Month: December 2013

RFA Releases PACER Brief on Teacher Effectiveness

In education policy discussions, there is little disagreement that teachers matter. When the conversation shifts to measuring teacher performance, however, consensus is harder to find.

Despite the lack of definitive research on how best to assess teachers, officials in states across the nation have relied on classroom observation data and complex statistical models designed to quantify a teacher’s impact on student achievement.

Pennsylvania’s approach to teacher evaluation is now defined and applicable to every school building in the state. It includes multiple measures of teacher effectiveness, including classroom observations, building-level student performance and attendance data, and data selected by schools from a list of possible measurement options.

The system also includes value-added measures (VAM), a particular point of contention in policy debates. When used to evaluate teachers, VAM leverages a student’s previous assessment scores to predict their performance on future assessments. Many have expressed concern about relying on high-stakes student testing to assess teacher effectiveness.

RFA’s latest issue brief details some of the factors leading to the development of teacher evaluation systems statewide and in Pittsburgh, along with research and policy considerations facing officials and stakeholders. It builds on an earlier brief on this issue released in September 2011 when the Pennsylvania Department of Education was piloting its system in one in five public schools across the state.

RFA Releases Issue Brief on Cyber Charter Schools

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is currently considering applications that could expand the number of cyber charter schools statewide by 40 percent. In the General Assembly, at least 12 proposals are pending on cyber charter authorization, funding or oversight.

To inform these discussions, RFA used the state’s recently-issued School Performance Profile (SPP) scores to examine the performance of 11 cyber charter schools for which complete data are available. We compared these scores to all public schools statewide (both traditional public schools and brick-and-mortar charters) and looked at student mobility rates using enrollment and demographic data from the five cyber charters with publicly-available data.

Our analysis found that the performance of the cyber charter sector lags behind both traditional public schools and brick-and-mortar charters in SPP scores. Additionally, mobility rates of cyber charter students are significantly higher than for brick-and-mortar charters in almost all cases.

While the small sample sizes for schools with complete data limit the reach of our analysis, this is an important step in understanding a fast-growing sector and the implications for education policy and practice in the Commonwealth.

Click here to read the full brief.

Media Coverage

  • An op-ed in the Sunday edition of the Harrisburg Patriot-News
  • An article in the Pocono Record
  • An editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News
  • An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer