By Sandra Mansour and Sarah Arrington
This month, the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) continues its efforts to make education research and policy concepts accessible to all stakeholders in our communities. The May 2020 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), which examines teacher evaluations and support during COVID-19 and one from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), which examines the impact of school closures during the current health emergency on student achievement.
As we have done in previous posts, the State Board will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.
“Teacher evaluations and support during COVID-19 closures,” National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), May 2020
Summary: Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) examined 44 school districts’ teacher evaluation methods. So far, only 18 districts have agreements that mention how they will approach teacher evaluations in the context of distance learning and school closures. Of those 18, only 13 districts have come to a decision about how they will proceed. The three common responses NCTQ has found include: 1) suspend the evaluation process for the rest of the 2019-20 school year; 2) keep only formative evaluations for this school year; or 3) issue summative evaluations when possible.
Seven districts have decided to move forward with summative evaluations for teachers that had enough evidence before school closures, including Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. If a school did not have enough evidence of a teacher’s ability before the closures started, the school will either cancel or delay their evaluation of that teacher. Three districts—Albuquerque, Boston, and Dallas—will proceed with formative evaluations, meaning they will use the data they’ve already collected to give teachers support and feedback, but will not issue an evaluation rating. The other three districts have stopped the teacher evaluation process altogether for this school year.
While districts may not be giving teachers formal ratings, NCTQ believes that it is crucially important that districts continue to give their teachers feedback and support. Distance learning during COVID-19 school closures have presented both teachers and students with a brand-new learning environment, and NCTQ believes that teachers need guidance to continue quality instruction. Ideally, this support would also continue once teachers and students return to physical classrooms.
State Board Context: The D.C. State Board of Education has heard testimony from District residents and reviewed research which both suggest that the rate of teacher attrition in the District, 25 percent, is higher than the national average which is only 16 percent. The State Board is dedicated to further understanding the cause of this high teacher turnover rate and what can be done to improve it. The State Board’s most recent work on teacher retention is a survey which was sent to over 2,000 recently exited teachers. The survey explored why teachers voluntarily resigned or quit their position at a school, sector, or profession entirely. The independently contracted survey researcher also held focus groups and follow-up interviews to ascertain what could have been done to help the teachers stay at their school. The survey report found that:
- IMPACT, the teacher evaluation system, was the primary departure driver in DCPS
- Burdens of work culture and workload were primary departure reasons in public charter schools
- Lack of support for teacher safety and mental health led to departure
- Tensions with school leaders created hostile work environments
The State Board recognizes that the current global pandemic will likely exacerbate the pre-existing issues that District teachers face, like the effect of teacher evaluations such as IMPACT on teacher attrition. Local education agencies (LEAs) should evaluate how they will approach teacher evaluations during this time of distance learning. It is imperative that teachers continue to receive support and guidance throughout online learning and during the adjustment back to in-person learning. In its May Public Meeting, the State Board discussed a resolution that would ask the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to consider implementing a statewide professional development program for both teachers with less than five years of experience and school-level leadership. The State Board will revisit it in its June Public Meeting and will continue to hear testimony from teachers so that it can support them in providing all students in the District with the best education possible.
Summary: As the school year comes to a close in most places, researchers are trying to make educated guesses about how the COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate opportunity gaps in education among students and widen the achievement gap. This NWEA research brief looked at seasonal patterns of learning loss in order to make projections about COVID-19 learning losses. Past seasonal learning research findings include three key trends: achievement typically declines over the summer months, declines are usually steeper for math than for reading, and the extent of loss increases in higher grades.
NWEA used historical data on summer learning loss and a national sample of over five million students, grades 3–8, who took growth assessments in the 2017–18 school year, to project possible learning loss in mathematics and reading for 3rd through 8th grade learners. While these models predict learning loss, the study acknowledges that summer learning loss data is different from distance learning data, since it is assumed that students are not receiving instruction during the summer. Researchers also extrapolated data as a starting point for distance learning losses. From data, they created two projections: a COVID-19 slowdown, where students would maintain the same level of academic achievement exhibited when schools closed (set as March 15, 2020), and a COVID-19 slide, where they projected the typical academic setbacks of the summer, but starting at the March 15 closure. The COVID-19 slowdown showed lower scores compared to where students would have ended on the typical last day of school. The COVID-19 slide suggested even worse learning loss than traditional summer learning loss because both declines started with lower March scores.
These projections suggest major academic setbacks for students from COVID-19 closures, especially in math. COVID-19 slide estimates predict that students will return to school in fall 2020 with roughly 70 percent of their learning gains for reading, and 50 percent of their learning gains for math, relative to a typical school year. Some grades suggest that students could return nearly a full year behind in math.
State Board Context: The State Board is committed to ensuring that all D.C. students have equal access to educational opportunities in order to be successful in school and prepared for their future careers. Specifically, this means that the State Board strives to hear from underrepresented student populations like students considered at-risk, students experiencing homelessness, students who identify as LGBTQ, and students with other unique requirements. In order to support these student groups, the State Board has been collecting information and hearing from constituents about how COVID-19 closures have impacted student learning. As distance learning may be needed in the next school year, the State Board will continue to assess the current learning environment so that its work continues to examine the pandemic’s effects on student achievement and outcomes.