Evaluating Evaluations

New York teachers may soon be able to challenge state growth scores

The state is considering offering teachers a new way to appeal evaluations they believe are inaccurate, according to Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch.

“We are moving to put in place a panel of people who can allow a teacher to appeal a rating, which I think is a very appropriate thing to do,” Tisch said on the Capitol Pressroom radio show Tuesday, likening the new process to the one available to high school students who wish to challenge a Regents exam score. “We’re hoping to do this almost immediately.”

Tisch’s comments come as the Board of Regents is set to meet in Albany and discuss a controversial new teacher evaluation system in which test scores would make up half of some teachers’ rating. A new state law requires school districts to have new evaluation plans in place by Nov. 15 to avoid losing state funding, but parent advocates and the state teachers union have been calling for the Regents to give districts more time.

Tisch said she plans to finalize the rules that districts need to meet the deadline or apply for a formal extension. But she said the new appeal process would give teachers more confidence in their ratings.

In the interview, Tisch said she sympathized with Long Island teacher Sheri Lederman, who is suing the State Education Department over her 2014 evaluation. Lederman’s students scored well on state tests and her superintendent gave her glowing reviews, earning her an “effective” overall rating. But the “ineffective” rating she received on the portion based on her students’ test scores prompted her to file a lawsuit, which is now making its way through the State Supreme Court.

“It disturbs me greatly,” Tisch said of Lederman’s case. “One of the reasons we’re putting in place this appeals process is to deal with those kinds of aberrations.”

The new process would offer the first opportunity for New York teachers to appeal their “growth scores,” the most controversial portion of the state’s teacher evaluation system. Those scores are calculated by the state using a complicated methodology to measure the progress that students make over the course of a school year based on state tests and how that compares to their expected progress. Those scores have counted for 20 percent of a teacher’s overall rating, though in some instances teachers are assessed based on students in grades or subjects they don’t teach.

New York City already has an appeal process in place for other parts of a teacher evaluation, as required by law. Teachers can appeal directly to the chancellor if they believe their principal was biased against them or didn’t follow rules for classroom observations. Certain teachers can also appeal, with union representation, to a panel of outside arbitrators if their case is deemed credible by their union.

Indiana's 2019 legislative session

Raising teacher pay likely to be at the forefront for lawmakers and advocates in 2019

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar/Chalkbeat
Colorado teachers rallied for more education funding on April 27, 2018.

Indiana lawmakers and education advocates are making raises for teachers a priority for the upcoming legislative session.

As top lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — prepare to craft the next two-year state budget, they have been in talks about how money could be set aside for teachers and other educators. But it’s unclear how much of a pay hike is on the table or how the dollars would get from the state to teacher paychecks.

“The governor’s office and both Republican caucuses are seriously looking at this as an issue,” said Rep. Bob Behning, a Republican who chairs the House Education Committee. “If we’re focused on really making (teaching) more of a profession, you can’t do it by grants here, grants there. People need to see the opportunity.”

While Indiana’s teacher pay has not fallen as dramatically as it has in other states, salaries are down from 2009 when adjusted for inflation. The average teacher salary in 2018 was $54,846, down about 4.5 percentage points from nine years earlier, according to data from the National Education Association teachers union. An analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics and Council of Community and Economic Research ranks Indiana 18th highest in the nation for teacher salaries adjusted for cost of living.

Teacher pay has been central to education policy debates in 2018 across the nation, with teachers in several cities staging walkouts and protests to urge officials in their states to increase funding for classrooms. Indiana teachers have not gone on strike, but the national uproar around funding and teacher compensation has been felt among Hoosier educators — especially as schools across the state struggle to hire enough qualified teachers. In Indianapolis Public Schools, raising teacher pay was the driving motivation behind asking voters to approve a tax increase of $220 million over eight years.

“I don’t think I’ve talked to anyone who said they’re fully staffed in special education,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. “But if you get them and you can’t keep them because they can’t pay bills, and they have no hope of having a family or getting a house … they’re going to look elsewhere.”

It’s too early to know how lawmakers would approach raises logistically for the state’s more than 71,000 public school teachers or how much they’re willing to support, but there does seem to be some initial consensus that the increases should go to base salaries, not just stipends as previous efforts have involved.

“We need to look at how do we make a significant impact to the base for all teachers,” said Sen. Eddie Melton, a Democrat from northwest Indiana. “That’s where we’re going now, to figure out what’s a sustainable method to fund this — not just for one or two years, but ongoing.”

In previous years, the state has set aside a few million dollars at a time for teacher bonuses or stipends for teaching advanced courses or subjects in shortage areas, such as science, math, and special education. The state’s pool for merit pay raises this year for teachers rated effective and highly effective is $30 million, amounting to typically small bumps for teachers.

But a noticeable raise for every teacher in the state would cost many millions of dollars, a considerable undertaking at a time when state revenue has been shrinking and competition among lawmakers and agencies to get a slice of state funding is high.

It’s also unclear if the money for raises would be figured into the state’s school funding formula or as a separate line item. It could be especially complicated because in Indiana, there are no common teacher pay guidelines. Each district or charter school creates its own pay scale, which often involves union negotiations as well.

Lawmakers and advocates alike say they expect this to be a top issue for the legislature. Still, any proposal to increase teacher pay would be competing with other issues — chief among them increasing funding for the Department of Child Services. Earlier this year, the resignation of the agency’s director set off a major review of its staffing and caseload, stretched further by the number of children needing services because of Indiana’s opioid crisis.

Teacher salaries could also square off against other education issues, such as school safety improvements and initiatives to increase class offerings in science and math.

In Indianapolis Public Schools, district officials have been stressing the need to increase teacher pay — a key lever to convincing voters to pass a property tax increase to raise an additional $220 million for the district over eight years. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he’s also been having conversations with lawmakers about potential ways that the state could address the problem.

“They appreciate the need to address the teacher shortage, and they understand it’s an issue not only impacting Indianapolis Public Schools but it’s also an issue that’s statewide,” Ferebee told Chalkbeat two weeks ago.

Teacher hiring has continued to be a struggle for districts across the state, a survey from an Indiana State University professor said. Of the 220 districts surveyed, 91 percent said they’d had trouble filling jobs, with special education, science, and math being the hardest to fill.

According to state data, Indiana issued licenses to 4,285 new teachers in 2018, down slightly from 5,016 in 2017 and 4,566 in 2016. A survey conducted by the Indiana Department of Education reported 88 percent of educators who responded were unsatisfied with their pay, and it was the reason most frequently given for leaving the teaching profession.

“Based on conversations with some lawmakers, based on what’s going on across the country, I think our lawmakers have seen there’s reform fatigue,” Meredith said. “Let the dust settle and figure out how we come back and demonstrate respect for teachers.”

In other states where lawmakers have approved statewide teacher pay raises, the process has differed. Oklahoma raised the salary floor for all teachers, with an average increase of $6,100 per year. The state budgeted more than $425 million for the salary increases, which are to be covered by new higher taxes on cigarettes, cigars, and gas. In West Virginia, a nine-day strike ultimately led lawmakers to increase pay for all public employees by 5 percent.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has not yet weighed in on whether he would support a statewide teacher raise, but Behning said he’d been in conversations with the governor’s office. Indiana’s next legislative session begins in January.

Tale the teacher

Watch: This Detroit teacher is ‘no longer trying to fit’ others’ idea of what a teacher looks like

Torie Anderson, a teacher at Detroit's Davis Aerospace Technical High School, participated in a teacher storytelling event called Tale the Teacher on October 6, 2018.

Torie Anderson doesn’t think she looks like a teacher.

Over the years, as she’s taught English in district and charter schools in and around Detroit, she’s gotten pushback from administrators who wanted her to dress more conservatively, or to cover her tattoos.

But now, Anderson said, “I realize that the way I look has no impact on my effectiveness as a teacher.”

Anderson was one of four educators who told their stories on stage at the Lyft Lounge at Musictown Detroit as part of the Tale the Teacher storytelling event last month. Chalkbeat, which co-sponsored the event, has been publishing videos of the storytellers.

So far, we’ve published the video of one teacher who views teaching as a way to bring about social change.

Another teacher talked of using rap to excite his students about science.

Anderson recalled a story from her first job out of college when, working in a charter school, a principal scolded her for wearing shorts that revealed too much leg at a school football game.

“I cried the entire way home,” she said.

“I remember being told that I was a unicorn in a profession full of elephants,” she said. “I was told that I needed to find a way to be an elephant/unicorn hybrid, as if such a thing could even possibly exist.”

The elephant and unicorn figurines she bought after that incident have followed her through four schools to her current job at Detroit’s Davis Aerospace Technical High School. Both are still sitting on her desk, she said.

But now, she plans to get rid of the elephant “because I’m a f—ing unicorn and I’m no longer trying to fit into anyone’s idea of what a teacher should look like.”

Watch Anderson’s story below but note that, in addition to not trying to look like a teacher, she’s not trying to sound like one either. In this story, she uses quite a bit of profanity.

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