Implementing DDMs and Common Core step by step

Shortly after Massachusetts Secretary of Education Matt Malone was sworn into office last January, he was asked by MTA Today how student test scores should be used in the educator evaluation process. “If we can show the quality of work that students are doing, I think that is a fair mechanism,” he responded. “I would stress that it can’t just be one thing.’’

Malone said teachers shouldn’t be left to conclude, “My kids didn’t do well on the MCAS so I won’t get a good evaluation.’’ At the end of the day, he said, “I just tell people, ‘Let’s just go through the process and be human about it.’”

Paul Toner Paul Toner
MTA President

Whether a student learns as a result of being in our classrooms matters, and it should be part of a comprehensive educator evaluation framework. Student learning is at the heart of our profession. But measuring the impact that any one educator has on a student’s learning and growth must be done thoughtfully and in partnership with educators.

We know that it can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to a single standardized test score or a simple formula. That is why the Massachusetts Educator Evaluation Framework requires districts to develop District-Determined Measures — DDMs — to provide authentic measures of student learning and growth.

Many of our colleagues across the nation are very interested in our work and hopeful that we can prove that the overemphasis on standardized test scores in other states' evaluation systems is the wrong way to go.

Recently, the MTA sent guidance on how to negotiate DDMs with districts to local association presidents and members. We advise that teachers and administrators work together to figure out several measures that tell something meaningful about how much students learn during the school year.

First and foremost, they should pick measures that can be used to improve teaching and learning — not make up new measures solely for this evaluation system. That would be a waste of time and a disservice to students.

Over several years of data collection, the educator and supervisor should exercise their professional judgment in reviewing the results, looking first at patterns — what do the different measures say about the performance of my students in a given year? — and then at trends in performance — what do the data say about the performance of my students over several years? Professional judgment can then be applied to put the results into the proper context.

After at least two years, depending on the contract language in the district, the evaluator should use professional judgment to determine whether an educator’s impact on student learning was high, moderate or low. As Secretary Malone said more plainly, the evaluator needs to be “human” about it.

Now more than ever, we need rank-and-file members to participate. We need our best educators to be engaged in the discussions of these important issues related to teaching and learning. Your local association president can’t do it alone.

MTA members should bear in mind that DDMs need to be focused on improvement, not punishment. The measurement they yield is used for shaping an educator’s professional growth or improvement plan. If an educator has been rated “Proficient” or “Exemplary” and the student growth impact is deemed to be low, then the length of the self-directed Educator Plan may be shortened from two years to one. (Those who have a summative rating of “Needs Improvement” already have a plan of one year or less, regardless of student impact results, and those rated “Unsatisfactory” may have an even shorter plan, depending on what has been agreed upon in the local collective bargaining agreement.)

It is unfortunate that we have multiple new initiatives — RETELL training; implementation of the Massachusetts 2011 ELA and Math Curriculum Frameworks, which incorporate the Common Core State Standards; and the rollout of new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests — occurring at the same time that districts are required to pilot DDMs. Recognizing the burden, the state has slowed the implementation of DDMs. But there is still a lot to do.

Now more than ever, we need rank-and-file members to participate. We need our best educators to be engaged in the discussions of these important issues related to teaching and learning. Your local association president can’t do it alone.

If the call goes out for educators to join “cadres” to develop useful DDMs, please consider participating. Classroom educators are the people best equipped to make decisions about good measures of student learning and growth.

If your local president needs you to help bargain over the scheduling of RETELL courses, please join the team. The flexibility you negotiate may result in a much more convenient schedule for you and your colleagues.

If your grade has been chosen to field test the PARCC exam to measure student mastery of the new Common Core-based frameworks, use it as an opportunity. Learn what this new assessment is all about and then provide the MTA and your local with feedback to help us advocate for improvements in the implementation of the PARCC system.

I know that many of you feel overwhelmed; there is an awful lot on your plates. But it’s worth paying attention to what Audrey Loeb, an Arlington fourth-grader, said in the cover story of this issue of MTA Today when she was asked to describe a multifaceted project on the Lowell mills.

“When I first found out about this project I thought it was going to be really hard. I never did a big project like this before,” Audrey said. “But we just did it step by step, and it was easy.”

I don’t mean to say that educator evaluation, Common Core, RETELL and all the rest will be easy, but if we do them all step by step — and if many members share the load — we will get through this. Massachusetts is number one in the nation in academic performance. Our colleagues around the country are looking to us to see that we get this right. I am confident that we will — by working together with one another, our district leadership and the parents of our students.