New metrics aim to measure student growth under teachers

kjahner@newsobserver.comFebruary 28, 2014 

— Evaluating schools and teachers based on student proficiency data presents a lot of flaws. Most notably, students start from different starting points, not to mention complicated socioeconomics. The state recently released new data to combat that weakness.

The Teacher Effectiveness Index indicates some variation among Garner and Cleveland area schools that reach beyond traditional lines differentiating schools. While some groups question the data’s – or any standardized testing data’s -- usefulness as an evaluative tool, it presents an attempt to hone in on measuring and isolating academic growth over which the teacher has the most control.

The tests measure student growth from end-of-school-year tests in 2012 to those from 2013, resulting in a measure of growth in a teacher’s entire class. The formula determining expected growth is complex and includes a number of variables, including credit for creating growth in economically disadvantaged students.

Garner Magnet High School principal Drew Cook has consistently advocated using any data presented – cautiously.

“It’s fool’s gold to think we can quantify in one piece of data what these teachers do. It’s also fool’s gold to not look at the data,” Cook said. “Just like any piece of data, we try to keep it in perspective. It’s one data point.”

Cleveland Middle School posted the most impressive numbers among the areas school by the metric, while North Garner Middle also produced positive results. Garner Magnet High easily exceeded state and county figures of teachers who exceeded growth.

Cook expressed pride in his staff and said part of the reason nearly half of the 62 teachers tested (a bit under half his faculty) exceeded expectations was precisely because they didn’t teach to the test.

“The higher we set the bar, the more likely students are to exceed where a computer program sets the bar,” Cook said.

Though the nature of testing provides data on more teachers for higher levels and limited data points for elementary schools, Creech Road Elementary produced impressive growth results at a high-poverty school that typically shows up near the bottom of the district.

Questions and criticism have arisen among educator groups about the unknown nature of the formula. Some education advocacy groups oppose the overuse of data, which they criticize as of limited value in evaluating real learning, especially if teachers are compelled to teach to the tests.

By the numbers

Wake County schools had the highest percentage of teachers scoring “exceeds” student growth expectations (40.8 percent) and second-fewest falling short of them (8.4). Johnston County (17.3 exceed, 55.7 met, 27 short) fell short of state averages (23.3-56-20.7) as a whole.

At the school level, Cleveland Middle School set the tone for the Garner-Cleveland area. Of 45 teachers measured, 28 (62.2 percent) exceeded student growth expectations, while all teachers measured at least met them.

“We view all components of the teacher evaluation instrument as critical for the success of our teachers and therefore, our students. We utilize this information along with other measures to determine appropriate professional development,” Johnston County Schools chief business officer Robin Little said in an emailed statement through a spokeswoman in response to a request for comment.

“We are proud of the hard work of our students and teachers while recognizing that there is room for improvement," Little added.

(Johnston County school administrators directed questions to the central office, which declined to provide interview access to school administrators.)

In the area, only Garner High (48.4 percent) had a higher percentage of teachers “exceed” student growth expectations than Cleveland Middle. Its nine teachers (14.5 percent) that fell short beat the state figure but was higher than the Wake County average.

Cook said teachers can always improve and that the data could be used to diagnose what might not be working and find solutions.

“That causes you to dig a little bit, when I see the hard work going on, I see the creative strategies. And we do have hard conversations on where the disconnect is,” Cook said.

Cleveland High School produced a mix of results, as 10 teachers (23.8 percent) exceeded expectations and 12 others (28.6) did not meet them.

North Garner Middle also posted solid numbers. Though six teachers (15 percent) not hitting targets was higher than the Wake County average, it was below the state figure and 11 teachers (27.5) also exceeded expectations.

East Garner Middle School, meanwhile, saw 12 (26.7 percent) of teachers fail to meet projections, while just four (8.9) exceeded.

Elementary schools provided fewer scores because only third grade students and older takes the tests. To measure growth you need two years of data so only fourth- and fifth-grade teachers receive scores.

Results show that controls take some effect. At Creech Road, a part of the district’s Renaissance School program, all nine teachers met the formula’s growth goals, and two exceeded it. All eight Vance Elementary teachers scored met expectations.

Other schools showed more mixed results. Smith, which also has a significant low-income student rate, saw three of eight teachers fail to meet growth expectations. Vandora Springs saw three of nine fall short and none exceed expectations.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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