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Drugs in schools

Most drug violations in CPS involve an ounce or less of marijuana. Schools are quick to call police, yet rarely have the resources to offer education, counseling or other non-punitive help to students.

Professors caution CPS on using tests to evaluate teachers

Behind closed doors, the Chicago Teachers Union and CPS officials are negotiating the details of a new teacher evaluation process scheduled to debut in at least 300 schools this fall. On Monday, a diverse group of university professors raised yellow flags.

The group, named CReATE, sent a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and the Board of Education signed by 88 faculty members from 15 local universities warning that using student test scores in teacher evaluation could do more harm than good. The universities included the University of Illinois Chicago, DePaul University and the University of Chicago. 

The warning comes as the School Board is scheduled to vote on Wednesday whether to spend $590,000 for teacher roster verification software. This software ensures that student’s test scores are linked to the correct teacher.

A 2010 state law called for principal and teacher evaluation in Illinois to be revamped and a measure of student growth be used as a “significant factor.” The law was passed to make Illinois a viable candidate for federal Race to the Top funding.

Districts across the state are in the process of hammering out the details, but CPS alone must have their new system ready for at least half its schools by September 2012.

Adding to the concerns voiced by the professors, two student groups plan to hold a press conference on Tuesday to address teacher evaluation.

“Consistent with this legislation, we are committed to creating a fair and transparent evaluation system that provides teachers with meaningful and actionable feedback to help them improve their practice and drive student learning,” said CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler.

In the national debate on value-added testing, backers of the approach say that it is far more reliable than what is being used now, which typically is a check list of teacher attributes.

Singling out Chicago

The Illinois law treats CPS differently from the rest of the state in two other areas:

  • It allows CPS to use only the ISAT and PSAE exams to measure student growth. Other districts must use a combination of tests assessments that could be created by teachers or district officials.
  • Outside CPS, if the district and the union can’t agree on the weight test scores should have, they would default to 50 percent. In CPS, the default is the district’s last best offer.

Recent rules issued by the state suggest that the “significant factor” for student growth be 25 percent the first year and 30 percent the second year. The amount would then go up in subsequent years.

The faculty members urged CPS initially to use student growth in a minimal way, though they would not specify an acceptable percentage. They also urged it to conduct a pilot study of the new evaluation to see how it works.

Kevin Kumashiro, a professor of Asian-American Studies and Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago, brought the group of professors together a year ago to try to interject education research into CPS’ reform efforts. He said that using student test scores to judge teachers is one of those ideas that lacks a research foundation.  “This is not yet field tested,” he said.

Kumashiro and the other professors note that CPS has not done much to develop other types of assessments. This is important as the ISAT and PSAE test only core subjects.

Using value-added test scores has its perils, according to the professors. Kumashiro said value-added test measures are unstable and unreliable. For example, a teacher’s score will vary depending on the variables used in the formula, said Carol Myford, whose research at UIC focuses on performance and portfolio assessments.

“A teacher’s score should not be dependent on what statistical model is used,” she said.

The professors also said the ISAT and other statewide exams were not created with teacher evaluation in mind. 

Teachers already teach to the standardized tests, the professors said, and are likely to do that more so, knowing their jobs are tied to them.

Bill Kennedy, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Program, said students in education colleges are nervous about the proposed changes. As student teachers, they see the emphasis that is being put on tests, and it frustrates them.

“A few weeks before the test, the climate changes radically in the classroom,” he said.

Diane Horwitz from DePaul University said it takes some of the enthusiasm away from teaching. “It is discouraging,” she said. “It is confining.”

David Stovall, a UIC professor who also works at North Lawndale/Little Village’s School of Social Justice, also pointed out that how a student performs could be the result of the amount of supports at a school. When CPS pulls back on supports, then test scores may plummet.

“CPS is missing the idea that these supports are essential to supporting student achievement,” he said.

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