That Which Gets Measured Matters…

By Ann Neary

This fall, in my large, comprehensive NYC public high school, teacher evaluations were recalculated (from official Spring evaluations) to include a standardized test component. The result?  Only one teacher out of 140 has a Highly Effective rating. Teachers were shocked and puzzled. They were not part of the policy making or decision making conversations that decided what percentage standardized tests would play in their evaluations, what tests would be utilized, or how those tests would be calculated.

Here is what the breakdown looks like on a NYC teacher evaluation:


60% of the teacher evaluation is based on observation by an administrator. Last year that meant using a rubric taken from the Charlotte Danielson framework and judging 22 components (Update: this was considered too burdensome and so has been reduced to 8 components for this year’s evaluations). 20% of the evaluation comes from comparing the teacher’s student testing data with students from across the state and another 20% comes from comparing testing data in the local region. The 40% chunk raises questions.

In an effort to explain the new results to teachers, the DOE issued the following cover letter with the new teacher rating. The document raises more questions than answers. “ A teacher’s State measures were pre-determined by the State or selected by the principal from a list of State approved assessments. A teacher’s Local Measures were chosen from a State-approved list by the School Local Measures Committee and approved by the principal.” Who knew there was a Local School Measures Committee? Not a single teacher I know. And where are the State approved lists? What tests were approved?

Using my own data, I found that only 34 students out of the 70 I taught were included in this measure. And in some cases the “comparison” test was different- for the same student (a PSAT score compared to a city test score). This calculation appeared on the data sheet with Local Measures, by the way. And in several cases, a student took a city test in September but not in June (my seniors “opted out” that day) so I was unable to determine what the zero for the end of the year test did to my overall score.

NYC is not unique in this quagmire. Rochester School District (New York state) filed suit against the governing state board claiming that the state tests used in teacher evaluation made no concessions for the extreme poverty in which their students lived. States other than NY have raised questions as well about who is creating the standardized tests and how do they accommodate specific student populations.

And the other question left unanswered is the disconnect between what teachers are being asked to teach and what students are being tested on.

To engage my students in critical thinking, I often ask them to consider “what’s missing or whose voice is missing” from the text we are reading. This past September my Journalism students wondered why they had not heard from Officer Darren Wilson, accused of shooting Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo. They searched diverse news outlets, watched multiple newscasts and found nothing. * The students were engaged in rigorous research, they participated and collaborated with diverse partners, learned to build on other’s ideas, evaluated information and integrated it into their own work. They expressed their own ideas clearly and persuasively in a manner appropriate for their audience.

None of that work would be tested on a standard exam. Yet all represent Common Core Standards for Speaking and Listening and College and Career Readiness standards.

Whose voice is missing from the discussion of teacher evaluations? The teachers whose job it is to teach.

Ellen Behrstock-Sherratt and Allison Rizzolo make compelling arguments in their book Everyone at the Table, for teacher engagement in evaluation processes as a means to both assess teacher effectiveness as well as improve teacher effectiveness. They lay the foundation and steps needed for teachers to take charge of their profession. Florida has led the way in this process. Teacher voice was welcomed and vital to the process.

Let’s make sure that all teachers have a voice at the table. I offer a few suggestions for ways in which you can get started:

  1. Share this blog on your social media networks.  Get your teacher friends talking about this issue.
  2. Sign up on the Commit to Lead site to share your ideas on how to get teacher voice represented in the revision of teacher accountability systems.
  3. Take a look at past VIVA Idea Exchange reports on this topic to see what your peers are recommending.  Share and discuss the reports in your school building and in social media. (VIVA CEA, VIVA MET, VIVA Minnesota, VIVA NY)
  4. If you haven’t done so already, become a member of VIVA Teachers.  There’s no cost to join and you will find yourself among a national group of teacher leaders who are actively engaged in this work. Join now!

It’s time teachers had their say.

* just this past week interviews with the officer appeared in the news

annAnn Neary teaches at DeWitt Clinton High School in Bronx, NY. She was a member of the VIVA MET Idea Exchange.

Teachers Speak, VIVA Listens

By Andria Mitchell

I had the privilege of attending as a speaker, representing teacher leaders at the Grantmakers for Education Conference.  Although, I was honored to be selected to present at such a prestigious event, I was a little nervous.  Speaking on behalf of teachers is a big deal to me, and I was hoping that I would represent educators well, deliver a message that was compelling enough to grab the attention of the audience, and leave them with a clear understanding of how to include teachers in the process of educational reform locally and nationally.

Patricia Loera from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation facilitated the session.  She asked several questions about my experience as a teacher leader, and allowed me to create a picture of “a day/week/school-year in the life of a teacher leader”.   Although, I was sharing from my own experiences, I never really considered how difficult it is to be a leader and serve in the classroom at the same time.  When duty calls I change hats, fall into character, and proceed into the capacity that I am needed without thinking about it.  As educators we tend to push ourselves beyond the job description in an effort to ensure that students are offered the best education possible…by any means necessary.

After my question and answer period, Elizabeth Evans took the floor.  She introduced the audience to New Voice Strategies and VIVA Teachers, and explained how her company links educators from across the country to research, discuss, and present on issues surrounding teacher efficacy.  Elizabeth also described how the collaborative efforts of teachers has allowed “teacher voice” to be heard in front of school policy makers throughout the U.S. ; including State and Local school boards, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation staff, U. S. Department of Education, and various educational conferences.  New Voice Strategies has empowered teachers to take a hands-on approach to the development of school policy.

We ended our session by allowing the audience to ask questions.  This is where I learned that our message was well received.  There were several questions about how to prepare teachers for the projected changes that will occur in education, as well as questions about how to engage teachers in planning for educational transitions.  I felt inspired by the questions that were being asked.  It made me feel like my voice was heard and someone will take action to hear the voices of the teachers in their local districts.  Mission accomplished.


Andria MitchellAndria teaches 8th grade and is a Title 1 Compliance Coordinator at Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. She participated in the VIVA MET Idea Exchange: Reflections from the Classroom.


Lockhart’s Lament

Lockharts Lament

Elizabeth Tarbutton

After her first year teaching math in Brighton, Colorado, Elizabeth Tarbutton grew discouraged by her students’ low standardized test scores.

Professional development opportunities, especially for math leadership, were currently lacking within her school district, but then she heard about the Rocky Mountain Math Teachers’ Circle, a program at the University of Colorado Denver that connects middle-school teachers and mathematicians to develop capacity with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice.

As a free weekend event (with lunch included), Elizabeth was easily able to attend the workshops where she met math teachers from all over the state and was soon asked to join the Leadership Team and facilitate adult circle sessions as well as collaborate with the American Institute of Mathematics to study implementing a student math circle.

Through her involvement with Math Teachers’ Circles and a greater understanding of standardized practices, Elizabeth was able to make math more engaging for her students and provide real world application for her classroom lessons. Besides improving her students’ test scores by nearly 70%, Elizabeth became a resource for teachers at her school and other local districts, and was asked to become the math department and data committee chair. She also recently helped a local public high school develop new math curriculum, and as a result of her recommendations math scores improved by 30%.

Elizabeth is passionate about promoting student achievement by supporting teachers in building capacity with common core state standards, and she is currently a VIVA Teacher, Teach Plus Fellow, and PARCC item reviewer. You can read Elizabeth’s latest blog on how to create meaningful assessments that inform teacher practice by clicking here.



Engaging the experts in education

by Paul Toner

As an educator and union leader, the past eight years have been challenging on many fronts, and I look forward to bringing my experiences as a middle school social studies teacher and former local and state teacher’s union leader to NVS to help elevate the voice of frontline practitioners in the ongoing debates and discussions over the future of public education.   As a nation, we have struggled through the great recession and have been forced to confront numerous international and domestic challenges.   We live in a constantly changing world and we need to be prepared to lead change.   Our public schools are the catalyst to bring about that change.

As educators we have been asked to make rapid changes in an effort to improve our public school systems. We work towards adopting and transitioning to new academic standards and assessments, creating new evaluation frameworks, using student data in new ways and experimenting with new technologies — all while trying to do the day to day work of teaching and learning.  These demands for change are being made by parents, business leaders, government officials and policymakers in the name of preparing our students for life in our 21st century global society.   This is an urgent and worthy goal but too often the demand for change comes without providing classroom educators, schools and districts with the adequate time, training or resources to do the work well.  Even worse, the plans for implementing change are frequently developed without the voice of those closest to the students and the work– frontline educators.

This is why I am excited about my new role as president of New Voice Strategies.  I believe that in order for our public schools to be successful in preparing our students for our increasingly knowledge based economy, we need to have frank and open dialogue among all stakeholders about the goals and expectations of our schools and the educators.  But most importantly we need to hear from our frontline educators themselves.  Our public education system must be prepared and supported to educate all of our students to the highest levels.  They will need to be highly skilled, creative and critical thinkers, and active participants in our democratic institutions and communities.

As an organization, New Voice Strategies’ mission is to engage  educators, parents, community groups, teacher unions, district and civic leaders in an open, unbiased dialogue to develop the best solutions and policies to move our schools and communities forward in a collaborative manner.  Through our innovative VIVA Idea Exchange™ we are able to engage frontline stakeholders in positive problem solving.  By providing an online open platform with trained facilitators, we provide the space for an open constructive dialogue among educators about how best to serve students and meet the challenges today and in the future.

Our goal is to remove the discussion from the polarizing debates in the headlines and blog posts and return the discussion to where it belongs, focused on students and led by educators.  I hope you will join me in these future discussions.


Paul Toner serves as the president for New Voice Strategies

Innovation that leads to failure makes me stronger and smarter

by Katherine Doerr Morosky

I made a career change recently.  Professionals who switch into teaching are lauded for their altruism, but it’s not the same for those who switch out.   When I realized that I wasn’t finding the right kind of satisfaction in my job anymore, and that it was time to move on from being a classroom teacher, I felt like a failure.  But, as we tell our students, you learn best from making mistakes, from trying and trying again.

When I made the decision to become a high school teacher, I was a graduate student in a Ph.D. program at Yale.  The career choice was shrouded in my desire to  “give back”, but I quickly realized that I was going to need to innovate if I was going to do a job that was meaningful. The chemistry curriculum that my school had been using “for years” (basically starting at chapter 1 and going through the textbook until the school year ended) was exactly what I did not want to teach.   I innovated for over ten years, changing things up every year, making sure we didn’t burn the school down while always consciously teaching on the edge.  Student feedback is what I valued most, and the thing that I heard over and over again as school year after school year drew to a close was, “you are different than any teacher I’ve had.”  What did that mean professionally?  Well, in my public school, it meant that I was an uneasy fit with my colleagues and the administration:  “You’re so smart, but do you really have to speak your mind?”  “We need you to get back into our box.” I could never force myself to be in that box, and we all know that the real you is going to come out when you are alone in the classroom with your kids (for better or for worse).

Now I work from home and teach asynchronous online classes through a computer.  What a difference!  I was not excited to start, with this thought running through my head: “the reason teaching is meaningful is the personal connections, so I am going into a completely meaningless job.”  Wow, I have been so happily surprised.  I make meaningful remote connections with kids every day.  They are the digital generation and I have to say that it’s starting to feel like this medium is better for instruction than in a classroom full of teenagers.  And it’s a for-profit company, no union, with a bottom line.  I am learning so much (and not in a bad way, which is what I expected) about how K-12 education can, may, and perhaps even should change in the future.

So if this essay is about failure, it’s also about being an innovator.  My path is not linear, not clean, and not predictable.  But if innovation requires iteration, and iteration is necessitated by the need to improve, failure is the operative concept.  I never failed a class, but maybe failing from time to time in life is the only way I am going learn enough to graduate to my next level of adulthood.

KMorosky-150x150VIVA Teacher Katherine Doerr Morosky teaches online at Connections Education. She participated in the VIVA NEA Writing Collaborative on school safety.

Sara Arnold

Sara grew up in a family of educators (from her grandmother teaching at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School to her mother being the school nurse at her own elementary school) and the importance of education was instilled in her at a very young age. Since she was two years old, Sara describes music as her first love, and after teaching music and band for 12 years she now serves as the Program for Academic and Creative Talent (PACT) Resource Specialist at 3 elementary schools in the Cedar Rapids Community School District for the past 3 years.

Her experience and passion teaching music has directly influenced her mission to advocate for gifted education for students and their families, focusing on both academic and creative talent. Sara describes the wide spectrum between ADHD, autism, and gifted students and how she strives to find opportunities for her students to utilize their existing skills, cultivate new talents, and apply both to new and challenging situations. For example, her students create and solve their own math problems (it’s one thing to answer a question but another to create one from scratch!), conduct a mystery Skype with students from around the world as part of their global literature curriculum, and participate in creative writing exercises on Kid Blog where they also review peer writing from nearby schools. All of these activities extend the school day from beyond the school walls and allow her students to think creatively and outside the box.

Beyond the classroom, Sara serves as a member of the NEA State Network of Educators for Smarter Balance Digital Library, where she reviews lesson plans and instructional tools to help teachers meet Common Core standards as well as provide formative assessment tools to help them monitor student learning. She was also recently appointed by the Governor to serve on the Board of Educational Examiners to discuss licensure changes and handle peer ethic complaints. After being selected to participate in the Teacher Leadership Initiative, Sara told her students that: “I’m doing this for you to make sure you have the best educational environment available.” Sara continues her advocacy efforts and systems thinking through her work as a VIVA Teacher and member of the CREA Executive Board.

VIVA Teachers Talk: Teacher Evaluation

Pia Payne-Shannon

Pia Payne-Shannon says she was raised to give back to her community.  As a child growing up in Minneapolis, Pia said it was hard to relate to the teachers who taught her.  Most came from somewhere else to teach in Minneapolis Public Schools.  Pia aims to be an example to others in her hometown, and she demonstrates her commitment to her students every day as an ELA teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools.  Pia was instrumental in writing the VIVA report, “Connections For Learning:  Unifying the Academic and Social Curriculum in Minneapolis Public Schools.”  Participating in the Minneapolis VIVA Idea Exchange TM helped Pia to realize that District leaders need to listen more to teacher experts.  “My experience with VIVA was positive.  The fact that my voice was heard and New Voice Strategies allowed me to be heard prompted future opportunities for me as a leader.”

Multiple Measures or Multiple Data Points?

Multiple Measures

Perhaps no profession is as endlessly fascinated with evaluation as teaching.  The concepts of transparency and accountability are woven into the very fabric of our work as educators in a way that is unique among professions.  On the one hand this is laudable.

On the other hand it leads to building of elaborate evaluation systems, systems that are costly, time consuming, and which are frequently criticized for efficacy.  Too often these systems became exercises in bureaucratic hoop jumping, disconnected from improvements in actual practice.

The trend during the Race to the Top/NCLB “flexibility” has been for states and localities to go down a rabbit hole of “multiple measures”, where a variety of components are added together, producing a number by which teachers can supposedly be compared, and which becomes the basis for various high stakes employment decisions, including hiring, firing, promotion, tenure and compensation.

Is this whole less than the sum of the parts?

In many places student test scores (including the dreaded value added or VAM approach) have become a large (or even largest) component of the evaluation score.  This has created (at least) two problems:

1) The majority of teachers teach in subjects without standardized tests. How do you capture a test score component for these folks?

2) The use and misuse of student testing has spiraled out of control.  Parents are starting to wake up to fact that their children are being tested not diagnostically and for their own benefit, but for the purpose of sorting and firing their teachers.

Because of the history and culture of our profession, we must be practical: teacher evaluation is not going away.  So how can we build an evaluation model that is time and cost effective, objective, and connects to improvements in professional practice?

Multiple data points.

In this approach, you put something at the center of the system.  In many cases this would be traditional administrator observation, but it could easily be a Tripod style student survey, or a National Board portfolio, for example.  Then you admit other data into the conversation for confirmation.

The variety of these data points and what they reveal is in a variety of books and research papers, including notably Everyone at the Table and Getting Teacher Evaluation Right.

We know that no one data point is a silver bullet that provides a complete, valid and reliable picture of professional practice.  Professional practice is a complex and sophisticated enterprise that must be viewed through a variety of lenses.  Observations, student achievement, surveys, artifacts, portfolios, etc, talk to each other in this scenario and become mutually reinforcing.

There is one other key piece – you need a research-based rubric, which everyone accepts and understands, to provide a basis for professional conversation, and a roadmap for improving practice.  In our district we recently agreed upon using Danielson’s Framework.

It is important to understand that a rubric is not in and of itself an evaluation system.  Rather, it provides the language to talk about practice, and you build the evaluation system around that language.

Within the rubric, “anchor components” are individual components in each of the four domains that drive the other components of that domain.  These anchor components are different for new and experienced teachers.   Examination of practice within the anchor component provides reasonable assurance that things are OK in the other components of that domain.

This simple idea has two important implications:  first, it provides a way to differentiate evaluation for the career stage of the educator by looking first at key areas of practice.  Second, it streamlines the process – by focusing an administrator’s attention, it reduces the data that needs to be looked at.  One need only look at the full spectrum of components in a domain if an issue is detected in the anchor component.

By using multiple data points, a research-based rubric and anchor components, it is possible to create teacher evaluation which is streamlined, accurate, and useful for planning professional growth.   If you can take some of the stress out the experience, educators will naturally embrace a good rubric and internalize it.  Why?  Because teachers spend a huge amount of time with their students, and if they are more successful in this endeavor their lives will be better in very concrete ways.  When educators take ownership of the profession, it reduces the need for elaborate teacher evaluation systems because the work is embedded in practice.  A virtuous cycle ensues.

Then the trick is how to connect this with professional development – but that’s subject for another blog!

What improvements in teacher evaluation would help you in your work?

Owens picSteve Owens is a National Board Certified music teacher who teaches P-6 general music, strings, band and chorus in Calais VT and Sharon VT.  He holds a second endorsement in technology integration, level 3 certification in Orff-Schulwerk (an approach to general music teaching) and has attended the Orff Insitut in Salzburg Austria. Steve participated in the VIVA NEA Idea Exchange on Time in School.