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Published: 10/8/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Toledo teachers fall below peers on new yardstick

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Teachers in Toledo Public Schools scored on average below their Ohio peers on a new measurement tool being developed by the state that will impact how public school teachers are paid and evaluated.

The metric, called value added, shows how much students' test scores grew year over year and attempts to measure the impact that individual teachers have on student academic achievement. Value added is still under development in Ohio, and officials caution that using only one year's worth of data can be misleading. While TPS Superintendent Jerome Pecko emphasized the data are not enough to form an opinion and said he didn't want to jump to conclusions, he called Toledo's low results "disappointing."

"We never like to see information ... that suggests there's any weakness," he said.

Ohio has included value-added results for schools and districts on state report cards for years. Under the federally funded Race to the Top program, the state is expanding the concept to individual teachers, hoping to use it as a tool to measure teacher quality.

The system is in its test phase, as the Ohio Department of Education and nonprofit Battelle for Kids develop the measurement. Only 30 percent of Ohio districts are participating in a value-added pilot, with about 7,500 teachers receiving the rating for both reading and math test scores.

Teachers are rated on a five-point scale, from "least effective" to "most effective." Participating teachers first received data under the program last month, according to the Education Department, and districts only received summaries of where their teachers scored.

Toledo teachers of grades 4 through 8 were rated in both reading and math. The district summary includes 515 ratings, with many teachers rated in both subjects.

Compared to the rest of the teachers rated statewide, Toledo's teachers were significantly more likely to be placed in the bottom two ratings of "least effective" and "approaching average." About 42 percent of ratings fell into those two classifications, with only 5 percent of Toledo teachers in the highest rating of "most effective."

Statewide, only about 25 percent of the 10,018 ratings fell in the bottom two classifications, while nearly 17 percent were rated "most effective."

Value added is controversial.

Proponents say that, when used properly, it is a legitimate measuring stick for teacher quality and can help schools improve by highlighting both struggling and excelling teachers. Skeptics question the measure's statistical validity or whether it takes into account different learning environments.

The concept's popularity accelerated under the Obama Administration's Race to the Top program, which provides school districts federal funding if they make certain reforms, including that they use student test data to evaluate teachers.

Even value-added supporters say it's too early to effectively use Ohio's data. Districts in Tennessee, where the concept was developed, use a three-year average to minimize the impact of outlier years. And the publicly available summaries do not say where specific teachers land on the scale.

But TPS officials, value-added proponents, did not dismiss the results. "It's definitely a conversation starter," TPS Chief Academic Officer Jim Gault said.

The district is implementing reforms that officials believe will improve teacher effectiveness. Each school is developing teacher-based teams, where teachers meet regularly to analyze their students' test results and to create techniques to improve academic performance. Mr. Gault also said the district needs to better train teachers by providing professional development to improve their skills.

Kevin Dalton, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, cautioned that the numbers were preliminary and that caution should be used when looking at these results, which he called a "snapshot."

Mr. Dalton said this provides a chance to look at the contextual data, such as if certain schools are behind others, or if there are greater issues such as whether students are coming to kindergarten prepared.

However, he said the results do not mean that Toledo teachers are behind their peers. "I would say our teachers are just as, if not more effective, than the teachers in the rest of the state."

Teachers across Ohio will receive the reports next school year. Principals also will be rated under the Race to the Top program. The value-added scores will be included as part of teacher evaluations.

Mr. Gault said he hopes the district would use multiple data sets when evaluating teachers, not just value added. One test, he said, is just a snapshot in time.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.



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