Grading the teachers: Performance to be tied to student achievement

2013-02-18T00:00:00Z 2013-02-18T15:09:05Z Grading the teachers: Performance to be tied to student achievementBy PATRICK B. ANDERSON | panderson@lacrossetribune.com La Crosse Tribune

WESTBY — Alyssa Lammers teaches her English classes knowing at any moment she might get a visit from the principal.

Five-minute drop-ins. A surprise 45-minute observation. All to make sure Lammer’s sixth-grade students are learning like state lawmakers say they should.

Lammers and three other teachers at Westby Middle School are piloting Wisconsin’s new educator evaluation system that will eventually be used in all of the state’s public K-12 schools.

All public school teachers will soon be under the same scrutiny. More involved and more comprehensive, the new evaluations require goal-setting, self reflection and added guidance from school leaders.

And most controversial: Student test scores and graduation rates will account for half of a teacher’s evaluation, though that’s not yet the case in Westby.

Students will be the new bottom line.

“It’s the way that we’re going to be changing all our schools,” Lammers said. “It’s a great position to be in, to already have experience with it.”

With the start of Westby’s pilot program this year, Clarice Kammel’s already hectic job got more hectic. It falls to Kammel to find time for extra classroom visits and conversations with teachers.

But the middle school principal already notices benefits in the classroom.

Teachers are more clear about what Kammel wants out of them “and what they need to do to improve, to be a more effective teacher,” Kammel said.

State education officials are banking on Westby’s success. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, all Wisconsin public school teachers will be evaluated the same way.

Here’s a quick snapshot of Westby’s pilot program:

Teachers identify two or three classroom goals at the beginning of the school year and share the plan with the principal.

From start to end of the school year, teachers work with a mentor — another teacher — and Kammel to accomplish those goals.

Then there’s the observations. Kammel stops by up to seven times in the school year. Only one visit is announced, a 45-minute formal observation. The rest are random.

“For me it doesn’t change a whole lot,” said Michael Weninger, an eighth-grade history teacher in the pilot. “As a teacher you plan and prepare regardless of who’s going to be in your room.”

Self reflections, planning sessions, discussions, conferences — it can be more strenuous, but it also creates more conversation, Weninger said.

“Evaluation is no longer something that is done to you,” Weninger said. “It now involves the teacher as well.”

Weninger is the teacher-mentor for the pilot.

At the end of an observation, Westby’s pilot teachers finish their own evaluations. Another change, Kammel said.

She usually writes the evaluations, but the new way gives teachers more responsibility.

“It’s the teacher that needs to be reflecting on what they do,” Kammel said.

Forging a new roadmap

The self-evaluation form used in Westby’s pilot — what Lammers calls “the framework” — is really a roadmap to Wisconsin’s education reforms.

Broken down into four sections, teachers are scored on planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities.

“They don’t just focus on the way that you teach,” Lammers said. “They also focus on the rapport you have with kids.”

Instead of being evaluated on her instruction style alone, Lammers will also be scored on 22 sub-categories, including student engagement, student behavior and creating a respectful atmosphere.

The framework used to score Lammers’ English classroom is the same framework adopted by state lawmakers — the same framework designed by national education experts to meet standards set by the 2011 Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium.

The InTASC standards are research-proven and not skewed to make all teachers look exemplary, said Sheila Briggs, assistant state superintendent of education.

“We have a whole lot of educators who are in the center,” Briggs said. “We selected a tool that’s going to accurately identify teachers.”

Teaching to the test?

For Wisconsin, that also means using test scores and graduation rates to evaluate educators, though the method for measuring “student outcomes” will vary depending on grade-level, according to the state.

Griffin Grass, 12, is quick to praise Lammers, his English teacher.

She’s a good teacher who keeps learning fun, Grass said.

“We do games and stuff,” Grass said. “She talks about the different kinds of poetry.”

Eventually, Grass’ classroom experience will hold much more sway over his teacher’s job.

Basing half of a teacher’s evaluation on students could be successful, but it could also hurt classrooms “if this becomes teaching to the test,” said Gerry Roethel, executive director of Coulee Region United Educators.

“Then we’ve not succeeded,” Roethel said. “That’s not what this should be about.”

The idea might be scary for some teachers, but it shouldn’t be a concern if the new evaluation system is done right, with plenty of input from educators, said Kristi Mally, assistant professor of physical education at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse who chairs the assessment committee for UW-L’s education school.

Bad test scores don’t necessarily make a bad teacher.

“If it’s used in a way that I think it was originally meant to be, then it’s going to open up some conversation,” Mally said.

Before prospective teachers move from college campus to K-12 classrooms, Mally makes sure to give them a crash course in the new evaluations.

In the past, teachers were trained to examine their own behaviors and techniques. The new evaluations are “flipping that coin,” Mally said.

“It’s really a big paradigm shift,” Mally said. “It really goes against the way that many teachers were prepared.”

Westby’s pilot evaluations don’t include student performance, but classroom changes driven by the pilot should keep test scores from being a problem, Kammel said.

“If you have quality instruction, you’re going to have good outcomes,” she said.

Lammers is a first-year teacher, and feels lucky to be part of Westby’s pilot. It gives her an early glimpse of how Wisconsin will measure its public school teachers, she said.

Adding student test scores to the equation doesn’t seem to worry her. Lessons and class subjects might change, but it won’t affect her teaching style, Lammers said.

“I think that all teachers have this kind of innate gift,” Lammers said. “I think that no matter what happens, that nothing is really going to change that.”

Copyright 2016 La Crosse Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(39) Comments

  1. Cheryl's Sis
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    Cheryl's Sis - February 19, 2013 3:17 pm
    Think about a dentist- a professional with extensive education. When a patient goes to the dentist, he has to accept that person no matter what- brushing, not brushing, cavities, no cavities, stinky breath...whatever. The the dentist tells the patient to eat healthy foods, avoid soda, brush twice a day & floss. If the patient chooses to ignore the wise advise of the dentist, then the patient gets cavities & rotten teeth. Is the dentist at fault? Should the dentist face disciplinary action? The dentist did his job, but the patient did not do his.

    That is how I view teaching. Public school teachers are educated professionals. They accept all students, no matter what. Teachers provide wise advise to parents (and to older students)- come to school on time, do your homework, study for tests, participate, etc. So when the parent (or older student) chooses to ignore the advise, why does the teacher face disciplinary action? The teacher did her job, but the parent (student) did not
  2. CelticMan
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    CelticMan - February 18, 2013 8:38 pm
    In fact, funding is not the biggest issue (yet), although Walker is trying to use funding to force his misguided policies on all of us.

    The biggest issue is what to do with a small group of kids. What do we do with the kids who simply won't come to school? What do we do when parents "advocate" for their kids, instead of parenting them?

    The next most troublesome group is the group of kids who have serious learning challenges. These kids deserve an education and a fair shot at life just like everyone else. However, in the "business model", these kids are expensive to educate, which is why the for-profit charters and voucher schools won't accept them. They "bring down test scores" perhaps, which is why the "college prep academies" don't want them. We in the public school welcome all kids, and do our best to make sure they have a chance to succeed.

    But, nobody wants to talk about these difficulties, because there is no money to be made, and sound bites are hard to come by.
  3. CelticMan
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    CelticMan - February 18, 2013 8:33 pm
    Yes, send them to LAXTEA! He/she knows all!
  4. CelticMan
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    CelticMan - February 18, 2013 8:32 pm
    This was funny. I am glad that it was not biased or financially motivated...

    Terry Moe (the speaker) is supported by Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein. That should be sufficient to discredit this yayo. He is smart, he is accomplished, but he is certainly not objective, nor is he experienced in public education, nor is he informed.

    Good luck, Professor.
  5. Thosewhocando
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    Thosewhocando - February 18, 2013 6:25 pm
    Often times I see how many people that went through public schools, and had a bad experience, can be bitter towards the system. However, just because you went to school does not mean you have any idea of doing any job within the education field. Think of it this way, just because you sit on a toilet each morning does not make you a plumber. The vast majority of public educators that I know are extremely hard-working, professional individuals, who don't make anywhere near the salary and benefits that their counter-parts in the private world (those with the same amount of schooling and degrees) have offered to them. They sacrifice incredible time to make sure our children, teenagers, and young adults have the best education available. Instead of spending all this energy focusing on a system that really isn't broken, let's focus on a problem that could be improved...how do we better fund our public education system so our kids and teachers have the proper resources to be the best.
  6. hammer
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    hammer - February 18, 2013 2:39 pm
    You don't know what you're talking about, rufus.
  7. Cheryl's Sis
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    Cheryl's Sis - February 18, 2013 11:41 am
    I am a public school teacher and I have regularly taught 2nd & 3rd grade. I pride myself in showing the love for my students that Christ has shown me. I willingly ask for the students who struggle- those who are at-risk, recent immigrants, those who come from struggling households, etc. I love to see each student make individual gains as they grow academically and socially. However, due to the new requirements regarding student test scores, I feel like I can no longer seek the students who struggle, because my job security and livelihood is based upon a standardized test score. Children are not standardized- they are all individuals. This breaks my heart- the struggling students will no longer be "desired"- it will become a "race for the top" to get the high achieving students in teachers' classrooms. The children who need quality teachers the most could be the students who (by no fault of their own) bring disciplinary action, lay-off, or decreased pay to teachers who love them.
  8. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - February 18, 2013 11:33 am
    Beautiful! I was waiting for the hysterical screeching from lazy teachers.

    People get your children OUT of the government school system!
  9. LesTrafik
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    LesTrafik - February 18, 2013 11:02 am
    This evaluating teachers turns the clock back 60 years. Except, back then & unlike today, at least there was a basis to start from: a thriving economy & and more evenly distributed wealth. Except, back then & unlike today, no one robbed the public school system to pay off ‘special interest’.

    Listen. You can’t ask from your teachers that which is not asked of principals and parents, and then call it ‘fair play’. 1-way performance evaluations are cruel, spell long-term ‘fail’ (data supported) and have long been phased-out of private companies.

    Irrational & irresponsible is a system that evaluates teachers teaching standards overrun by private interest, and one which secretly hides the evaluations of principals from everyone.
  10. Here comes the boom
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    Here comes the boom - February 18, 2013 5:21 am
    I never blamed the teachers for anything. I believe in public education. I think we have for the majority great teachers.
  11. ryeguy
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    ryeguy - February 17, 2013 10:02 pm
    So now it is the teacher's fault if he has a class with stupid kids, kids whose parents are homeless or kids whose parents are drug addicts or dealers or alcoholcs or just plain idiots.

    I know that good teachers make a difference and can cause significant increases in test scores, but declining test scores overall are a measure of societal problems not just of problem teachers.
  12. lutefisk
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    lutefisk - February 17, 2013 9:20 pm
    Cant hang it all in teachers though..test parents too!,,
  13. bartleybigears
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    bartleybigears - February 17, 2013 8:55 pm
    Maybe more parents need to stay out of the bars, put the booze bottles down and start being a "family" again, like the old days use to be.
  14. Matt Davis
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    Matt Davis - February 17, 2013 8:43 pm
    Lets just privatize our schools so capitalism can make them more efficient. That would solve everything, and all of our students could be above average.
  15. hope4future
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    hope4future - February 17, 2013 7:25 pm
    Thank you educators for your dedication and commitment to education. I happen to know that the participants in this pilot program spend hours day and night working for the best interest of the students.
  16. Opus
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    Opus - February 17, 2013 5:29 pm
    Nope. How about "have been added."
  17. Polarbear
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    Polarbear - February 17, 2013 4:57 pm
    Lots of people commenting on how teachers should teach when they have never taught a class in their life. It is pretty easy to play the blame game and go after teachers. As they say, you can be part of the solution or part of the problem. From my view there are quite a few here that are part of the problem. I have said this before, but share with us your occupation when you bash teachers. I am sure when people tell you how your job is cushy or how you can do your job differently everything is different.
  18. Report Abuse
    - February 17, 2013 3:07 pm

    How Teachers Unions Hurt Schools

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WZc9m1ca3so
  19. rufus
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    rufus - February 17, 2013 2:15 pm
    so Celtic would you consider the kids coming out of the La Crosse roads program fully graduated and ready for the world? When they get to sit in school and watch tv is that ready for graduation? C'mon celtic you know some kids are just slid thru so the headache goes away.
  20. Clara Fying
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    Clara Fying - February 17, 2013 2:15 pm
    LAXTEA, perhaps you weren't able to read a complete sentence. You seem to have missed this; "and one of the highest act andsat scores in the nation." Apparently you didn't know that graduation rates are historically one of the many things schools are evaluated on in conjunction with test scores. Otherwise, in some places, lower ability students seem to drop out or be pushed out and scores go up. By mentioning Wisconsin's high graduation rates in conjunction with high ACT and SAT scores, nels was being thorough. You need to work on your own critical thinking skills. Or are you a product of "government schools" and trying to use yourself to prove they are inferior?
  21. taxedout
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    taxedout - February 17, 2013 2:00 pm
    Can I say, growing by leaps and bounds? Just checking:)
  22. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - February 17, 2013 1:01 pm
    Like I pointed out before, "graduating" is not a measurement of success. The standards have been so dumbed-down that you are even considered qualified to teach.
  23. CelticMan
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    CelticMan - February 17, 2013 11:12 am
    In reality, this is another attempt by (mostly) conservative, wealthy, for-profit corporations to discredit public schools. Just look at the posts here. One brief example:

    Taxed Out, Laxtea, and Boom all deride public schools and teachers, etc. They say schools are failing, blah blah blah.

    Well, around 93% of kids graduate on time from La Crosse public schools, and statewide it is around 88% or so. So, for those kids, public schools are doing just fine. Some of them go on to college/tech school, some work, etc. So, we are succeeding 90% of the time, but are labeled as failing.

    Then, the solution is not to target those 10% or so that fall through the cracks, but rather to dismantle the entire system. Then, these same people (nationally), suggest replacing the system with a voucher system (or something similar) that is private, for-profit, and not publicly accountable. Is it mere coincidence that these people stand to make huge profits?

    Laxtea can't/won't read the evidence.
  24. CelticMan
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    CelticMan - February 17, 2013 11:06 am
    You are a wonderful example of how someone can post without thought.
  25. CelticMan
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    CelticMan - February 17, 2013 11:04 am
    I am not a cry-baby, but you sure do whine a lot.
  26. CelticMan
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    CelticMan - February 17, 2013 11:04 am
    Nice try, but a dumb comment.
  27. Opus
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    Opus - February 17, 2013 10:50 am
    Remedial classes are not the norm. They exist. But to say "they are the norm" is a gross exaggeration.
  28. Opus
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    Opus - February 17, 2013 10:49 am
    "Facts" can be twisted to make any point one desires. From the article, for example: "The study estimates that fewer than 10 percent of those entering remedial courses at community (two-year) colleges graduate within three years, and almost 65 percent of those at four-year institutions have no degree within six years (compared with about 44 percent for students not taking remedial courses). "

    First, there are two-year colleges lumped in with four-year colleges. Not a fair lumping at all. Second, the reasons for not getting a degree in four years vary from switching major to degree programs that require more and more classes. (education degree is one of those.) Funny thing....kids are graduating from high schools and colleges and are finding jobs. Where is the "failure"?
  29. mocha1
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    mocha1 - February 17, 2013 10:36 am
    Concerning college remedial courses, Recently UWL made a big splash on receiving a grant from the Gates foundation, to better estblish remedial traing for incoming freshmen who had deficiences in their education. We heard all the hoopla concerning how great this was for education but no one ever asked the question, instead of putting more resources in remedial training why not fix the system that is putting out students with academic shortfalls. That is one of the key "deficiencies with our society today. We keep treating symptons of a failed system but we are never honest or brave enough to address the cause. Whether, education, gun control, tec, pick a problem in our society today, we are great at getting all hyped and emotional about an issue, feel good about addressing a sympton but never move forward. Cancer is never cured by ignoring you have the disease, and treating the symptoms. Treating a lung cancer cough with cough medicine is like remedial college training.
  30. taxedout
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    taxedout - February 17, 2013 10:19 am
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-11/college-is-no-place-for-remedial-education.html
    Maybe "overwhelmed" is the catch word for you... it doesn't change the facts. Denying the facts doesn't make it so.

  31. taxedout
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    taxedout - February 17, 2013 9:58 am
    Nels: The proof is not in the number of graduates or ACT/SAT scores. The classes many students take are not alway heavy in academic value. They are graduating without basic skills. It has become impossible to get an accurate indication of what the kids are learning and maintaining through their ACT and SAT scores. Today's students, are tutored in what is on the test and most are taking the test multiple times. My high school class went into college entrance exams, cold. We took the test once and our initial score was the score we accepted. The true measure is what is happening when the student goes on to higher education. There were no remedial courses when I went to college but now it seems that these courses are becoming the norm.
  32. Opus
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    Opus - February 17, 2013 9:25 am
    How is the education system "failing"? Please give examples.

    Just so you know....our colleges are NOT overwhelmed with remedial instruction classes.
  33. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - February 17, 2013 9:03 am
    Well said.
  34. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - February 17, 2013 9:03 am
    "graduation rate" is a standardized test? You do realize they can and do simply lower the standards for graduation right?

    You are a wonderful example of the critical thinking cultured at government schools.
  35. Seriously Now
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    Seriously Now - February 17, 2013 8:32 am
    How 'bout we also grading PARENTS for their participation in their kid's homework, PTA and making sure the kid isn't up all night on the computer or smart phone?
  36. nels
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    nels - February 17, 2013 8:04 am
    wis has one of the highest graduation rates and one of the highest act andsat scores in the nation. those are the only true standardized tests to compare schools. all this is foolish window dressing, ie the special ed teacher will never get a raise and will be terminated since they will be unable to cure mental defects. how about testing home schooled kids every few years to see if they are really learning. have 3 kids down the street that are becomming proficient in firearms training can't wait to see where they go when they graduate from mom and boyfriends school
  37. taxedout
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    taxedout - February 17, 2013 7:51 am
    I am impressed! This program is not only interesting but a good start to fixing the failing education system. Too bad, there isn't some way put the parents into the equation and monitor their performance. If they can get their children to school, feed them at home,made sure they are rested and homework is done, it would win/win . That would mean reinventing the " family framework".

    The kids in Iowa are so ill prepared for college that the Governor has suggested a two level graduation diploma. One with a stamp that indicates readiness and another that indicates attendance. A resent survey showed that 71% of secondary education teachers felt the kids were ready for college while 21% of college professors felt they were ready. Our colleges are now overwhelmed with remedial instruction classes. My guess is that Wisconsin's stats would be similar.

    Our liberal education system and lifestyle has failed. Our children need structure in the classroom and stability in their homes.
  38. LAXTEA
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    LAXTEA - February 17, 2013 7:38 am
    This will fail as the cry-baby government teachers and their unions will sabotage it.
  39. Here comes the boom
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    Here comes the boom - February 17, 2013 7:19 am
    Coulee region united educators ie crue equals bad for teachers bad for kids!
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