nasagoddard-things-teachers-saveWhat A Struggling School Looks Like On Paper

by Grant WigginsAuthentic Education

Ed note: This is part 2 of Grant’s series on Teacher Effectiveness ratings. 

In the previous post I looked closely at the data on teacher effectiveness for six different high schools. In this follow-up post we look more closely at a range of data from two successful schools and one school identified in the Cuomo Report on Failing Schools. Finally, I draw some important conclusions and recommendations from the lessons of the data.

It appears that teacher effectiveness ratings are not valid measures in light of other available data, as the data showed in the previous post. Some of the better schools in NY (as measured by graduation rates and exam scores) have lower teacher effectiveness scores than some of the most struggling high schools in the state – sometimes greatly so.

In this post I want to dig deeper via additional data that is available for high schools in New York City to show that parent, student, and teacher survey data: School Quality Reports; and narratives from site visits further support the notion that the teacher effectiveness ratings are likely not accurate, especially in struggling schools.

A Struggling High School

A struggling NY City high school that I also know (having worked there twice), is on the Cuomo list of “failing” schools. Here are its survey and quality report data:

  1. Overall Survey Data (and comparative graduation data)

Lehmann Overall Surveys

  1. Parent Satisfaction

Lehmann Parents Satisfctn

  1. Student Satisfaction

Lehmann Stdts - Excited

  1. Teacher Views on Improvement

 Lehmann Tchr Improve

  1. Student Views on Improvement

Lehman Stdts - Improve

  1. Teacher views of school culture

 Lehmann TCHR Culture


  1. Student views of school culture

Lehman Students Scl Culture 

  1. Student account of instructional approaches

Lehmann Students Pedagogy 

It is noteworthy that the teachers in this school say that these instructional approaches happen “Often” – a student/teacher disconnect that does not occur at the other two schools discussed here.

  1. Selected quotes from the school Quality Review Report, based on site visits

What the school does well

  • The principal organizes resources and time in order to support instructional goals and increase student outcomes from a social-emotional and academic perspective. (1.3)
  • The school uses various assessment practices to analyze student performance, target instruction, and provide students with feedback in order to increase student achievement and academic progress over time. (2.2)
    • The principal expects that all teachers will utilize the school-wide grading policy, more frequent formative assessment strategies, including exit slips, written reflection, and the use of rubrics.
    • Teacher teams meet weekly in each small learning community (SLC) to analyze and discuss student data, construct item analysis and determine where students have gaps in instruction.

What the school needs to improve

  • Increase the alignment of curricula across grades and content areas to Common Core Learning Standards, and refine units of study in order to increase rigor in tasks to advance the post-secondary readiness of all learners. (1.1)
    • With the support of a curriculum director/assistant principal, the school continues to work with teacher teams on aligning curricula to Common Core Learning Standards and to further develop unit plans and lesson plan templates to effectively support students, yet this process of curricula refinement is inconsistently documented and only beginning to emerge in the math and social studies curricula. Additionally, the progress made in curriculum development is not being accurately communicated to the principal in a timely manner.
  • Deepen academic rigor by consistently designing challenging tasks and utilizing effective questioning that elicits higher-order thinking and extends learning for students on all levels. (1.2)
  • The principal believes that students learn best when they are given the opportunity to delve deeper into rigorous content, engage in student-centered instruction, collaborate and discuss evidence and viewpoints with their peers, and reflect on the process and learning. However, these practices as evidenced in classroom observations, are not being consistently implemented, as the majority of instruction observed was teacher-directed with many tasks not appropriately challenging, with an absence of text-based discussion and lack of conceptual understanding.Forexample, in an English class, the students’ response to the teacher when asked to analyze the influence of X in the text Y, was met with disengagement from most. One student stated, “We have been reading this same story over and over again and we need a new story”, while other students ignored the teacher and began talking about things unrelated to class.
  • In addition to the breakdown of classroom management, the lesson lacked rigor, directions for students to follow, and an ultimate objective, leaving the teacher scrambling to gain control and students not engaged in any meaningful learning.
  • In a history class, teachers asked students to annotate, but did not hold them accountable for what they annotated. Students were asked leading and lower-level questions which resulted in the teacher answering the questions rather than allowing students to engage in productive struggle.
  • In another class, the teacher designed a lesson using the lesson plan template the school devised, yet none of what was written in the plan was executed preventing students from interacting at high levels and from multiple entry points, which eventually caused the lesson to fall apart.
  • Out of 11 classes observed, there were only three where students were frequently asked to explain their answers. Furthermore, differentiation and multiple entry points for a variety of learners were not observed anywhere, with the majority of lessons requiring all of the students to do the same work.
  • The result is that across classrooms, not all students are consistently provided with the opportunity to engage in higher-level thinking or reflection, which is evident from low-level discussions and quality of student work products.
  • Enhance the monitoring of curriculum development and teacher team practices to ensure that teachers are effectively meeting the learning needs of all students as they work to meet the expectations of the Common Core. (5.1)
  • The principal monitors student progress and assesses teacher instructional practices across grades and content areas to ensure coherence and to ensure teachers participate in ongoing inter-visitations to learn best practices from each other. However, while there is student work posted with tasks and rubrics that align to Common Core expectations, there is insufficient evidence that academies regularly revise and modify curriculum plans to ensure that the learning needs of all students are being planned for, resulting in only some students being prepared to meet the expectations of the Common Core.
  • While there is a system in place for teacher teams to meet weekly, there is no evidence that the school has an accountability structure in place to regularly evaluate and adjust the SLC’s inquiry team practices and monitor the connection between the work they engage in during team meetings and the alignment to school goals.

What are the teacher effectiveness ratings for this school? Not one teacher is deemed Ineffective and only 5 are Developing., 90% are Effective and 5% are highly Effective.

Yet, note, above (under #9) that the only positive comments in the site report referred not to teaching but to actions taken by leadership: there are nopositive comments about “what the school does well” related to teaching per se. (In fact, despite the positive site review of the school leadership, the teachers strongly dislike the work of the Principal and other administrators, as visible in other teacher survey data.)

This post is excerpted from a post that first appeared on Grant’s personal blog; Grant can be found on twitter here; image attribution flickr user nasagoddard; What A Struggling Schools Looks Like On Paper