Evaluating Educators

Over the past school year I have been working with a dedicated group of professionals in the educational realm around the controversial topic of student improvement and its role in the educator evaluation system. This is not the forum for in-depth discussion about what, specifically, we did; interested parties are encouraged to visit https://egov.delaware.gov/pmc/ and scroll through the calendar in the Education, Office of the Secretary, Agency page to view our meeting agendas and minutes. However, I’d like to encourage my readers to consider making their voices heard around one particular piece of legislation that directly reflects the recommendations of the sub-committee.

House Bill 399 would put a number of our recommendations into law, which is exciting for me because we spent a great deal of time as a team working towards consensus on how to really keep the student achievement part focused on students, and on authentic methods of supporting and demonstrating student improvement in our classrooms and schools. In this post I’ll briefly describe the salient changes and how you can voice the impact these changes will have in YOUR world.

To avoid edu-speak, here are a few quick descriptions of some terms I’ll probably use. DPAS II is the name of the evaluation system we use in Delaware, and all teachers and specialists are evaluated under this system. There are 5 components to DPAS, one of which is the student improvement portion. This is called Component V, and it is the main area being changed through this legislation. Under DPAS, teachers and specialists receive at least one observation each year, resulting in a conversation with a credentialed observer and a form documenting the observation, conversation, and any recommendations or commendations that arose during the process. This form is called a Formative Feedback document, and on this document the teacher or specialist is assigned a performance level based on the evidence available during the time of observation and conversation. Performance levels exist in multiple criteria throughout each of the first four components and lead to an overall performance level in each component. At the end of at least every two years, the Formative Feedback documents are compiled and evidence collected around the two non-observable components (IV and V) for the purpose of a Summative Evaluation.

Currently, under Component V, teachers and specialists are divided into three groups based on discipline. Classroom teachers are generally grouped into two categories with specialists in the third. In each of those three categories, there are measures around which goals are set for demonstrating student improvement. All three sets of measures are designed to lend some type of standardization to Component V. The first two sets of measures are tests of some sort (for the most part; I fully admit I do not have every single assessment method for every single discipline and grade level memorized, but they can be found on the Department of Education’s website). The third set of measures are growth goals.

The proposed legislation, HB 399, seeks to simplify Component V, make it valuable to educators in and out of the classroom, focus it on the needs of the individual schools and students, and maintain a level of integrity in the system while also giving teachers and specialists a more active role in their evaluation process. Under this proposal, Component V will be broken into two parts for teachers and specialists alike. One half will involve some sort of uniform measure that the teacher or specialist would choose, and it will demonstrate student improvement as a result of the teacher or specialist performing regular job duties (i.e., teaching, speech therapy, counseling). This uniform measure will need to be approved by the administrator working with the teacher or specialist, but it could include such things as the Smarter Balanced Assessment, discipline-specific pre- and post-tests, authentic assessments such as portfolios, end-of-pathway certifications such as Auto Mechanic or Veterinary Technician, and industry-aligned measures for specialists with professional organizations. These measures will be available for any teacher or specialist to use statewide only after approval by the Department of Education through its current alternative measure submission and approval process.

The other half of Component V will be based on goal-setting between the administrator and the teacher or specialist. Every school, be it a traditional public school or a charter school, has some sort of vision and plan for moving that school and its students forward in their educational endeavors. Under this model, the teacher or specialist will identify a goal directly linked to that plan and, with administrator conversation and agreement, will set that goal to directly impact the success of students. For instance, if my school had a goal of improving attendance for a group of students, I would write a goal around mentoring some of those students, providing a safe space and caring adult to encourage the students, communicate with families, and find ties in the larger community to get those students to school and keep them there. If a teacher or specialist is considered novice or is receiving support for improvement through the evaluation system, the administrator will select that goal. If a teacher or specialist is considered experienced and satisfactory, the administrator and teacher/specialist will write the goal together, and in the event that agreement cannot be reached each will contribute one goal for this half of Component V.

There are other pieces of the legislation that are important to understand, but this is the main area where I feel voices need to be heard. I encourage you to please contact State Representatives and Senators with a message about how you could use this new Component V to really make a difference in your profession. Give a specific example, such as I have above. These legislators truly want to hear from teachers and specialists, and it is vital that we not miss this opportunity to speak while they are listening. At this link http://legis.delaware.gov/ you can find information about the bill as well as who the Representatives and Senators are; you do not need to contact just your legislator, but please consider making the connection!

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Regarding Variety

Hi friends. It’s me again. Thanks for reading along.

I’d like to take a moment to address variety. Variety is defined by Webster as “the state of being varied or diversified; difference; a number of different types of things”. Webster defines diversity as “the state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness; variety; multiformity; the inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, etc.”.

Variety and diversity are very similar, and as you can see, can be used interchangeably for one area of definition. Far too often, when people use the term “diversity” – as in “we want diversity among educational professionals” – what they mean is a very narrow idea of the term specifically regarding color. This is pretty much the only type of diversity one can see when looking at another individual, and even then it isn’t entirely accurate as an indicator of that person’s actual racial or ethnic heritage.

Last summer I was blessed to be at a table in the audience with some esteemed colleagues for a panel discussion at the National Education Association’s Joint Conference on the Concerns of Minorities and Women. At one point I realized that not only was I the minority at the table of predominately African-American and Black educators, but also that the opportunity was perfect for me to learn more about how the lack of racial and ethnic diversity among educators, specifically among educators in communities with large concentrations of people of color, affects the children and families in those communities.

“My godson does not see teachers who look like him,” was one comment. My initial reaction, as a white female teacher, was to retort, “what does that matter? All kids can learn from any teacher.” However, on listening further to the conversation, I realized that seeing yourself in the positive role models and figures of authority around you is really vital to the sense of self that young people develop. Recently I read something online – probably on Facebook, if I’m to be honest – wherein a Black man said he wears suits because his male role models wore suits, and that when young Black men see role models wearing baggy jeans and hoodies, that’s what they are likely to wear. My own experiences as a classroom teacher for the past 15 years show that the trends shift whenever students see their idols – athletes, musicians, actors – and want to mimic that look.

I’m chock full of privilege. I look and sound like an upper-middle class, Caucasian, heterosexual, well-educated woman. That’s a lot of privilege right there. It’s up to the folks around me to call me on it when I’m making assumptions that have everything to do with who I am and nothing to do with who they are. It’s also a topic I’ve worked hard to become more aware of so I can check my own privilege, but that’s SO much more difficult.

Why am I saying all this? Because it is important.

People will say that there is a lack of diversity in educational professionals, among CEO’s, on Wall Street, in government, at churches of certain religions, on TV shows, etc. And there is. Proportionately speaking, there is. Proportionately speaking about race and ethnicity, there is. Same goes for high school drop-outs, college attendees, and prison inmates. But it also exists with regards to the other group of individuals represented on the list in the definitions above. And those are things it’s MUCH harder to determine without really getting to know someone.

When variety is on the surface, it is easy to see, to question, to throw stones at, to address. When variety is buried deeper, and it is not comfortable – or safe – to expose those parts of us in the public sphere, addressing those issues becomes much more difficult.

I’ve had this discussion, specifically around those in the GLBTQ community, wherein well-meaning individuals want to make sure the transgender voice is heard. How do we accomplish that without making one person the sole representative of the trans community, or outing someone, or otherwise prying deeply into a very personal part of someone’s life? In April I was fortunate to see Gus Morales speak, and he put it bluntly when he said that being Puerto Rican does not mean he speaks for ALL Puerto Ricans. How very fascinating, and how very anti- what many believe when they say they want voices of diversity to ensure that different communities are represented.

Listening to the school board in my district discuss the need for representation from many stakeholders on the superintendent search committee further illustrates how insanely difficult it can be to make sure that everyone is involved but that the size of the committee doesn’t exceed what would be reasonable to accomplish the work in a timely, organized manner. Once the committee size and representative make-up was established, the individuals sitting on the committee were by and large left up to the groups being represented. With parent and community seats, it becomes an issue of who is willing, who is available, and who is appropriate.

This has turned into a much longer post than I anticipated, and I’ve done a lot of dancing around the topic that sparked me to write it. In summation, let me say that when a representative group is convened to discuss issues and make decisions or recommendations, it is vital that the group members are diligent in carrying back the messages and discussions to those constituent groups who are unable to participate, and that feedback and communication flow in return to the representative group. Representatives are responsible not only for the two-way flow of communication, but also for learning about the topic, for being open to discussion and consensus, for honoring the time and work of others who are also observing those responsibilities, and in some cases for representing the organizations they are appointed to serve. This can be an insanely difficult task, but if done correctly, all the voices should be engaged, not just the ones around the table.

We all have preconceived notions of what we think is best, and of what we want. A representative group is not a place to voice our own personal opinions and ideas, but to put forth the opinions and ideas of those who we represent AND of studies done on the topics at hand. Rather than a “he said she said” dialogue, a war of the writers, there should be an openness and willingness to see multiple sides and understand why things are the way they are and where the intersectionalities exist that can foster true, abiding change.

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The Test Secrets Revealed……

kavips

Since I’m in Delaware, I couldn’t reveal my signed obligations… But someone in New Jersey can… And likewise, I can reveal questions off the PAARC in New Jersey, whereas no teacher in New Jersey can…..

And it is all legal.  Neither of us violated our signed statements.

Here is what every parent needs to know is on the PAARC for fourth grade.

On the Spring 2016 PARCC for 4th Graders, students were expected to read an excerpt from Shark Life: True Stories about Sharks and the Sea by Peter Benchley and Karen Wojtyla. According to Scholastic, this text is at an interest level for Grades 9-12, and at a 7th Grade reading level. The Lexile measure is 1020L, which is most often found in texts that are written for middle school, and according to Scholastic’s own conversion chart would be equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark around W, X…

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The PARCC Test: Exposed

Exceptional Delaware 2017

This was originally written on another blog.  I will just call it Celia’s blog.  It was about the PARCC Test, released by the corporate education reform monster Pearson.  Pearson made Celia take off some of what she wrote.  Now ALL of us are reposting the original material in support of Celia and to give a collective whatever to Pearson.  Below is the original.

The PARCC Test: Exposed

The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.

I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would…

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Kavips, Where Are You? We Need You!

I second that!!!

Exceptional Delaware 2017

Kavips, you need to come back.  I haven’t seen anything on your blog since January 5th.  We had a major legislative battle with House Bill 50.  While the bill is still in limbo, aka Pete Schwartzkopf’s desk drawer, we need a rally.  I truly don’t think the House Republicans hail Mary bills are going to do anything except waste oxygen.  Once I discovered opt-out, your blog was the first place I found.  With all the Smarter Balanced Assessment questions and all the brilliant posts about why the test sucks so bad.  I don’t know if you are chilling for the winter, or up to other stuff, but your presence is needed!  You need to come back and help make sense out of all this as well as a way forward!  This year is crucial in education.  The reformers are getting their dream lists ready and going to town on them. …

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What is “The Delaware Way”?

What is “The Delaware Way”?

This is a question I have pondered for quite some time, though more intentionally lately than in the past. I finally broke down and typed the question into Google, and I read through several bits and pieces of articles where that phrase was used. Fascinatingly, the best, most concise definition I found was in a Delaware Online article from 2014, wherein former Delaware Supreme Court Chief E. Norman Veasey explained that the phrase should mean, “the good Delaware practice of seeking a “civilized, bipartisan approach for finding solutions to the State’s business and political problems”.”

What fascinated me about that was, earlier in the same paragraph, Veasey acknowledged that the phrase is more commonly used to describe Delaware’s “pay-to-play” type of political maneuvering, wherein gifts are given in exchange for legislative action…or inaction. In yet another 2014 Delaware Online article, former DNREC head Collin O’Mara also remarked that “The Delaware Way” is referred to by most people as a way to get things done through closed door discussions.

This made me feel a lot better about the way I’ve always perceived “The Delaware Way”. You give something, you get something, and no one is the wiser. There are a few recent examples of high-profile pieces of legislation that have been vetoed, “held hostage”, and/or “replaced” by Delaware politicians, and better bloggers than I have covered those stories. While I’m not inclined to bow to paranoid theories on the inner workings of the government, I will say that it’s quite clear to me, an outsider, that there ARE inner workings, and that those inner workings are not for public view. And this is what troubles me about “The Delaware Way”.

Do the ends justify the means? That is another question I’ve long pondered, especially as more and more evidence of backdoor deals come into the spotlight. There is absolutely nothing civilized about the fact that members of the General Assembly will refuse to allow certain pieces of legislation sponsored by certain individuals to be heard, regardless of their merit. There is nothing bipartisan about a Governor who vetoes legislation that passed by huge margins in the House and Senate, legislation supported by many entities in the state, because of his devotion to his own ideologies.

When it comes to democracy, this type of behind-the-scenes rigging of the game does not serve the best interests of anyone, and certainly not those of the people being governed.

One final note: I know that it may seem to people involved in Delaware politics that they are truly making gains and doing the best with good intentions. And I do not doubt that. But the fact remains that, as a direct result of this hidden negotiating, trust is eroding, and when trust goes, the goodwill of the people goes. Elected officials may not be voted out; change may not occur at that noticeable level. But the very facts that fewer and fewer individuals turn out for elections, that lawsuits have been filed that will effectively undermine the very fabric of the working class, that so many individual voices have cropped up and refused to be silenced… These things all speak to the discontent of the people. A wise leader would heed the signs and work towards transparency.

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Murder Town

I’m so fed up with this indignation about the “Murder Town” show. Where was the outrage when children were being struck by stray bullets? Where were the rants when mothers were holding bleeding sons?

Now we want to say it’s someone else’s fault. Well guess what. It’s not. It’s our fault. Mine and yours and everyone else’s who isn’t helping solve the problems.
So forgive me if I take this as just another fact of life and, instead of being angry that a show is being made, I do something about what caused it to be possible in the first place.
Actually, you know what? I don’t want your forgiveness. I want your action. You who send your kids to private and charter schools because of those city kids in your neighborhood schools instead of getting involved with your feeder school’s community to make a positive difference. You who won’t go to the city because of fear. You who vote against giving communities and schools the social supports they need to help. You who live a life of luxury while giving a pittance to help others. 

I truly do not care whether a tv show is made about the issues facing our city. 

I care about the actual lives of the actual people who actually endure the hardships and losses the show will portray. 

And I’m going to go out and make a difference. 

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