Thursday, February 21, 2002
Study links teacher quality and student progress
Best teachers' students score higher on tests
By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Teachers who rate highest under Cincinnati Public Schools' teacher evaluation system also show the greatest gains, on average, in their students' achievement on proficiency tests.
That's according to a study of students and teachers in grades 3-8 released by the district Wednesday.
The study gives a vote of confidence to the nearly 2-year-old teacher evaluation system. In May, the district could become one of the first in the nation to tie teachers' performance on the evaluation system to their raises and pay cuts.
This study means teacher quality is a key component to determining student success and achievement, said Sue Taylor, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers. It's gratifying to have empirical evidence to show the correlation between excellence in teaching and raising student achievement.
She said it's also a validation that the evaluation system is on the right track.
The study showed, for instance, that students of teachers rated unsatisfactory, the lowest rating for teachers, scored as much as 13 points below what they would be expected to score on science proficiency tests, based on predicted averages. Math test scores for students of those same teachers were 9 points below expected outcomes.
For students of teachers rated distinguished, the highest rating for teachers, science scores were 3 points above expected averages. Math scores were also 3 points higher than predicted.
The teachers' union or the board of education still could vote against linking pay to teacher performance. But district officials were encouraged by the study's results.
The study found the basic design of the teacher evaluation system is sound and is worth continuing, said Jack Lewis, the district's director of research and evaluation.
Kathleen Ware, the district's associate superintendent, said the evaluation system is demystifying teaching. The system is intended to improve teacher skills, and thus student achievement, by creating specific standards teachers are expected to meet.
For the study, the district looked at individual students' achievement on proficiency tests in 2000 and 2001. They then compared the student improvement rates to teachers' ratings under the evaluation system. Results of about 180 teachers of the 370 undergoing comprehensive evaluations were analyzed for part of the study.
Teachers who received the top rating of distinguished on average showed the greatest gains in student achievement. Teachers who received on average the lowest rating of unsatisfactory showed the weakest gains in student achievement.
The evaluation system measures teachers on 17 standards, including whether tests and assessments teachers give students are aligned with the district's standards, and whether teachers demonstrate content knowledge and use content-specific instructional strategies.
Under the system, every teacher has an annual evaluation. During a four-year phase-in, only teachers new to the district, most fourth-year teachers and those having serious performance deficiencies are required to undergo what's called a comprehensive evaluation.
Teachers undergoing the comprehensive evaluation have to provide a portfolio of their work and must have five to six classroom observations by administrators and trained teacher evaluators. Beginning in 2005, all teachers will go through a comprehensive evaluation every five years.
Letitia West, a Mount Washington Elementary School teacher with 23 years experience, was one of the teachers who scored the top rating.
You have to work hard to get those scores, she said. Generally people who are working hard to do well on the evaluation system are also those who work hard in the classroom.
The process was time-consuming and arduous, she said. For example, the evaluation system rates teachers on how well they inform families on the social and academic progress of students, so Ms. West keeps parents informed through calls, conferences and a newsletter.
Another component is making sure students' lessons help them meet district standards and aren't just work to keep them busy.
I make sure the work that they do is worth doing, Ms. West said said.
Ms. Taylor said that, although the study validated the teacher evaluation system, the union still has yet to collect data to find out if teachers are willing to tie their performance on the evaluations to their pay. That data collection should begin in March, she said.
The study will be a very important factor for teachers to determine the level of their support for the pay-for-performance system, she said. But there's still work to be done to make sure teachers understand the design of pay-for-performance.
Teachers with 16 or more years of experience can opt not to tie their pay to performance. If voted out, the evaluation system would still continue, without the link to pay.
The study examined students in grades 3-8. High school test results were not used because proficiency tests may be taken once or multiple times over several grades, making comparisons difficult. Students younger than third grade either do not take proficiency tests or there are no meaningful ways to compare scores that are available.
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