Today's news -- February 17, 2012




Inside the mathematical equation that will grade and pay teachers

School has always been about grading students. But now 24 states in the country are starting to grade teachers. Florida is using a mathematical formula to calculate how well teachers are doing their jobs. The grade it spits out will determine how much a teacher gets paid and whether that teacher can keep his or her job. But the formula is so complex teachers don’t understand how it works. Orlando Sarduy, a college math major, teaches advanced calculus at Coral Reef High School in Miami-Dade County. Just reading the formula is difficult for him. “I would really challenge any sort of decision maker to look at [the formula] and explain it,” Sarduy said. “I understand just the basics, but this is really the technical nitty-gritty of what’s going on, and to me it looks the same as it would to a lay person, like ‘what's going on here?” The formula is designed to predict how students will score on the state's standardized exam -- the FCAT. And then it pays teachers if their students hit that predicted score, or not. The formula takes into account school and student characteristics that Florida says has predictive value over how well a student is going to do in school. Florida decided that there are only 10 factors that matter. They chose things like the number of students in a classroom, whether English is a student’s first language, attendance rates or disability status. The statisticians created a formula that gives each of the 10 factors a certain weight in the formula. That’s how the statisticians and policymakers who created the formula explained it to Miami Herald education writer Laura Isensee. For example: If a student misses 5 days of school, the statisticians determine what the effect of missing 5 days of school will have on that student’s standardized test score. The statisticians do this for each factor and every student. In the end it predicts what a student’s test score should be given all their factors. “And that prediction will be the grading stick for the teacher,” Isensee said. “If the student gets higher than the predicted score, the state thinks, ‘they must've had good teacher.’ If a student scores below the predicted score, then the teacher could be in trouble.” The state has a list of all the different weights for all the factors. But Isensee said, “The weights are all over the place, even for kids who seem to be in the same situation.” So if the factor for a sixth grader in reading class is that he's an English language learner, that affects their predicted test score with a weight of -7.3, but the weight is +12.9 for a tenth grader in reading class who is also an English language learner. “I tried to understand why the impact is so different for everyone and the statisticians basically told me, ‘don't worry about it, that's the formula's job. The formula knows how much weight to give everything.’” Isensee says the formula requires a lot of trust. “The teachers have to trust that the policy makers chose the right factors, and the policymakers have to trust that the statisticians came up with an accurate formula." Kathy Hebda is with the Florida Department of Education. She says the formula Florida created is a state of the art model. “We’re very confident in the process and the approach we’ve taken," Hebda said. "We have contracted with leading national experts... we have a statewide committee that is steering the process and making recommendations to the commissioner about the model, that’s made up primarily of teacher. That kind of input and guidance is extremely important to make sure that the model works properly.” Teachers like Sarduy are skeptical. He questions why Florida only chose 10 factors to begin with. There could be hundreds of factors that impact how well a student does in school, he said. “[The formula is] only as good as the variables that you’re actually looking out for … as well as the test that you’re using to measure. At the backbone of this is still an exam that’s made up.”


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Rankings of the States 2011 and Estimates of School Statistics 2012

The data presented in this combined report -- Rankings & Estimates -- provide facts about the extent to which local, state, and national governments commit resources to public education. NEA Research offers this report to its state and local affiliates as well as to researchers, policymakers and the public as a tool to examine public education policies, programs and services. Rankings provides state-level data on an array of topics relevant to the complex enterprise of public education. Since the 1960s, Rankings has presented facts and figures useful in determining how states differ from one another -- or from national averages -- on selected statistics. Estimates, in its 67th year of production, provides projections of public school enrollment, employment and compensation of personnel, and finances, as reported by individual state departments of education.


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Pension bill stalls in Senate panel as unions sort out objections

A Senate panel decided to delay its decision on a pension measure on Thursday, allowing time for various labor organizations to work out their different concerns. The bill would do something all the unions say they support. It would roll back an increase in the retirement age for special-risk employees, such as police and firefighters, that lawmakers passed last session. However, state law requires changes to public employee retirement benefits to be actuarially sound, and provisions intended to offset the cost of that change have proved contentious for organizations that represent other employees, including some firefighters. The cost-saving portions of the bill would increase the vesting period for the defined-benefit retirement plan from eight years to 11, and make the defined-contribution investment plan the default retirement option for new hires. Although neither change would affect current employees, the unions worried that SB 1334 would essentially require other classes of employees to subsidize the rollback of the retirement age. "To the extent that this Legislature wants to benefit our correctional officers, we stand with you 100 percent," said Kevin Watson, representing the Florida Education Association. "We simply don't want to be the bank that funds it." Government Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, moved to delay a vote on the measure sponsored by Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, until next week's meeting to give the different parties a chance to find an amicable way to fund the change. "Whoever gets this additional benefit has to fund it. That's essentially where we're going," he said.


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