honestly that I’ve had as much push-back from the education community. They typically don’t like change, and they don’t like people telling them what to do. I get it. I’m not an educator, although my wife taught for 15 years. But I am responsible with the state’s tax dollars. Taxpayers expect us to spend that money wisely. And I’m hesitant to continue to throw dollars at an education system that quite honestly is failing.”
Marsh said that the states that have a better educated population will be in a better position to bid on economic development projects. Alabama’s standing makes it more difficult to bid on those projects.
Marsh said while he has been and continues to be willing to work with the state department of education and the state board of education to come to an agreement about what’s in the bill, he continues to receive push-back specifically from the School Superintendents of Alabama and the Alabama Association of School Boards, who basically are saying they “don’t want anyone telling them what to do”.
Marsh said the teacher evaluation system in his bill mirrors what the state is already doing. He believes the accountability for student achievement is necessary, adding, “I do not see how I can look the taxpayers in the face and tell them that I’ve got an evaluation system that we’re moving forward with that doesn’t evaluate student achievement.”
With respect to the Education Trust Fund budget that the Senate will be considering this week, Marsh said he will have a hard time supporting pay raises included in the budget package without an additional accountability component such as that proposed in the PREP Act.
Marsh made it clear that the PREP Act does not tie student achievement to teacher pay.
The bill requires professional development for teachers not achieving minimum acceptable effectiveness levels. Teachers that need help can get the help they need, Marsh said.
In the version of the PREP Act that was narrowly approved by the Senate Education and Youth Affairs committee, one-fourth, or 25%, of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on student growth. The bill allows multiple measures to be used to determine student growth.
Marsh said he chose 25% because the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) is already using a teacher evaluation model that counts student growth as 25% of the evaluation. He said that even though the percentages are the same, he can’t get the state board to support the bill “because they don’t like the [growth] model of the evaluation”.
Marsh’s bill does not dictate any particular student growth model to be used, giving the ALSDE the authority to choose the growth model.
He is correct in that the ALSDE’s Educator Effectiveness (EE) model does call for student growth to count for 25% of a teacher’s evaluation. Fifty of Alabama’s 137 school districts are in various stages of implementing the EE model, though no school district has decided on a particular growth model as none have implemented that part of the model yet.
Marsh said teachers appear to be worried that a growth model will make unfair comparisons, for example comparing students in traditionally high-achieving systems like Mountain Brook City Schools with students in rural schools who face different challenges.
Marsh said that will not happen, adding the growth model allows comparisons to be made among like groups of children.
He stressed that while teachers are concerned about the complexity of a student growth model, the model and accompanying formula are necessarily complicated to make sure that teachers are protected from unfair comparisons and evaluated based on similarly-situated student groups.
Student Growth Models and Value-Added Measures
“Student growth model” is a generic term that has many different meanings. In the PREP Act, student growth model is defined as “A statistical growth model used to isolate the effect and impact of a teacher on student learning, controlling for preexisting characteristics of a student including, but not limited to, prior achievement.”
A “student growth model” may or may not include a “value-added model”, but a “value-added model” always includes a measure of student growth.
Dr. Dan Goldhaber is the Director of the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) at the American Institutes for Research and the Director of the Center for Education Data & Research (CEDR) at the University of Washington Bothell. He studies student growth and value-added models explains the difference this way:
These models, which consider student growth on standardized tests, fall roughly into four categories: “value-added models” that do not control for student background; models that do control for student background; models that compare teachers within rather than across schools; and student growth percentile (SGP) models, which measure the achievement of individual students compared to other students with similar test score histories.
Value-added models are statistical models that generally try to isolate the contributions to student test scores by individual teachers or schools from factors outside the school’s or teacher’s control. Such factors may include prior test scores, poverty, and race. For instance, students in poorly financed schools, whose parents are not engaged in their education, often do poorly on tests; the value-added model controls for these sorts of factors. There is debate over whether value-added models accurately capture the true contributions (in statistical parlance, “causal estimates”) of schools and teachers as opposed to simply identifying correlational relationships.
The bill does not dictate any particular student growth model to be used in teacher evaluation, leaving that decision to the Alabama State Department of Education.
Marsh stressed that the only part of a teacher’s evaluation measurably impacted by the PREP Act is the 25% based on student growth. The other 75% of an evaluation can be measured and combined however the local school district chooses, though a minimum requirement including two observations and the use of student surveys must be incorporated into that measurement.
Asked whether he has enough support to get the bill through the Senate, Marsh responded said he is going to try, adding, “You would think that the dismal performance of a lot of students across the state would be alarming enough that they’d acknowledge that they’ve got to do something.”
If the PREP Act isn’t passed, Marsh said he will spend his time “preaching about the problems we have in education in this state” which he hopes lead to a public outcry to the legislature to make significant changes in education in Alabama.
He said this about introducing the bill on the floor of the Senate: “If nothing else, I want the debate. I want the press to cover it. I want everybody to know the numbers, cause I don’t think they know them.”
[After Marsh’s interview, which aired April 1, the Alabama State Department of Education’s Coordinator of Educator Effectiveness said that Marsh and his staff worked collaboratively with the ALSDE and reached agreement on the teacher evaluation portion of the bill, which is reflected in a draft of a substitute bill expected to be introduced on the Senate floor by Marsh.]