Remember EVAAS? It’s Still Here & It’s Still Bad

In October of 2017, the venerable James Ford (at the time of the Public School Forum) delivered the keynote address at the North Carolina English Teacher’s Association. It was more than exceptional as Ford highlighted that what hurts our schools most are external factors that are not being dealt with such as systemic poverty.

Part of his presentation included a version of what is called the “Iceberg Effect” for education. It looks like this:

iceberg

Ford talked about (and he is not alone in this belief) how what is above the water, namely student outcomes, is what drives educational policies in our state.

Notice that he means what is visible above the water line is what drives policy. That is what the public sees in the press. That is what lawmakers and leaders hark on when discussing what to do about public education. That is what is being used to measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools.

In 2013, the state of North Carolina started using a value-added measurement scale to help gauge teacher effectiveness and school performance. Developed by SAS which is headquartered in the Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, EVAAS collects student data and creates reports that are used to measure teacher and school effectiveness.

EVAAS stands for “Education Value-Added Assessment System.” For teachers, it is supposed to give an indication of how well students are supposed to do in a given year on the tests that are used on evaluations. (Do not let it be lost on anyone that “EVAAS” scores were just released at the end of most schools’ first quarter after half of the block classes have already completed more than half of the curriculum’s work).

EVAAS has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny. It deserves every bit of that scrutiny. Why? Because the algorithms that it uses to come up with its calculations and reports are like a tightly held secret.

Think of the iceberg and what is seen and what is under the water line.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction describes EVAAS as:

EVAAS examines the impact of teachers, schools, and districts on the learning of their students in specific courses, grades, and subjects. Users can access colorful, easy-to-understand charts and graphs via the Web, as well as produce customized reports that predict student success, show the effects of schooling at particular schools, or reveal patterns in subgroup performance (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/effectiveness-model/evaas/).

There is even a nice little video that one can go to in order to “understand how EVAAS” works (https://ncdpi.sas.com/videos/EVAAS/WhatIsEVAAS.mp4).

EVAAS pic

The whole video is an attempt to validate the use of EVAAS by the state. Except it does not tell anyone how “EVAAS performs value-added analysis.” The only people who know how that works are inside of the Hawkins National Laboratory or as we know it, SAS headquarters.

In March of 2017, Angela Scioli wrote a powerful piece for EDNC.org entitled “EVAAS: An incomplete and painful system for me.” In it she stated,

I did not change anything else about my teaching.  I did not know what to change.  No one met with me to intervene.  No one even spoke to me about the results.  It just sat there, like a black eye I couldn’t cover up, but no one wanted to talk about it.  

The next year, I received my EVAAS results, after using the same methods, and I was now deemed “highly effective.”  I was relieved and confused.  How could that be? (https://www.ednc.org/2017/03/21/evaas-incomplete-painful-system/).   

Justin Parmenter’s op-ed entitled “The cost of doing business in the education world” (August 9, 2017) was another powerful expose of a world in which EVAAS is being used to measure teachers and schools. He said,

In the years that followed, EVAAS was rolled out on a larger scale across the district and state, and similar data measuring teacher effectiveness was made available to more teachers. I was dismayed to see that, while some years I apparently had made a difference, there were other years when I did not make much of a difference at all. Some years I even made a negative difference (https://www.ednc.org/2017/08/09/cost-business-education-world/).

This criticism of EVAAS is not limited to North Carolina. From the National Education Policy Center:

Education Policy Analysis Archives recently published an article by Audrey Amrein-Beardsley and Clarin Collins that effectively exposes the Houston Independent School District use of a value-added teacher evaluation system as a disaster. The Educational Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS) is alleged by its creators, the European software giant SAS, to be the “the most robust and reliable” system of teacher evaluation ever invented. Amrein-Beardsley and Collins demonstrate to the contrary that EVAAS is a psychometric bad joke and a nightmare to teachers” (http://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/houston-you-have-problem).

And the ambiguity of how SAS uses data within the EVAAS program is not lost on many people. From a 2014 WUNC report called “Ranking Teachers: NC Bets Big On A Complicated Stats Model,”

EVAAS is based on that student growth, not the test score itself. And the software is complicated – and some say largely secret. Teachers, principals, even administrators at the state level don’t know everything that goes into the model.

“Now the statisticians, and I’m not a statistician – I’m not the smartest guy in the world – they would say that stuff should even out, and I think they are correct, I’m sure it does even out, when you look at statewide data,” says Jim Key, an assistant superintendent in Durham. “But within a particular classroom? You could have more than a normal share of students who are going through some challenges with their personal lives” (http://wunc.org/post/ranking-teachers-nc-bets-big-complicated-stats-model#stream/0).

That last quote from Mr. Key accurately sums up the relationship between the EVAAS program and the Iceberg Effect.

Simply put, EVAAS only measures what is the tip of the iceberg that is above the water and then it tells us how to view it. It completely disregards what is under the water level.

LET ME REPEAT: EVAAS ONLY MEASURES WHAT IS TO BE SEEN, NOT WHAT LIES UNDERNEATH. IT IS ONLY CONCERNED WITH CERTAIN STUDENT OUTPUT. IT DOES NOT ACCOUNT FOR “INEQUITY & INEQUALITY,” “STRESS & VIOLENCE,” “SUPPORT FOR SCHOOLS,” AND “SUPPORT FOR YOUNG FAMILIES.”

Teachers and schools measured by EVAAS actually have to battle against all of the iceberg, not just the tip which is by far the smallest part of the iceberg.

The pandemic has shown us that.

The state pays more than three million dollars annually to SAS which was co-founded and is still run by Jim Goodnight who according to Forbes Magazine is one of the top donating executives to political campaigns. In 2016 he donated much to a PAC for Jeb Bush who while in Florida instituted the school performance grade system that North Carolina uses now – the same one that utilizes EVAAS reports to measure schools (https://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/blog/techflash/2015/10/forbes-sas-goodnight-among-tech-execs-for-top.html).

It also is worth looking at the fact that his wife, Ann Goodnight, is a co-founder and board member of BEST NC. When BEST NC had its 2018 legislative meeting it brought in the toxic Michelle Rhee and her campaign for value-added measurements to discuss policy. That “closed-door” meeting was held at SAS headquarters.

The fairly recent principal pay schedule that garnered well-deserved criticism was spearheaded by BEST NC with legislators behind the scenes over the summer utilizes EVAAS data.

Too much is being dictated by a private entity that is privately calculating data in a secret fashion to measure a public good and how much should be spent on that public good in a state that wants to privatize that public good.

There’s too much incestuous synergy there. And all of it is purposefully ignoring the part of the iceberg that is beneath the water line.

The pandemic certainly did not ignore what EVAAS ignores.

In using EVAAS, what the state of North Carolina is doing is sending schools on expeditions in remote icy waters without the use of radar and sonar to navigate themselves. It’s like the Titanic.

But instead of being surprised at the fact that the “unsinkable” actually succumbed to a lonely iceberg, the state has already made a hole in the hull for water to leak in, so even if the “ships” avoid hitting icebergs, they would already have a hard time reaching port. As the “unsinkable” ships begin to sink, the state says we must invest in other alternatives like charter school reform and vouchers, so the money starts going to other modes of “transportation.”

The problem is that the icebergs in our state are getting bigger and more are breaking off. As the income gap widens and as segregationist tendencies begin to take firmer root, systems like EVAAS will still serve as a façade of the actual truth which lies beneath the water.

Of course, SAS could release how it uses data and calculates its reports but that would require transparency.

But icebergs work best in cold, murky, choppy waters. And people in Raleigh like having big icebergs.

Loyalty Oaths, Constant Microphones, White “Discomfort” & No MLK: Possible In North Carolina?

Within the last few months, the number of bills introduced in state legislatures around the country by GOP majorities (such as we have here in NC) aimed at deprofessionalizing the teaching profession is rising.

It is not inconceivable to think that there are many in Raleigh who wish to introduce similar bills to gain more control over North Carolina’s public schools.

From Oklahoma:

An Oklahoma lawmaker wants to give parents the right to compel public school libraries to remove books that contains objectionable content of a sexual nature or addresses sexual preferences or sexual and gender identity.

Under Senate Bill 1142, if just one parent objects to a book it must be removed within 30 days. If it is not, the librarian must be fired and cannot work for any public school for two years. Parents can also collect at least $10,000 per day from school districts if the book is not removed as requested.”

This one from Indiana is not a bill per se, but the person who made this “request” is a lawmaker:

There’s always Florida:

CBS News reports that the legislation is being pitched by Florida State Rep. Bob Rommel, who says that he believes that teachers can be monitored constantly without any infringements on privacy.

“I think if we can do it in a safe way to protect the privacy of students and teachers, I think we should do it,” Rommel said. “I haven’t heard a response good or bad from any teachers, but … it’s not their private space. It’s our children’s space, too.”

Here’s one about “divisive concepts” from Virginia:

Can’t leave out Texas:

Presently, Texas law requires that public school teachers adequately instruct their students on “the history of white supremacy, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong.”

However, the bill, advanced on Friday along an 18-4 vote in the Republican-led Texas Senate, will effectively give school districts the choice to shape their own history curriculums. S.B. 3 falls in line with the broader conservative push to abolish educational mandates on what history teachers can and cannot teach in the classroom. 

Florida again:

A bill pushed by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that would prohibit public schools and private businesses from making white people feel “discomfort” when they teach students or train employees about discrimination in the nation’s past received its first approval Tuesday.

The Senate Education Committee approved the bill that takes aim at critical race theory — though it doesn’t mention it explicitly — on party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.

And New Hampshire:

The original 1949 law (NH Rev Stat § 191:1 ) states “No teacher shall advocate communism as a political doctrine or any other doctrine which includes the overthrow by force of the government of the United States or of this state in any public or state approved school or in any state institution.”

The proposed amendment expands that law to include socialism and Marxism, and adds to “doctrine” the words “or theory.” The proposal also adds two more sections to this “teachers’ loyalty” law.

No teacher shall advocate any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America in New Hampshire public schools which does not include the worldwide context of now outdated and discouraged practices. Such prohibition includes but is not limited to teaching that the United States was founded on racism.

North Carolina is not above any of this with the powers that be in our General Assembly.

The New Teacher Licensure Process Proposal: A Repackaging Of Failed Reform Measures And Initiatives

The following graphics summarize a new teacher licensure path as proposed by The Human Capital Roundtable. A good summary of this new proposal can be found on EdNC.org.

From that EdNC article:

The Human Capital Roundtable — a group of state education leaders and educators working on strategies to hire and keep good teachers — presented a set of recommendations to the State Board of Education, which was then forwarded to PEPSC in 2021.

The Roundtable concluded that the most effective way to get and keep teachers was to change North Carolina’s licensure process.

“The overarching goal is to create an outcomes-based licensure system,” Miller said.

Unless it is incredibly well explained in more detail, what these graphics really show is the reshuffling of failed reform measures and initiatives from the past decade being melded together, re-wrapped, and presented as a brand new solution to a problem created by our North Carolina General Assembly.

Merit pay, EVAAS, more evaluation systems based on testing, no adherence to Leandro, no graduate degree pay, no due-process rights, more classes with more students, etc.

All been done already.

What this is is another blueprint for making sure that fewer teachers in this state retire as career educators.

And if you have not read Kim Mackey’s brilliant piece offering solid solutions to our teacher candidate shortage, please do.

About That New Teacher Licensure Process Proposal

This graphic summarizing a new teacher licensure path has been in the works for a while, but not really introduced as a formal proposal until recently.

A good summary of this new proposal can be found on EdNC.org.

That report states:

Miller (Supt. of Greene County Schools) presented along with Tom Tomberlin, director of educator recruitment and support at the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI). They talked first about the work of the Human Capital Roundtable on licensure.

The Human Capital Roundtable — a group of state education leaders and educators working on strategies to hire and keep good teachers — presented a set of recommendations to the State Board of Education, which was then forwarded to PEPSC in 2021.

The Roundtable concluded that the most effective way to get and keep teachers was to change North Carolina’s licensure process.

“The overarching goal is to create an outcomes-based licensure system,” Miller said.

If there is one thing that is true is that this state is having a very hard time recruiting and keeping teachers in our schools.

Funny, there is already an initiative to get teachers in our classrooms: TeachNC. But that initiative really has shown nothing more than how many vacancies our state has in public education.

Here’s today’s numbers (as of this morning, 1/21/22):

That’s 22,696 total vacancies in our schools reported to TeachNC. Of those, 8338 are for classroom teachers.

If you look at the entire article, you will see that BEST NC is part of the teacher recruitment aspect of this overall plan. Actually, they already have been part of it.

They are a primary component of that TeachNC initiative.

But it’s the “outcomes-based” part of the proposal that really shows the disconnect in this entire plan. VAM, EVAAS, test scores, merit pay, and etc. all have been introduced before in this state and not improved “outcomes.”

What they need to focus on is what should be in place for teachers and students in schools before they even talk about “outcomes.”

Here’s a good place to start. And much more time and research went into it. It’s all right here – Sound Basic Education for All – An Action Plan for North Carolina.

It’s also known as the Leandro Report.

  • Finding #1: Funding in North Carolina has declined over the last decade.
  • Finding #2: The current distribution of education funding is inequitable.
  • Finding #3: Specific student populations need higher levels of funding.
  • Finding #4: Greater concentrations of higher-needs students increases funding needs.
  • Finding #5: Regional variations in costs impact funding needs.
  • Finding #6: The scale of district operations impacts costs.
  • Finding #7: Local funding and the Classroom Teacher allotments create additional funding inequities.
  • Finding #8: New constraints on local flexibility hinder district ability to align resources with student needs.
  • Finding #9: Restrictions on Classroom Teacher allotments reduce flexibility and funding levels.
  • Finding #10: Frequent changes in funding regulations hamper budget planning.
  • Finding #11: The state budget timeline and adjustments create instability.
  • Finding #12: There is inadequate funding to meet student needs.

But DPI seems to have a big aversion to anything dealing with Leandro.

The State Superintendent’s War On Another CRT

The shallow attack on public schools concerning the mythical teaching of Critical Race Theory has been well documented. Even though the theory itself is not taught in North Carolina schools, “CRT” has become so broadly “defined” that it has come to mean so much more than a legal theory taught in the last year of law school.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt sure has embraced that ever-evolving definition of a concept not taught in public schools and made it an umbrella term for anything she deems as exposing the fact that racism still is very much present our society.

Last June she offered these insights to political cohorts on her definition of CRT.

“It’s the idea that every aspect of American society is racist. That racism permeates every aspect of our society, even though we have laws that we have passed and enacted on the books that are moving us towards a more perfect union. Okay. That is what critical race theory is. Critical race theory proponents also believe that because those laws were in place in 1783, that they can never really be amended, and therefore our nation will always be flawed. And that, my friends, goes against my core belief as a Christian.”

But that CRT is not the only “CRT” she is waging a battle against.

There is also a battle against Critical, Real Thinking.

And that “CRT” is actually being taught in our schools.

Just a week ago, Truitt made this statement:

“We’ve got to redefine what the purpose of K-12 education is. Some would say it’s to produce critical thinkers. But my team and I believe that the purpose of a public K-12 education is to prepare students for post-secondary plans of their choice so that they can be a functioning member of the workforce.”

– STATE SUPERINTENDENT CATHERINE TRUITT, JANUARY 6TH, 2022

In that same presentation, she actually named 2022 “The Year of the Workforce.”

From EdNC.com on January 7th:

Interestingly enough, Alex Granados mentioned in the same EdNC article that “critical thinking” was highly desired by potential employers.

But according to a study on employer views from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 95% of employers view critical thinking specifically as “very important” or “somewhat important.”

“Critical thinking and analysis, problem-solving, teamwork, and communication through writing and speaking have consistently been ranked highest over time,” the study said in reference to employer surveys.

That very study offers this data graph:

The war on this “CRT” is rather ironic considering that Truitt has been championing the “science of reading” in our schools – especially elementary schools. Last May she stated,

“We are hard-wired to learn how to speak. We are not hard-wired to learn how to read,” Truitt said. “Various places in the brain have to be firing and working at the same time in order for reading to take place. It’s not a visual activity; it’s a language activity.”

Interesting that Truitt wants students to be able to critically read. Yet, critical thinking would be the ability to evaluate any information and ideas presented in that reading.

It’s almost like she wants students to be able to read but not think about what they read and even pass any judgement on the material.

We Can’t “Bonus” Our Way Out Of This Pandemic

Remember that teachers no longer receive longevity pay like other state employees. Remember that bonuses are not salary increases. They are usually one-time or two-time payments. Also remember that bonuses get “withheld” at higher rates and that none of it can go toward retirement.

Image result for bonus pay stock

And there are two more distinct things that you need to know about these bonuses that actually show the deflated reality of this “reward” to teachers.

First, they are not recurring. Yes, they are nice. Yes, educators need the money. But bonuses are not something any educator can always rely on and set a personal budget around.

Secondly, the money for raises is already there. This state has been sitting on incredible surpluses. The argument that those powers that be is that if we tax corporations less, then workers will get more wages and if we lower taxes, citizens will keep more in their pockets.

That means entities such as public schools suffer because the extra $100 a year you might save on taxes as a person to buy a few meals at Chic-Fil-A in those twelve months affects the ability of public schools to adequately serve the entire community. It also means that there is the assumption corporations will automatically pass their savings on to its workers in the form of raises.

That is the political narrative that has to be obeyed.

But the reality is that we are losing teachers. We do not have enough teacher candidates. Schools are at a breaking point. There are not enough resources. Actually, there are not enough educators and support staff now. There were not before the pandemic.

Bonuses will not keep teachers in the classrooms.

Investing in public education on a recurring basis can.

And we can start with LEANDRO.

An Open Letter In Support Of Our School System Superintendent

Open Letter - Yale Daily News

News that there was a $16 million mistake in budgeting for raises in local supplements came as a shock. Overstating how much money was actually available for announced and approved raises by that amount is an egregious mistake. The timing, the context, and the environment of our school system made the situation that much more deflating. Naturally anger and frustration arise.

Mistakes such as this mathematical blunder would certainly cost people their job. WSFCS is one of the largest employers in the county and this school system is the 5th largest in the state. That monetary mistake affects a few thousand people.

It might be easy to put blame on the office of the superintendent for this situation. You can dissect the letter or the words of the voice message and question many things: How long had they known about the mistake? What were the checks and balances in place and why did they not work? Why do we not know exactly what happened in the restructuring of the Finance department?

Answers to those questions and others not yet asked will come – maybe during the Tuesday school board meeting.

But any mention that our superintendent should resign or be fired for this mistake should not be acted upon. This teacher supports her being in that office.

Can you think of a more difficult time to become the superintendent of a large school system than these last 18 months? In this state? Under the circumstances in which the office had become vacant? In the past three years, that office has had four different people serving as super (remember we had an interim after one resignation).

To come in and replace every person in every position in Central Office after every new superintendent took control is unrealistic. To do it during these last 18 months while dealing with the pandemic is fantasy.

What this superintendent has done is consistently listen to teachers and take time to communicate with as many stakeholders in the public school system as possible. Openly and in personal conversations shared with me, I have only known of her to be positive and put the students first.

This is a situation that could be remedied. The school board, the county commissioners, Central Office can come together and find a resolution. The superintendent can make sure that can happen.

We need continuity. We need a leader willing to learn from mistakes even if she is not the person who made them. We need someone who is student and teacher- centered.

We are still in unprecedented times as far as public schools are concerned.

I support this superintendent.

From #JustAsk To A 16 Million Dollar Mistake – Of Course Teachers Are Angry

And they should be angry.

Remember that in September 2018 a video come to light concerning a May 2018 in which then superintendent Dr. Beverly Emory presented the school system budget request to the county Board of Commissioners and the issue of teacher supplements was brought up.

That original nine-minute video can be seen here:  https://youtu.be/M8HZuerdTE0.

In September of 2018, the Winston-Salem Journal ran a report about that video along with news of a video response by the superintendent to try and explain what actually may have happened.

After a video of a meeting between Superintendent Beverly Emory and the Forsyth County commissioners circulated on social media over the weekend, several educators expressed concern that the school district isn’t being aggressive enough in asking for more money for teachers supplements.

WS/FCS is one of the largest public school districts in North Carolina, but ranks 26th in supplements, according to data on the Department of Public Instruction’s website. With a budget vote expected at Tuesday’s school-board meeting, that gap is likely to be one of the most talked-about issues.

On Sunday, several postings of the video from the commissioners’ May 10 meeting included the hashtag #JustAsk, imploring the superintendent and school board to ask the county for money for supplements.

The video, running a little more than nine minutes, features comments from commissioners Everette Witherspoon and Don Martin, himself a former Forsyth superintendent.“I hope that the school board actually asks for more money to deal with the teacher-supplement issue because we are behind,” Witherspoon says in the video.“We’re not going to be asking you about it; you need to do the asking of us with a proposal or an idea or whatever,” Martin says.

Emory responded Tuesday with her own video, saying work has been ongoing behind the scenes between her, other district staff and the school board to find ways to improve the teacher-supplement formula and find a sustainable source of revenue for ongoing supplement improvements (https://www.journalnow.com/news/local/justask-to-justaskme-conversations-around-teacher-supplements-in-winston-salem/article_2c977317-f782-5edf-90a8-83ebaba4c8aa.html). 

Fast forward a little over three years, two more superintendents, a global pandemic, an extended budget approval process by the state, more gerrymandered districts, and unfounded attacks on the teaching profession and we in our district finally receive news that local supplements will increase significantly. It might have kept teachers from leaving the district or even the profession altogether.

Yes, local supplements mean that much.

And then this:

That specific report in the Winston-Salem Journal stated,

Superintendent Tricia McManus said in a message to the district’s certified staff on Thursday night said that because of the calculation error, the amount the school board had approved was roughly $16 million dollars more than what had been budgeted for local increases.

This teacher got that message on Thursday night at the dinner table using the speaker phone as my family was finishing our meal. In all honesty, I thought it was to announce a possible delay with the temperatures below freezing and chance of precipitation.

That message was a gut punch. Teachers have every right to be angry.

For MANY reasons.

First, the timing. It is the new year. It was the anniversary of the January 6th insurrection on the Capitol. It only reminded me and others of the division in our country, but it reiterated how much public schools and teachers have been thrown into the middle of that “fight for the soul of our country.”

Secondly, there was a validated expectation that the local supplement was official and ready to be instituted. The school board had already voted and approved it. The numbers were published. Teachers and the their families were already budgeting that increase for various expenses.

Next, it seems to be yet another way that teachers and public school educators have been victimized by neglect. This North Carolina General Assembly has not been kind to teachers for over 10 years. This state has a teacher shortage, a teacher candidate shortage, a rise in early retirements, and ever increasing expectations placed on public schools to fulfill duties with less resources.

This state is at a precipice when it comes to public education. If you think this year seems to be rough as far as teacher retention is concerned, next year will be worse.

Lastly, there is that trust issue. It was eroding before this bit of news. That process just got “ramped” up many times over.

Local supplements are not one-time bonuses. It is part of the salary for teachers. Bonuses are non-recurring and are taxed as gifts. Raises in local supplements are recurring and effect retirement. The news we received about a clerical error did not just affect this year, but all years if not remedied.

If there is one thing that teachers have shown and somehow extended in abundance throughout the last two years, it is grace. Adapting to what this pandemic has done to schools and the effects on our students and families has been one of the most taxing experiences (physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually) any teacher could never have imagined going through.

Hard to keep extending grace in situations like this.

If the last two years have shown our country anything, it is that schools are about so much more than academics. They are a fabric that holds communities together. But schools and the people who make them work must have foundational supports from officials in Central Office, local politicians, and school boards

When those supports become unstable or are not carefully maintained, then we all suffer for it.

This system already has too many vacancies.

I sincerely hope that this school board and our school system officials can restore at least some of the trust that was lost this past week.