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APS Pilot Program Unveils Preliminary Findings

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Public Schools has released initial results of its teacher evaluation system, saying it’s more nuanced and fairer than the state’s controversial proposal.

“This pilot affirms my belief that a well-rounded system with multiple measures will improve teacher evaluation,” said Ellen Bernstein, Albuquerque Teachers Federation president. The ATF was a key partner in creating the pilot, which was done last school year at four schools that receive federal money for low-performing schools. That money was used to pay for the pilot at Highland, Rio Grande and West Mesa high schools and Ernie Pyle Middle School.

Ninety-three teachers volunteered for the pilot, which evaluated their performance based on whether students met learning goals their teachers set for them, how much their test scores improved, a student perception survey and classroom observations.

Many of those elements are also in the state proposal.

Public Education Department spokesman Larry Behrens said the state system is a work in progress, and the PED is interested in what APS learned from its pilot. The state system will be tried out by pilot schools this year.

“Just like the 50 schools that are signed on as pilots statewide, we expect a lot of good information to come forth in the next year,” Behrens said in a written statement. “We would welcome a presentation on the APS program and would be glad to incorporate aspects of it that best serve our students. We are hopeful they can present their results soon.”

APS found that:

⋄  Students taught by teachers in the pilot improved their test scores more than those taught by teachers who did not volunteer.

⋄  Teachers who scored well during classroom observations saw higher student test score improvement, indicating the observations were a valid measure of teacher quality.

⋄  Results of a lengthy student survey also tracked with test score performance. The survey had 34 questions, which Bernstein said gave a more complete measure than the state’s 10-question version.

⋄  Teachers needed more guidance on how to set and measure student learning goals. APS Chief Academic Officer Linda Sink said this aspect of the evaluation system needs improvement.

After two failed attempts to get lawmakers to revamp teacher evaluation, state education chief Hanna Skandera is using administrative rule to create a new system. That rule is in draft form, and the system will be used in pilot schools this school year. It will go statewide next school year.

Participants in the APS pilot were eligible for pay bonuses, depending on their performance. The district has not yet said how much bonus money was paid out, but said earlier it would depend on how many people signed up. It said then the maximum possible would be $7,500 per employee.

While a summary of the pilot findings has been released, the full report is not ready. It will be presented to the school board in coming weeks.

On the surface, the system sounds a lot like the one proposed by the PED, which would evaluate teachers based on student test score improvement, classroom observations and other measures, to be determined by districts.

Both the APS and PED pilots rely on so-called “value-added” measures, which use statistics to control for student characteristics like poverty or special needs. The idea is to measure how much a student’s score improved during the year, controlling for factors outside the teacher’s control.

Although both models use such controls, it is unclear whether the formulas would be the same. The APS pilot used a model with separate variables for each student characteristic.

While the PED has not decided on a formula, its A-F school grading system used a formula with just one factor: the student’s prior test score. The idea is that all a student’s characteristics are reflected in that score. So if the student is a male, Hispanic special education student, all that information is reflected in the prior score and doesn’t need to be controlled for again.

These technicalities are important, because APS contends its formula is fairer to teachers of low-income students. Behrens said the PED’s formula will be decided with comments from an advisory panel of teachers, administrators and others over the next year.

Sink said some elements of the APS evaluations worked well, and others need improvement. Specifically, she said the district got good results with its classroom observations, in which principals were given guidelines on how to look for quality teaching. The guidelines are a hybrid of national research and the nine teaching abilities required by state law.

Sink said teachers and principals were happy with the guidelines, which she said could be a statewide model.

Teachers were observed at least three times during the year, and the observations were 30-45 minutes long.

“Teachers do want to have people come into their classroom, give them support and give them the chance to show what they’re doing so they can get better at their craft. They really appreciated having longer observations and having more,” Sink said.

“We say that principals and administrators are busy, but I do think what we also should be saying is we need to reprioritize their ‘busyness’ and what they do during their day. This could be, and I think is, the most important thing they can do.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal