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Data shows a massive disconnect in Nevada teacher evaluations

Updated April 17, 2017 - 12:06 am

There are absolutely no ineffective teachers in Nevada’s worst-performing schools.

That’s according to the most recent teacher evaluation data provided by the state Department of Education. Statewide, only 55 of the 20,785 teachers rated after the 2015-16 year under the Nevada Educator Performance Framework were deemed “ineffective” — the lowest of four possible categories.

And none of them worked at what the state considers the most underperforming schools. You’ll find more ineffective teachers working in what the state considers its best schools, according to the most recent ratings of the five-star system issued after the 2013-14 year.

The data highlights a stark disconnect: If all Nevada’s teachers are effective or highly effective, why aren’t all Nevada’s schools viewed as the same? And if all the teachers are at the top of the scale, why does Nevada routinely find its education system ranked at the bottom nationally?

“The tension in this conclusion is obvious,” state Superintendent Steve Canavero said last week as he testified before the Legislature. “We see our state lag the nation, but we do not see a distribution that reflects anything close to this.”

The data shows almost 99 percent of teachers in the state are considered highly effective or effective. The evaluations are based solely off a principal’s or administrator’s observation of teaching practices, but are slated to include student data in future years.

That’s unless proposals from lawmakers to completely eliminate student data — supported by local and state teacher’s unions — are successful.

Eliminating bias

Canavero and other education policy experts believe using student data will likely help create a more accurate snapshot by lessening a perceived built-in bias among principals’ evaluations.

The 2015-16 ratings should have included student data, but a glitch in administering new state tests caused the entire score to be based off principals’ observation.

That glitch inadvertently gave officials a glimpse at what completely eliminating objective numbers can do to the system.

“The challenge is when you try to do this at the state level, you’re just asking for corruption,” said Scott Marion, executive director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment. “Until you have principals who really understand how to evaluate instruction and quality, you’re not going to have a system that works well.”

That’s when states turn to student data for better objectivity. But teachers and unions argue using a state test score isn’t reflective of what a student learned or what a teacher taught. Only 20 percent to 30 percent of teachers have a state exam in their subject.

“It is nonsensical to attempt to evaluate my teaching effectiveness by how students score in math, reading, writing or science,” said Carmen Andrews, a Spanish teacher in Clark County. “I have no fear of being held accountable for what is under my control as an educator. But you cannot judge my effectiveness based on factors that are completely out of my control as a professional.”

Keeping the status quo may mean teachers are more selective in where they work, aiming to be in schools with students who perform better academically.

“Tying our test scores to our evaluations only discourages those of us who work at at-risk schools from going to work in those at-risk schools,” said Robert Cowles, a Clark County teacher at Rancho High School.

Cowles said he believes the majority of the teachers in the state are effective or highly effective, despite the state saying that can’t be possible.

“We do have highly effective teachers in the CCSD and in every single school district. What we don’t have is enough of them,” he said.

Across the nation

Forty states require some measure of student learning in teacher evaluations, but how heavily the student data factors in varies, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit that studies the issue.

Few states have found the right mix and accurate measure, said Elizabeth Ross, the organization’s managing director of state policy. But completely taking out student measures won’t likely fix the problem, she said.

“The inclusion of these objective measures was a huge step forward for the field,” she said. But something we’ve been disappointed to see is that most systems still failed to distinguish between teachers that make different contributions.”

But lawmakers say it’s “problematic” to assess teachers using student standardized test scores, because that may not reflect the teacher’s classroom work.

“It’s not only unfair to me, but it’s inaccurate to assess in that way,” Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, said last week introducing Assembly Bill 320, which would change the way teaching ratings are assembled.

Fiddling with the formula

For the 2016-17 teacher ratings, 80 percent comes from the principal observation. The remaining 20 percent is based on student test scores and split into two categories.

In following years, observations will drop to 60 percent, and the two test scores areas will increase to 20 percent each.

Frierson’s bill would decrease the test score data to 20 percent total and allow districts to use local assessments, instead of the state tests.

“We’re not trying to roll back provisions or roll back reform. We are adapting to what we are actually operating under,” he said.

Frierson’s bill was voted forward by the Assembly Education Committee on Friday, allowing it to keep moving in the process.

Another bill, AB212, introduced by Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo, D-Las Vegas, would eliminate student test data altogether. When he introduced the bill last week, Fumo said he was trying to be responsive to his constituents and that he knows his bill may not make it far.

“Political realities being what they are today I understand that’s probably not the most effective way to go,” he said.

Contact Meghin Delaney at mdelaney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter

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