Helping teachers make the grade in Lubbock, Texas
Value-added reporting enables school district to track student growth and study best practices
Michelle Watts always thought of herself as a teacher who was particularly effective with struggling learners. But when a value-added analysis of student test scores came back, it suggested she was more effective with middle- and high-achieving students. Watts studied what she was doing and made two changes: adding after-school tutoring to serve her high-needs kids and changing her in-class delivery. “I use different wordings. Sometimes, I simplify what I’m saying, or I speak more slowly,” says the middle school language arts teacher. “I don’t change what I teach, I change how I do it.”
It helped the teachers see that they really were making a difference in the lives of kids …
Principal, Bozeman Elementary
The Lubbock Independent School District where Watts works uses the SAS® EVAAS® for K-12 value-added reporting system to track student growth. EVAAS doesn’t use raw test scores or base growth on the percentage of students testing as proficient or advanced. Instead, it compares a student’s performance to his or her previous performance over multiple years. “What EVAAS did for us was provide a jumping-off place to begin my work with students. It also validated what we were doing so we could move forward and get better at it,” says Watts, who now takes time each year to evaluate how different subsets of students do and how she can help those who haven’t grown as much as her other groups.
Small group focus yields big results
Robin Fulbright spent 22 years teaching fifth-grade math at Murfee Elementary School before joining the professional development department at the school district’s central office. She says she historically had the highest value-added scores while teaching Advanced Level 3 students. “Last year, my data was not as high as previous years. I would not have known my children didn’t make the projected growth because my students’ STAAR [State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness] test scores were awesome,” Fulbright says, adding, “EVAAS caused me to pause and reflect on what I could have done differently or would do in the future. I trust the process. Did I really pull out my small groups like I should have? Could I have used that time more effectively? Did I neglect my higher-achieving group and worry more about my lower-end group? That reflection is the key to growing and improving.”
Working smarter, not harder
Value-added reporting doesn’t just help teachers, it provides administrators with insight into instructional trends that can affect an entire school. When Amy Stephens took over as Principal at struggling Bozeman Elementary school five years ago, she knew that classroom management was thought to equate to good instruction. But EVAAS data suggested that students in the most orderly classrooms weren’t progressing more than others. Stephens met with teachers individually to go over EVAAS scores and brainstorm alternatives if the value-added scores suggested high numbers of students weren’t making an expected amount of progress.
“[EVAAS] gave me something concrete to use to sit down and have some really tough conversations with teachers,” says Stephens. More importantly, it also gave teachers insight into improvements – even if the students still didn’t reach grade level on state tests. EVAAS looks at improvement over time. So if a student tests well below grade level one year, but moves to near grade level the next – that is a reason to celebrate.
“That really helped boost teacher morale and keep them engaged. When I became principal at Bozeman in 2008, we had 13 brand new teachers. In the 2012-2013 school year, the last that Bozeman was open, we only had one new teacher. Throughout the years that we had the EVAAS data, the maximum number of new teachers we had was three.”
Stephens believes the low turnover rate, in large part, can be attributed to the EVAAS data. “It helped the teachers see that they really were making a difference in the lives of kids and that they were progressing in the right direction,” says Stephens. “The last year we were open, when we reached our highest EVAAS progress level, we also were the second highest scoring elementary school in our quadrant and received a progress distinction from the state.”
Stephens says the EVAAS data also helped shift the culture on teacher evaluations. Teachers used to feel admonished if they didn’t get an “exceeds” for every box checked on a review, “Whether that ‘exceeds’ translates to student learning or not,” Stephens says. The EVAAS data gives them specific areas where they can focus on improvement efforts. As Texas moves toward adding value-added data as a component of teacher evaluation, Stephens is enthusiastic. “I am excited about having this piece in the future evaluation process – not any kind of a ‘gotcha,’ but to start changing that culture to a growth model and what are we doing to ensure all students are learning.”
Analytics allows administrators to study the best practices of successful teachers
For teachers that are still skeptical of what value-added data can offer them, look no further than the research done by Dr. Kathy Rollo, Associate Superintendent in Lubbock. She recently used EVAAS in her doctoral research. She surveyed eight teachers with consecutive growth in their value-added estimates from 2010-2012 to find out what contributed to their success.
“The teachers attributed the growth to the use of humor in the classroom and building their own capacity to use multiple resources, including their own creativity, with their professional growth,” notes Rollo. In an era when some teachers view testing as a drain on their profession, those answers are illuminating. There were some other common attributes to these teachers: They reflect regularly on which lessons worked and which didn’t, are eager for training, appreciate professional learning communities and have principals who are visible in their classrooms on a regular basis. The teacher with the highest consecutive improvement in EVAAS measures “understood the data and used it to guide instructional practice. She was also diligent about reflecting upon every lesson and determining what had worked and what had not in order to improve student learning in the classroom,” Rollo says.
Ultimately, Rollo thinks the key is for principals and teachers to understand how value-added data works, “to drive instructional decisions to obtain the maximum growth.”
Help teachers craft lesson plans to help all students achieve learning growth.
- Teachers can see how they do with students of different ability levels and gain validation for methods they are using.
- Administrators can get an overall sense of what works and what doesn’t by seeing how students grow (or don’t).