Monday, Nov 12, 2018
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The wrong incentives


Adminstrators and staff from Toledo Public Schools have been punished by the Ohio Department of Education for “data scrubbing.”

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School districts and teachers should be accountable for student success, and in a timely fashion.

But the systems used by the Ohio Department of Education and across the United States are flawed and failing. They incentivize administrators and teachers to manipulate student attendance records in order to remove low-performing students from their testing pool — falsely increasing their district’s average scores. And it took the ODE years to discover this problem, release the information, and punish those responsible.

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In the recent TPS data-scrubbing case, district administrators told teachers to remove students’ scores from the testing pool due to their supposed lack of attendance. And, years later, the ODE reprimanded not only the administrators, but also the teachers, for doing what they were told.

Students’ test scores play a role in the funding provided to districts by the state and federal government. High-performing districts are more likely to be awarded state funding, and teachers with high student performance records are more likely to reap benefits as well.

According to the Original Framework of the Ohio Department of Education Teacher Evaluation System, a teacher’s rating is based equally on their performance and on student growth. These evaluations can potentially influence contract negotiation.

But teachers’ jobs are not solely about achieving high test scores. They also have to maintain order within a classroom, keep track of students’ paperwork and accomodate for children with varied learning needs, and even request help for students who are abused or neglected at home.

And, beyond that, they have to adhere to rules set by their administration, often with little or no help.

Something is wrong with a system that encourages school districts to falsely report student test scores or attendance and takes years to punish those responsible.

How can ODE fix this?

First, the ODE should require school administrators to start ensuring students are actually getting to — and staying in — school. This would prevent teachers from needing to chase down some students, which takes time away from educating other students.

Toledo Public Schools cited attendance as a cause for students’ low performance, and consequently removed the scores of students who had not been attending school. Perhaps getting these kids in the classroom will help the students to learn and TPS to achieve better test scores.

Second, the ODE should reward districts with improving attendance records or districts that create better attendance tracking systems.

The Ohio Department of Education and other state education departments need to change their systems so that districts, administrators, and teachers have proper incentives — not to cheat, but to truly prepare students for work and life.

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