In Ratings, Teachers Pass Even If Kids Don't

By Alexis Huicochea; Yoohyun Jung | AZ Daily Star, August 16, 2015 | Go to article overview

In Ratings, Teachers Pass Even If Kids Don't


Alexis Huicochea; Yoohyun Jung, AZ Daily Star


Nine in 10 Pima County teachers are rated good or great -- but that is not always evident in their students' achievement scores.

An Arizona Daily Star analysis of teacher evaluations and school district performance shows that principals rated 94 percent of Pima County teachers and 85 percent of teachers statewide as effective or highly effective. Some districts reported nearly unanimous high ratings for teachers even though their schools received low grades for student achievement and other standards.

Tucson's two largest school districts -- Tucson Unified School District and Sunnyside -- rated almost all their teachers good or great despite being among Pima County's lowest-scoring districts on the state's math, reading and writing assessments.

In TUSD, only half of the students passed the state's math assessment, and fewer passed writing -- but nearly 100 percent of the teachers were rated good or great.

Within SUSD, about 85 percent of teachers were rated effective or highly effective, even though about 60 percent of students failed to meet math or writing standards and nearly one-third fell short in reading.

"It's not that a certain number of teachers need to be identified as underperforming," said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. "It's that we want to see our student results and teacher results make sense together. If we have a lot of students underperforming, then it doesn't make sense that all of our teachers are just fine."

There is no disputing that effective and highly effective educators work in struggling schools, but the fact that very few Pima County district teachers are rated as "developing" -- ranging from less than 5 percent to 15 percent -- is cause for concern, Jacobs said.

"New teachers are almost never as good as they're going to be -- there is a serious learning curve in those first couple of years. So just based on new teachers alone, you'd expect to see a significant percentage in the developing category," she said. "But also we know all of our veteran teachers are not where they need to be. Does it mean they should all be fired? No, no one is saying that at all. It means we're not doing them -- and we're certainly not doing their students -- any favors if we're not really identifying the areas for improvement."

DEFINING THE DISCONNECT

Tucson's disparity between student achievement and teacher ratings is common throughout the country, Jacobs said.

Though external factors -- like home life and socioeconomic status -- can impact a student's ability to learn and succeed, within school walls, research has shown that effective teachers have the greatest impact on academic achievement.

That's why students' academic progress is part of what defines an effective teacher under state standards. Teacher evaluations have changed in recent years to incorporate student performance, how much a student grows over the school year and other factors. Early results haven't proved that the new standards are effective at spotlighting teachers who need help and those deserving of very high ratings.

For Sunnyside, the goal of teacher evaluations is to improve student learning, Deputy Superintendent Jan Vesely said via email. But the evaluation systems being used in many schools do not achieve that, she said.

"That is unfair to both the teachers themselves and the students who need their help," she said. The district is working to improve accuracy in teacher evaluations, she added.

Each district determines what defines a good or great teacher, making it difficult to get an across-the-board look at Arizona's teacher quality.

Marana, which received a B grade from the Arizona Department of Education, rated 95 percent of its teachers as highly effective. By comparison, Catalina Foothills, an A district, rated only 10 percent of its teachers as highly effective. Those figures come from Arizona Department of Education data from the 2013-2014 school year, the latest available for all districts. …

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