State ESSA Plans Differ on What Makes an 'Ineffective' or 'Inexperienced' Teacher
Some states are setting tighter definitions and more concrete goals than others in their plans for finding the least effective teachers and making sure they're not disproportionately serving poor and minority students, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Among the bright spots nationally are New Mexico and Tennessee, says the group, which released today analyses of the federally required plans states have submitted under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
ESSA, the federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind and goes into effect this fall, requires that states define "ineffective" and "inexperienced" teachers in their plans, and describe ways they'll ensure low-income and minority students aren't being taught by them at higher rates than their peers. So far, 16 states and the District of Columbia have submitted accountability plans to the U.S. Education Department.
As my colleague Daarel Burnette II wrote last week, "Civil rights advocates and teacher accountability hawks have expressed deep frustration with how some states ignored this portion of the law in the 17 plans submitted so far. ... State education officials, meanwhile, say they struggle to collect teacher quality information from districts, many of which have different evaluation systems."
NCTQ, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, released a guide laying out what it thinks states should have in their plans. It says states should:
- Define an inexperienced teacher as one with two or fewer years experience.
- Define an ineffective teacher that uses "objective measures of student learning and growth" (which, in practical terms, often means test scores).
- Set clear timelines for eliminating educator equity gaps.
- Calculate and report educator equity gaps at the school and student levels (rather than just at the district level).
To be clear, these points are not specified by ESSA—they represent NCTQ's interpretation of an exemplary ESSA plan.
The guide lauds New Mexico because it includes in its definition of an ineffective teacher anyone who earns student growth ratings in the bottom decile (even if that teacher does quite well on a teacher evaluation overall, due to positive ratings on measures such as classroom observations and student surveys). "New Mexico is really leading the pack," said Elizabeth Ross, the managing director of state policy at NCTQ.
It's worth noting that New Mexico has had one of the toughest, and most controversial, teacher evaluation systems in the country. Gov. Susana Martinez recently announced changes to the system, including reducing the percentage of a teacher's rating derived from test scores from 50 percent to 35 percent. However, the teachers' unions, which have sued the state several times over evaluations, are still unsatisfied.
In terms of calculating and reporting data, Tennessee "is really doing the finest job among this set of plans," said Ross. The state will look at teacher distributions within schools, not just across districts and schools. "This makes sure there's not a scenario where all high-income students in [Advanced Placement] classes are taught by experienced teachers and all low-income students in remedial classes are taught by inexperienced teachers."
NCTQ did an in-depth analysis for each state as well. You can find all of those here.
The Maine analysis shows the state's definition of an "ineffective teacher" does not require an objective measure of student growth, and its definition of an inexperienced teacher includes teachers with zero to three years' experience. NCTQ thinks this should be only zero to two years, since research shows teachers make strong gains in effectiveness in their first two years on the job.
Maine should take some time to "think critically about tightening up some of its definitions," Ross said.
As you may remember, NCTQ is the same group that has reviewed and rated thousands of teacher education programs over the last few years, finding many of them well below par. Critics continue to assail its method for assessing programs, which relies heavily on document review. This report could kick up similar controversy, although for now the group decided not to use ratings. That's because states will still have an opportunity to amend their plans before submitting them for final approval.
"Our hope is that states that have significant room for improvement will take this opportunity to do so, so they're ensuring they're not systemically disadvantaging certain types of students," Ross said.
NCTQ plans to do another round of analyses this fall, when the other 34 states submit their plans to the Education Department.