Educator Effectiveness 

An update from Interim Superintendent John McDonough
November 20, 2013
We are at a transformative point in the Boston Public Schools. Our graduation rate is at its highest level since records have been kept and we continue to outperform other large cities on national assessments. However, there are still persistent achievement gaps and we have not seen enough progress on early literacy.

This week I had a conversation with several dozen teachers at one of our regular Superintendent+Teacher Share events, and there was agreement that we all must do more. Here is what we are doing.

Research shows that having a highly-effective teacher throughout elementary school nearly eliminates the disadvantages of poverty, and students assigned to the strongest teachers for three years score 50 percent higher on standardized tests than those who have weaker instruction. But as a system, we have struggled in the past to ensure a highly-effective teacher in every classroom, despite the fact that we have great teachers throughout our District and in every school.

Because of the importance of supporting the growth and development of every educator, we must connect the supports educators receive at each stage of their careers, from recruitment to retirement. This is why we are integrating our Office of Educator Effectiveness and our Office of Human Resources to become the Office of Human Capital, to be led by Ross Wilson. Dr. Wilson currently oversees our educator effectiveness work and is a former teacher and school principal. This change places educator effectiveness at the forefront of everything we do.

When does BPS hire? Last month we shared the graphic at right, which shows the current state of hiring new and experienced teachers into our classrooms. In the past we waited far too long to make offers to qualified candidates as well as to our own great teachers who see opportunities in other schools.

We are setting a new goal. Rather than hiring 85 percent of our teachers in July and August, moving forward we will hire 75 percent in March and April for the following school year. The transformation of our approach to attracting, supporting, retaining and growing our educator workforce will allow us to achieve this.

It's a big change but we are up to it. We have already demonstrated that it is possible to replace an ineffective evaluation system with one that is robust, fair and tied to student achievement. Now, it's time to up the ante and truly support our educators with a human capital strategy that helps every school leader build, motivate and support a great school team.

Hiring autonomy Our efforts to transform our hiring practices can only be effective if they are paired with an educator evaluation process that works well.

In 2009 we worked with the National Council on Teacher Quality to study our human capital system. What we found was striking. At the time, every teacher was supposed to receive a performance evaluation at least once every two years -- but just 53 percent of tenured teachers, and only 41 percent of non-tenured teachers, actually did. What's more, the study found that 38 out of 144 schools had not turned in a single evaluation.

This was a signal that expected levels of accountability, transparency and credibility were lacking. Evaluations were inconsistent, the district's professional development was not aligned to help teacher needs. Principals were not held accountable for supporting the growth of their teachers.

This needed to change. We created a new system aligned with strengthened state standards and put it in place in all schools in the 2012-13 school year. It's designed to be consistent, so every evaluator uses the same approach; and it's designed to be supportive, so areas of strength and growth are clearly defined and linked to strategies for improvement. It's also designed to hold evaluators accountable for completing thorough evaluations.

We are releasing a progress report on the first full year of the new process. It includes school-by-school results:
Internally, we are using this data to improve our educator evaluation system for this year. Externally, we hope it will be useful for parents and community partners to see our progress toward ensuring effective teachers in every classroom -- as well as effective school leaders and central office teams. To see an example of the evaluation rubric we are using, click here.

Due to state confidentiality guidelines, information for certain schools is not visible if all educators received the same evaluation, or if only one educator in a school received a certain level, such as "exemplary," "proficient," "needs improvement" or "unsatisfactory." The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is using a snapshot of the end of the school year as its basis for this reporting, which means evaluations for educators who were no longer with us at the end of the school year are not reflected.

This report demonstrates that we are moving forward with urgency:
  • 93 percent of educators received an evaluation in the 2012-13 school year, compared to less than 23 percent in 2009;
  • This evaluation system allowed principals to provide 48,725 hours of targeted professional development for 5,120 teachers in response to trends in teacher learning needs;
  • These evaluations led to the removal of 31 people from the classroom who persistently struggled to meet the needs of our students;
  • 13.5 percent of our educators received an "exemplary" rating and 79.5 percent received an "proficient" rating. 5.8 percent received a "needs improvement" rating and 1.2 percent, or 48 individuals, received ratings of "unsatisfactory." This does not include 31 individuals who had received negative evaluations and are no longer with the District. Because they departed during the school year they were not included in the end-of-year snapshot.
There are also areas of concern that we are addressing for the current school year:
  • Educators in central office were more than twice as likely to receive an "exemplary" rating last year as people who work in schools;
  • A few lower-performing schools marked nearly all of their educators as "exemplary" or "proficient." While this could be because some of these schools have invested in building strong staffs, it may also be a signal that a few schools are still not conducting robust evaluations;
  • Educators over age 50, male teachers, and African-American educators are more likely to receive a "needs improvement" or "unsatisfactory" evaluation.
  • As we said in the spring, this final point is of special concern. We are reviewing the data and the underlying issues with our Office of Equity. We have adjusted trainings for evaluators to include additional measures to prevent the potential for evaluator bias, and continue to work with evaluators on a regular basis to ensure consistency. We are also having open discussions about the potential impact of bias in evaluation. This is not a trend unique to Boston or even education -- but it is one that we must address in a transparent, equitable and deliberate manner.
Effective practice video We must not turn back simply because there are patterns we do not like to see. We are working aggressively to understand them and address them within the new framework, which we know is helping transform the quality of education in every school.

Part of the District’s work to help both evaluators and educators develop a shared understanding of effective practice is a series of videos of BPS classrooms. One of these videos features Ellen Latham's mathematics class at Mario Umana Academy in East Boston. The segment highlights how Ms. Latham engages students in a lesson about linear inequalities. The video is designed to provide a real-world illustration of how teachers who receive a "proficient" rating in this area consistently use instructional practices that are likely to motivate and engage most students during the lesson.

We believe that our own teachers are the best examples of what excellence in education looks like. We are transforming ourselves as an organization to support them better. The best teachers are the ones who will do whatever it takes to ensure every student succeeds -- and now, we're ready to take a step forward as a District to do exactly the same thing.