Why do we trust superintendents more than teachers? The Case of Houston ISD

Posted on October 22, 2011

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In an article in the Texas Watchdog at:

http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2011/10/houston-isd-school-trustees-begin-terry-grier-evaluation/1319204896.column

The article states:

But Grier’s performance review is just beginning, said Trustee Julie Stipeche, who represents HISD District VIII.

“Today was the first day we, as a board, had the opportunity to review the data the administration provided us,” Stipeche said. “Everybody fills out an evaluation form and those are ultimately aggregated.”

Now, does Houston allow teachers to provide their own data to their evaluators?  Of course not!!! Because teachers simply cannot be trusted in these times. Yet, we trust the superintendent?

In a district that spends large sums of money on some questionable expenditures, why wouldn’t the Trustees hire an outside consultant to evaluate the progress of the district. The district spends millions of dollars to hire outside consultants to evaluate teachers, why not a $100,000 to evaluate the progress of the entire district? Now, maybe HISD does hire an outside consultant. But no one has indicated as such and I seriously doubt that they do.

I can guarantee one thing–many of the metrics provided to the board will be inappropriate to make judgments such as overall student progress and closing the achievement gap. The board will be provided the percentage of students meeting minimum competency, commended status, and college-readiness standards each year. The text will suggest that the large increases in the percentages accurately capture student achievement growth. Except, as Koretz (2008) lays out in language intended for lay persons, using percentages to estimate student growth provides inaccurate results.

The same is true for the achievement gap. Almost every district in the country assesses the achievement gap by examining the percentages of students from different subgroups passing various tests. Yet, again, Koretz (2008) shows that using percentages results in inaccurate conclusions.

Moreover, who decides what to include and not include in a presentation of data wields an enormous amount of power. Even within the parameters set forth by the board, someone can decide to slant the data to look favorable or unfavorable. An independent evaluation would examine the data from all perspectives and report the good and the bad.

The data is available for a full, robust evaluation of ANY district in Texas. A number of researchers (like myself) have access to student-level test scores for all students across the state. The data can be used to compare students and schools in HISD to comparison schools from across the state.

Yet, most districts rely on internal data provided by the district from well-intentioned data analysts who often lack the training and expertise to accurately analyze the data. Further, anyone employed by the district working on data analysis of district progress has a clear conflict of interest. The same goes with any company having a track record of employment with HISD such as SAS that does the teacher value-added measurements (in a simplistic way that likely leads to inaccurate estimations of teacher effectiveness I might add).

Do you honestly believe the HISD research department oor long-term consultants will highlight the warts of HISD? Yeah, me neither. They are good people, but they know darn well who butters their bread.

I challenge Superintendent Grier and the HISD school board–as well as all other major districts in the state–to hold superintendents to the same standards as they do teachers or start letting teachers turn in their own portfolios of their effectiveness like superintendents get to do. HISD has made one good step in this direction by looking at both subjective and objective indicators, but they need to go one step further and hire an independent evaluator to get the REAL story through accurate and unbiased examinations of data about the district.

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