Saturday, October 29, 2016

MTA pushes DESE to eliminate misuse of scores By Laura Barrett

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education took two steps forward and then two steps back in considering changes to the Student Impact Rating system that is supposed to be implemented in about 40 districts this fall and in others next year.

The MTA is working with other stakeholders to end the impact rating and to prevent the use of student assessment results to make high-stakes decisions about educators.

“After the election, we will be calling on members to let state education officials know that ratings based on student test scores and other assessment results do not belong in the evaluation system,” said MTA President Barbara Madeloni. “In the meantime, we are continuing to work to end the current impact rating mandate and to prevent test scores from being misused in other ways.”

In a memo to superintendents and others dated Sept. 21, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester acknowledged that developing Student Impact Ratings based on standardized test scores and District-Determined Measures has been “among the most challenging aspects of implementation” of the new educator evaluation system. Chester said he will propose changes to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“In light of the concerns stakeholders have shared, it is my intention to bring to the board ... proposed amendments to the Educator Evaluation Framework that eliminate the separate Student Impact Rating,” he wrote. 

Madeloni said, “That language sounded promising at first, but it has proven to be much less than meets the eye. We subsequently learned that the commissioner’s plan was to eliminate the impact rating but require use of student assessment results in determining an educator’s summative rating. That could actually be worse than the current system. We are pushing hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
The MTA and AFT Massachusetts have been fighting the mandate since early spring. In April, the organizations released a position paper detailing problems with the system. Both unions testified about the concerns at a special BESE session in June and have been continuing to meet with DESE staff and leaders to advocate for changes. The MTA also supported a fiscal 2017 budget amendment to eliminate the Student Impact Rating requirement; that amendment was not included in the final state spending plan.

Negotiations that would lead to an impact rating system have ground to a halt in most districts, with neither administrators nor unions having an interest in continuing down this path.

The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents has also weighed in against the current system, though discussions are ongoing about whether MASS and the unions are seeking the same remedy. Common ground with the DESE had not yet been found as this edition of MTA Today went to press. 
Under current regulations, Massachusetts has a two-part evaluation system. The first part, based on observations and a host of other criteria, generates a summative rating of Exemplary, Proficient, Needs Improvement or Unsatisfactory. The second part requires districts to use two measures of student learning to create an impact rating of low, moderate or high.

If Student Growth Percentile scores are available, they must be one of the measures. If not, two District-Determined Measures must be used. The impact rating is supposed to determine the length of the Educator Plan.

Teachers and administrators alike have objected that the system is unworkable. Negotiations that would lead to an impact rating system have ground to a halt in most districts, with neither administrators nor unions having an interest in continuing down this path.

“Creating new DDMs is time-consuming and has led to more testing just when we are pushing for less,” said Madeloni. “Trying to use student results to calculate an individual teacher’s impact on student learning is invalid and unreliable. It’s a waste of time and has potentially dangerous outcomes for educators.”
The alternative proposed by the DESE in late September was, in some ways, less rigid than the impact rating system, but the results could be more consequential if used to lower an educator’s summative rating. A summative rating of Needs Improvement or Unsatisfactory could eventually lead to dismissal. 

“We hope the commissioner rethinks the direction this appears to be heading in,” said Madeloni. “If not, we will once again activate members to push back against bureaucratic regulations that do not improve teaching and learning in our schools.”

Chester plans to bring regulatory revisions to the BESE in November, after which they will probably be sent out for public comment. If the proposed revisions do too little to protect educators from an invalid system, the MTA will urge board members to revise or reject the proposed changes.

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