Today it is common knowledge that a classroom teacher is the single largest in-school influence on student academic growth. So when South Carolina received ESEA flexibility in July, 2012, the State Department of Education immediately began an initiative empowering teachers to increase their own effectiveness. Known as the Educator Evaluation System Pilot, it included value-added measures for 23 School Improvement Grant (SIG) schools in 2012. In 2013, the pilot expanded to include new observation rubrics and value-added measures for 46 schools across the state.
These teacher evaluation tools provided educators with more meaningful feedback, not only to measure their performance, but also to improve upon it. Oftentimes value-added data is presented as a single number. How can that help teachers grow professionally and improve their practice? South Carolina went beyond providing a sole value-added rating for teachers to provide a comprehensive reporting system that includes reflective, diagnostic, and predictive tools for teacher and school improvement. This type of data “toolkit” is critical to better support teachers’ professional growth through differentiated professional development, meaningful evaluation conferences and goal setting.
Mona Lise Dickson is a Principal at Lady’s Island Middle School in the Beaufort County School District. She expressed that once her teachers were given the time to understand the new evaluation system, they invested themselves and began to improve.
“EVAAS indicated to us that teachers were having a hard time with their lowest achievers, and that some gifted kids were losing ground once they arrived in middle school, so we focused professional development on the skills needed to reach those kids. Additionally, if we have two teachers, one that is value-added Level 5 and the other a Level 2, we can pair them. The collaboration improves the Level 2 teacher. EVAAS helps teachers look at data as a lens for student growth. Teachers can look at students compared against themselves, so they can really see how much impact they’ve had.”
This concentration on student growth resulted in increased student achievement on the state PASS test. The percentage of students at the “Met” or “Exemplary” performance levels increased by 10.6% in 6th grade English Language Arts and by 15.7% in 6th grade Science. According to Principal Dickson, this improvement resulted from school leaders and teachers taking ownership over their impact on student growth and sharing it in a culture of trust.
“We’ve had Master Teachers come in to explain to their colleagues how to use EVAAS. Many teachers embrace the opportunity to grow themselves and their students. They are open to changing the way they teach. They see the growth and internalize it. One teacher said they were teaching in the dark until EVAAS helped show them their weak areas.”
Identification of those weak areas informs professional development. When principals spend scarce resources on professional development, they want to make sure they are giving each individual teacher what he or she needs most. EVAAS diagnostic reporting helped Principal Brenda Romines do just that. At Bell Street Middle School in Laurens 56 School District, Principal Romines tailors professional development and backs-up the observation ratings she gives teachers with student growth evidence.
“When I have conferences with teachers, I share not just how they’ve done the past year, but over a progression of years. I can show them where they are effective with certain populations of students. For instance, if a teacher shows growth with high-achieving kids, but less growth with low-achieving ones, we can look into what factors may contribute to that. I can also use that information to place teachers where they can have the greatest impact on student learning. This isn’t about dismissing teachers, it’s about how we can improve instructional practice. What does the analysis tell teachers about their classroom? What can they do to give their students a year’s worth of growth? EVAAS helps them see areas of strength and weaknesses with students and make a professional development plan that promotes growth of students and themselves.”
Data literacy has become a systemic part of not only evaluation, but also school improvement, at Bell Street Middle School. Educators pour over value-added and other data sources in quarterly meetings. Principal Romines noted how educators even share these data in conferences with students so that each child can understand how they are growing.
“I ask my teachers to invest their heart and soul into the use of data. We have individual conferences to determine what a teacher can do differently, and we’re constantly going back to the data to refine what we look at as a school and teacher. The data help me have difficult conversations. Sometimes we have weaker teachers and we try to pair them with a stronger one. We don’t want a child to sit in two weak teacher’s classrooms. These are tough conversations, but the kids are worth it.”
With exceptional growth as a leading indicator, improved student achievement came next at Bell Street Middle School. In just one year, from 2012-13, the percentage of students achieving “Met” or “Exemplary” performance levels on the state PASS tests (across all grades and subjects) increased by over 7%.
These are two exemplary schools, but one may wonder how the larger group of pilot districts performed as compared to the State. Student growth is reported by five effectiveness categories. In English Language Arts, Math and Science, there were 13.4% fewer pilot schools in the lowest effectiveness category in 2013 compared to 2012. It is reassuring that the intensive supports provided to these pilot schools did appear to improve student outcomes in the first year and that participating educators recognize value-added reporting as a useful part of the evaluation process.
Part 2 of this blog series will take a deeper look at how teachers can improve their value-added performance, or impact on student growth, by using these data to place greater focus on individual student needs.
 Marzano, R. J. (2010). Developing expert teachers. In R. J. Marzano (Ed.), On excellence in teaching (pp. 213-245). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.