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Barresi Issues a TLE Warning

December 17, 2014

Oklahoma’s Teacher/Leader Effectiveness System (TLE) is highly flawed. Ask anybody in a school, and you will hear that. Sure, some like the qualitative part that will eventually comprise 50 percent of a teacher’s overall rating. They say it has improved the language of the evaluation process. Unfortunately, it has also increased the extent to which teachers and principals are over-burdened with paperwork. It is a thorough process, but it is also terribly cumbersome.

This disruption to the status quo, however, has nothing on the impending disaster of the other 50 percent. When the quantitative component of TLE becomes reality, the bottomed-out morale of teachers will find a new low. Anybody who teaches or supervises teachers understands this. The future former state superintendent does not. Last night, Janet Barresi posted one of her final missives (at least in an official capacity), this time defending the TLE and refuting some of the concerns we’ve voiced for years. As usual, though, she misrepresented many, many things. I will attach a few excerpts and then respond.

When properly implemented by districts, TLE is not an excuse to fire teachers. We cannot and will not fire our way to a better education. TLE allows for focused professional development. It is a carefully designed system that helps good teachers become great, and struggling teachers become good.

Actually, this sounds like the justification of someone who hasn’t read the statutory language associated with the process. I understand – the relevant section doesn’t appear until pages 13-14. By then, most politicians have stopped reading to learn and commenced handing the document off to the underlings with instructions to brief me at a later time. Here’s the short version. Both career and probationary teachers who receive a less-than-effective TLE score for consecutive years can lose their jobs. Even if the principal observes good instruction happening in the classroom, an algorithm can override human judgment. Also, as I discussed Sunday, teachers who have the opportunity to make their own assessments (pre- and post-tests) will have a huge advantage over their counterparts. Still, Barresi warns us against the perils of abandoning evaluation by test score.

Some critics contend that TLE gives too much weight to student performance on assessments, but I believe the system we have designed strikes a good balance. It is important to recognize that student data is valuable. How can school leaders make informed decisions without indicators and data to guide them? How can parents feel assured they have an impartial measure of their school’s success if they only hear qualitative observations? Removing student data from TLE would threaten Oklahoma’s waiver from disastrous No Child Left Behind regulations, but even worse, it would usher in an accountability system that lacks measurable accountability itself.

Remember, Barresi and her ilk share the belief that anything you don’t measure doesn’t matter. As for me, I count two negatives in the previous sentence. It matters.

Seriously, though, Barresi still believes school leaders need her help to make informed decisions. We do use data, even if she won’t give us credit for it. As for assuring parents, I guess that’s what disembodied algorithms developed by out-of-state non-profits that have taken millions from our state are for. I’ve seen too many examples from this year’s VAM data that show great teachers with low scores. Even in cases where every student passes the state tests and most are advanced, the teachers are being labeled ineffective. Explain that to parents. Furthermore, we’ve lost the waiver once. If we lose it again, we’ll cobble something together and get it back. I’ve seen us do it.

Our work in school turn around has shown that as the hard work moves forward to improve instructional processes and practices, change the culture of the school and initiate the use of data as an integral component of improving instruction, that TLE scores also improve.

Rob Miller effectively took down this talking point recently. The SDE thinks they’ve discovered how to turn schools around. As Rob showed, they’ve also effectively discovered how not to turn schools around. Essentially, in any ranking system, there will be winners and losers. The system can’t help it; it was born that way. This is true for schools, for teachers, and for kids. Some will score high, and some will score low. Left to their own devices, some will rise, and some won’t. Placed under intensive scrutiny from the state, some will rise, and some will fall. It is a natural by-product of the system; often, what appear to be gains (or losses) are merely statistical corrections. No state agency deserves credit for schools that regress to the mean.

I don’t believe that the “sole purpose” of TLE is to fire people. I know that it will happen, though. Good teachers will lose their jobs because of bad data. Whether or not the intent of TLE is to shame teachers and schools, this will be the outcome. No amount of spin from Janet Barresi, Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, or anyone else will change that. As Superintendent-elect Hofmeister has traveled the state, she has heard some version of these concerns again and again. Our legislators have heard them too, and most seem to understand that something has to give. In policy terms, it probably will come down to a choice between delaying implementation of the quantitative score or tossing the entire TLE system.

The timing of this letter is curious. It makes me wonder if Barresi has a last-minute surprise for us at tomorrow’s State Board of Education meeting. This will be her last one (unless they do not choose a vendor for spring testing, in which case there may be a special SBE meeting early next month), and the agenda for it should post this afternoon. We can only wonder right now if this is a clue to what we’re going to see on it.

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  1. December 18, 2014 at 6:10 pm
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