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GRADING THE TEACHERS: Is the answer all in the value-added numbers?
Part III of the StateImpact Ohio and Plain Dealer series on new ways of evaluating teachers, and the pros and con of correlating performance and pay

Ida Lieszkovszky
Katie Zielke says value-added measurements educated her.
Courtesy of MOLLY BLOOM
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In The Region:

This week, The Plain Dealer and public radio’s StateImpact Ohio collaboration have been reporting on a new measure of teacher performance called “value-added.” It rates individual teachers based on the amount of progress their students make, using test scores and a complex statistical formula. 

About 16,000 teachers are tracked now in the initial roll out.  The results will play a major role in determining a teacher’s pay, starting next year in some schools.  That would be huge change for Ohio.  StateImpact’s Ida Lieszkovsky has our latest installment in our series: “Grading the Teachers.”

LISTEN: How much should value-added, experience count?

Other options:
Windows Media / MP3 Download (3:32)

For the first two parts of our StateImpact series, "Grading the Teachers," click on the following links:

Students in Emily Brown’s seventh-grade classroom are conducting an experiment on the direction of waves. They drop blocks of clay into small aluminum trays filled with water. 

Angel Hines, one of her students, says Brown is a good teacher – good enough that “she actually lets us grade her so she knows if she’s doing something wrong (and) she’ll fix it." 

The state of Ohio grades her, too, and agrees she’s a good teacher. Last year, her value-added score was “most effective,” the highest of five ratings.  She’d like to see that stellar performance reflected in her paycheck.  But it isn’t.  Brown makes about $3,000 less than the average Toledo teacher. And that disparity is not unusual.

About "Grading the Teachers"
This three-day series about Ohio’s new way of measuring teacher performance is the result of a partnership between The Plain Dealer and StateImpact Ohio, a collaboration of public radio stations WCPN, WKSU and WOSU. StateImpact reporters Molly Bloom and Ida Lieszkovszky worked with Plain Dealer reporter Patrick O'Donnell and Plain Dealer data analysis editor Rich Exner to produce these stories.

The series:
Sunday: What is value-added and why does it matter?

Monday: Are Ohio’s “best” teachers paid accordingly?

Tuesday: Are teachers at high-poverty schools at a disadvantage in these ratings?

According to an analysis by StateImpact Ohio and the Plain Dealer, there is little correlation between a teacher’s performance and how much they are paid. Across the state, teachers who score the lowest on this new “value-added” measurement frequently make more than those who score the highest. 

When everyone is good, who's really good?
Ohio is hardly unique in this disconnect between pay and performance, says Dan Goldhaber, an education researcher at the University of Washington. “There's nothing inherent in the way teachers are paid that would necessarily reward their performance.”

That’s because, under the current system, pay increases are based on years of service and getting advanced degrees. Evaluations are usually based on brief classroom observations and they have almost nothing to do with pay, often by union contract.

Besides, Goldhaber say, pretty much everybody gets a good review. 

“So if everybody gets a glowing review, then you can't use performance evaluations for anything, and that's a big problem when you think about changing the quality of the workforce.”

Older not necessarily better
Another finding from the StateImpact and Plain Dealer investigation found that older teachers – who are usually the ones with the most experience -- are paid more than younger teachers as you would expect. But older teachers did not generally outperform young ones. 

Cleveland is one of the cities that wants to get away from that. 

“It is not years of experience and masters, that’s exactly what we’ve set aside,” says District CEO Eric Gordon. So Cleveland is implementing a new system that takes value-added scores into account.

It all in the numbers
It’s exactly this kind of change that make Melissa Cropper nervous; she’s president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

“There is skepticism around value-added, but the skepticism is around how the value-added is being used to make high-stakes decisions.” 

Initially, value-added will make up half of a teachers overall evaluation for English and math teachers in fourth- through eighth-grade. That could affect their pay, and even whether they keep their jobs. 

“I do think that teachers need to be held accountable,” says Cropper. “I just don’t think that you can quantify everything. And when you try to quantify everything, it takes away from what good teaching actually is.” 

Advocates for this new data-based performance measure disagree. They say the whole point of gathering and analyzing all the data is to identify what good teaching is. They say it should help schools keep good teachers, weed out the bad ones, and help those who want and need to improve.

'Wow, I was not doing my best'
Katie Zielke,a teacher in Columbus, got the lowest rating in her first value-added evaluation.

“It was a wake up call,” she says. “I thought I was doing things right, you always think you’re doing your best and then I kind of went, ‘Wow, what I was doing was not right, it was not my best.”

That’s exactly the kind of introspection advocates hope “value added” will inspire. 

Whether most teachers eventually embrace the new measurement is an open question.  Many have doubts about its accuracy, fairness and the public is just starting to understand it. The conversation in Ohio and other states using it is just beginning.

To see the value-added scores for some 4,200 teachers, go here:
Listener Comments:

The education of a child is a collaboration among three equally important components: the teacher, the child and the parents/care-giver. If one of these three components is absent or lacking it will adversely affect the educational progress of the child. It is unfair to soley judge the teacher's performance and ultimately pay, if one of the three components is absent. The new formula does not take this into account.

Posted by: Ron Hause (Amherst Ohio) on June 18, 2013 8:06AM
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