An Open Letter to Senator Bryan Townsend (and his colleagues) about HB399
Update (7/1/16): House Bill 399 passed in the legislature early this morning with a few major amendments (and compromises) from Senators Sokola and Townsend that address some of the concerns expressed by stakeholders (see the Parent Advocacy Council for Education’s letter, for example) and here on this blog. For example, parent and student surveys will be a required part of teachers’ evaluations in up to three schools that participate in the teacher evaluation pilot mandated in the law. One of the amendments also clarified that administrators maintain the discretion to determine whether the state standardized assessment should be used as part of an educator’s evaluation. I still feel this bill does very little to dramatically improve teacher evaluation in Delaware. But thanks to Senators Sokola and Townsend (and their colleagues) for finding a way to make something positive out of this bill.
My letter to Senator Bryan Townsend on June 3oth ahead of the Senate’s vote on HB399 is posted below:
Good Afternoon Senator Townsend–
Thank you for sharing your rationale for co-sponsoring HB399 yesterday during the Senate Education Committee meeting. Your remarks help clarify why you would attach your name to a bill I contend is unfair for students, teachers, and taxpayers. But your comments yesterday also raise concerns for me that you do not have full information on this topic.
For example, you mentioned that the issues with Delaware’s teacher evaluation system stem from a “hyper-focus on the assessment itself as opposed to all the other things that need to happen to make for a comprehensive effective educator evaluation system.”
That certainly resonates with an anti-testing crowd, but it is not an accurate statement. As someone who worked at the Delaware Dept. of Education (DDOE) for 4 years, I know that efforts to measure student growth using the state assessment have actually been a very small part of the efforts to improve teacher evaluation (note: the state assessment was not included in teachers’ evaluations last year and is not this year).
Although this will definitely not impact your position on House Bill 399, below I’ve provided a list of things that have been done to improve educator evaluation (these were published in the DDOE’s most recent report on the system). These changes were made as a result of years of surveys, stakeholder meetings, committees, etc.
Survey data from thousands of Delaware teachers says that most of these changes are believed to be positive enhancements to the DPAS-II system (see chart below). The data also show that, like you, most teachers do not know about the changes that have been implemented to improve DPAS-II. So yes: the DDOE isn’t too great at communications and the initial roll-out of the Student Improvement Component was pretty bad. But most people are operating with incomplete or outdated information.
So the state’s teacher’s union (DSEA) continues to remind people that 78% of administrators, 70% of teachers, and 78% of specialists believe the current evaluation system “should not continue in its current form” (note: this data point is now two years old). But it is clear they are not spending a similar amount of time informing teachers about all of the changes that have been made that address the concerns they’ve raised over the years.
For example, teachers in Colonial School District are much more satisfied with their locally-created evaluation system. But in the DDOE’s 2015 survey only 16 percent of educators were aware they can already work with their district to customize and improve teacher evaluation (in contrast, 56 percent of administrators were aware). This is the case for many of the improvements over the last 5 years.
The improvements and the positive refinements pertaining to teacher evaluation in Delaware have been highlighted in this national report and this national report. This report I wrote while working at the DDOE, also provide examples of schools (like Thurgood Marshall Elementary or Kathleen Wilbur Elementary) in Delaware where school leaders were using this same evaluation system to provide teachers with feedback to improve their practice. Excluded from the report were examples of schools in Delaware where (for reasons that have nothing to do with legislation, regulation, or state-level policy and everything to do with local-level leadership and implementation) teacher evaluation is not viewed as a tool for professional growth. You can tinker with state law and policy ad nauseum, but you will not “restore confidence” in schools where the evaluation system is not being implemented as intended.
Frankly, very little in this bill makes changes that will improve the quality of feedback teachers receive or the fairness of a system where everyone gets an “Effective” rating. I’d say it will be more of a political or ideological win than a substantive win. But that might be most important for some people.