Scottsdale Schools looks to amend its teacher classification method

A view of SUSD Governing Board members Barbara Perleberg, George Jackson, Kim Hartman and Pam Kirby. (file photo)

A view of SUSD Governing Board members Barbara Perleberg, George Jackson, Kim Hartman and Pam Kirby. (file photo)

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board appears poised to alter its evaluation system for teacher classification at the Oct. 18 governing board meeting.

During an Oct. 6 study session the Governing Board was presented with an initial review of the system by Assistant Superintendent of Personnel and Specialized Services, Dr. Pam Sitton.

Following a shift to better understand and use data within the school district, the teacher re-classification will be an adjustment to better serve its students and teachers.

According to state statute, school districts adopt an evaluation system that includes a teacher classification system with the following performance classifications: highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective.

The law also requires that 33-50 percent of the classification system be tied to quantitative data on student academic progress, according to Dr. Sitton.

In December 2011 the Governing Board approved the Scottsdale Schools teacher classification system was developed by the Teacher Evaluation Committee.

This system filtered teachers into two groups:

Teachers in group A were categorized based on a teacher evaluation worth 65 percent; growth based pre- and post-tests worth 33 percent; and a district letter grade worth 2 percent.

Teachers in group B were categorized based on a teacher evaluation worth 65 percent; a district letter grade worth 33 percent; and parent satisfaction survey results worth 2 percent.

Following meetings with the Teacher Evaluation Committee and the Principal Evaluation Committee, the groups are proposing getting rid of the pre- and post-tests, including the district letter grade as part of the teacher evaluation, and using school-wide data based on AzMERIT tests.

This would classify every teacher as a “B” teacher, explained Dr. Sitton.

“So because it is schoolwide data and not individual data, every teacher would become a ‘B’ teacher,” she said. “And in that, we would have just the two components and use the AzMERIT.”

The classification would now be: evaluation is worth 67 percent; and the school-wide AzMERIT data would result for the other 33 percent.

Why change?

The shift is not uncommon, Dr. Anna McCauley, assistant superintendent of accountability and instruction, told the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board.

“A lot of districts have gone this direction,” she said.

When evaluating classrooms by statistical data, different variables can skew the results. Although it would be nice to chase down every variable, that isn’t possible, explained Dr. McCauley.

“Once you get down into your smaller end counts at the classroom level, now I’m losing a little bit of those large numbers,” she explained. “So when you have a lot of variability in a small population what happens is you can’t get a small statistical value when you’re measuring for growth.”

Dr. McCauley provided an example of a classroom that has a cluster of students who might be struggling.

“Their results are going to off-set that and then your statistical significance goes away and so now, I’m at ‘OK, was there growth or wasn’t there?’” she asked.

“The other issue is that when you have those types of affects, and sometimes there’s carry-over affects from the last teacher still at play. So now we’re trying to rate one teacher based on this data that we know.”

Another red-flag, said Dr. McCauley, is the pre- and post-tests — a test given to students at the beginning of the school year that consists of curriculum they are expected to learn during the current school year; At the end of the year, the students will take the same test and growth is determined by the difference in the two test scores.

“The way we do the pre/posts as well, it’s not in-keeping with best practice when you’re testing kids on things they have not yet been taught,” she said.

“Obviously they’re not going to perform well, and some people might not see that as a problem but it is. It’s a problem for brain development because they’re starting their year with a failure and failures produce bad chemicals in our brain.”

The failure a student experiences from this pre-test can result in students checking-out when they have multiple failures.

“We have kindergarteners, I hear, who are thrown in front of a computer crying, and their teacher’s crying with them sometimes because it’s so over-whelming,” said Dr. McCauley. “They don’t know how to navigate with the mouse, yet we’re forcing them to take this test on content they haven’t learned on a tool they haven’t had the opportunity to learn. That’s not good practice.”

Dr. Sitton said the change comes from meeting and complying with state statue.

“It’s important to look, is pre/post really the best way to comply with the state statute?” she asked during the meeting.

The method of evaluating teachers is one that has come with high-stakes, and no one school district in the nation has come up with the perfect formula, said Dr. McCauley.

Holding teachers accountable at the classroom level has resulted in some extreme results, she said, even reports of suicide in other states after teacher-achievement results have been published.

“School districts are struggling with that all across the nation,” she said. “This is not just a struggle here. That’s why a lot of our bigger districts here Mesa, Chandler, everyone has kind of gone to this other model. No one we know of has come up with a way to do this right, in a fair and equitable way.”

An invalid measure

Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell contends that the pre- and post-tests weigh heavily on the teachers.

“This particular piece of data, however, has been used in an evaluative process, one which has a high stake at the end of it which is, if the data which I’m assuming is valid and reliable makes a decision on whether I get a ranking as a teacher, and whether or not I retain a contract,” Dr. Birdwell said.

“So the conflict in our nation, and the issue that we’re talking about tonight is should a high-stakes test and decision be based on an invalid test, not tested for validity but written and then given with a failure in mind to begin with, because the only way to determine growth is to begin with failure.”

Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board member Barbara Perleberg says what the district’s officials are saying, is in line with feedback she has heard in the past.

“Thank you for saying that because to me, the lack of confidence in it and it being an invalid tool, I’ve heard that input and feedback from so many teachers over the last few years and it’s been really hard to rationalize the pre- and post-test as a valid tool,” she said. “I can understand why that would be changing right now and it seems to be very consistent with the input I’ve received.”

Dr. Birdwell says data is meant to be educator’s friend, not foe, and the district will still use growth analysis in other areas of assessment.

“Unfortunately the movement nationally was to say ‘well by gosh we are going to identify the teacher by data and we are going to get them out of the profession,’” she said. “Well here we know data should be used to help the learner.”

The revisions to classification is on the consent agenda for the 5 p.m. Oct. 18 regular meeting at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave. in Scottsdale.

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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