Union: DISD's Teachers Want Answers About the District's New Mystifying "Spot Observations" [Updated]

Thumbnail image for mike miles head.jpg
Newish DISD superintendent Mike Miles
The Dallas Independent School District has been wrestling with how best to evaluate its teachers for going on forever. In August of 2011, the district unveiled a plan to develop an evaluation system, a lengthy, three-committee process that would take until 2014 to implement. That's right: just creating the evaluation process was supposed to take more than three years.

In the meantime, though, DISD teachers were under the impression that they were being evaluated using the same metric as most other school districts in Texas: the Professional Development and Appraisal System, or PDAS. PDAS evaluations are supposed to happen once a year, a process that consists of at least one 45-minute observation per year, plus follow-ups at the evaluator's discretion. According to the Association of Texas Professional Educators, that 45-minute observation period isn't allowed to happen any time within the first two weeks of instruction.

But wouldn't you know it, things seem to be going down a little differently at DISD.

According to local teachers union Alliance-AFT, several DISD teachers have already been subjected to random "spot observations," a system Alliance president Rena Honea calls "very confusing."

Honea says a DISD high school teacher was in the middle of her first day of classes when an "appraiser" -- a school administrator who Honea didn't identify -- swept in and started conducting an evaluation.

"She was totally caught off guard," says Honea of the teacher, who she didn't want to name. "She was teaching, doing what she was supposed to do."

The teacher was later told by her appraiser that she'd received a score of one, which means "progressing," as one might expect a teacher would be doing halfway through the first day of school. The lowest score on the spot evaluation forms Honea has seen is zero, and most of them go up to three, which is "exemplary."

But not all of them. Honea has heard from other teachers who have been "spot evaluated," and seen other forms where the scores go up to five. There's no standardization, she says.

"From what I'm hearing, there's differences on the forms," Honea says. "One teacher said that her principal didn't like that form, so he changed it."

The high school teacher who received a one was unhappy with her score, Honea says, and unhappy to learn that multiple appraisers could pop into the classroom throughout the year. Honea says that could mean "the principal, anybody from downtown [the district headquarters], a department chair, one of the chiefs, an associate superintendent. Anybody can come in. Teachers have been told to expect visits all year." The spot observations last about ten to 15 minutes.

Honea attributes the new evaluation system to new superintendent Mike Miles, but says the union and the teachers want to understand how it's being used in conjunction with the PDAS -- especially since some teachers are apparently being warned that poor spot evaluations could endanger their jobs.

"We've asked for how this will be used," Honea says. "Because we're getting word that some of the principles are threatening teachers that if their spot checks aren't at a certain level by a certain time of the year, they could be in jeopardy with their job."

More importantly, though, Honea asks: "Why the spot checks? Why the additional observations? We know Mr. Miles wants teachers in the classroom being observed." But the new system, with competing evaluations flying in every direction, is "very confusing for the teachers," she says.

Those teachers are also very tired, Honea says. Along with the new evaluations, this year saw an additional 45 minutes tacked on to each school day .

"We're hearing from teacher they're totally exhausted already," Honea says. "Many of them have to report for early duty before the students get there. When the students leave, most of the campuses are having to go to meetings every day of the week till 5 or 5:30. The work they would've gotten done for next day -- grading, posting grades, averaging, preparation, getting the room ready -- none of that can be done until after these meetings. They have families. So many of them are staying at the schools until 7 or 8 at night, just to be ready for the next day. And they're still taking work home, because there's just no time."

Alliance-AFT has a survey up on their website, asking the teachers how they feel about the new, extended school day. So far, Honea says, "97 percent" of the teachers say it's "not useful."

Reached for comment, DISD spokesperson Jon Dahlander said he'd prepare a written statement and send it over to us. We'll update accordingly.

Update, 4:51 p.m.: Dahlander's full statement is below:

The term "spot observation" is synonymous with instructional walk-through. Spot observations are intended to provide instructional feedback to all teachers on the instructional priorities of the District and school. For example, principals should provide feedback to teachers on the lesson objective - what students are supposed to learn during the class.

Principals have been trained in how to provide effective instructional feedback. Feedback should validate what is working well, prompt teachers to reflect on their teaching, and provide helpful suggestions or tips on how to improve the quality of instruction.

Spot observations are intended to provide feedback to staff to enable them to grow professionally. Any time an appraiser observes instruction, whether that observation happens formally or informally (such as walking by a classroom and hearing a teacher's interaction with her students), the information gleaned from that observation may help the appraiser assess the instructional proficiency of the teacher and help determine areas for improvement. Thus, spot observations may be considered as part of the cumulative data.

Teachers should understand that information gained during the spot observations can be used to help assess their proficiency and will help inform the summative PDAS evaluation.


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25 comments
BettyC1
BettyC1

Why do they think Mike Miles needs permission to visit schools? Hell they work for him.What if he just fired everyone who's students could not pass test.

Edward
Edward

This is yet another perfect example of why teachers in general (and in places like Chicago where the teachers are allowed to form unions) are not happy with all the new performance-based measurements. It's pretty tough to be "measured" when the person doing the supposed measurements doesn't know what he/she is measuring.

 

And their jobs are on the line.

 

It's ridiculous that teachers are put in the position they are: taking directives from principals and administrators who don't have a clue, dealing with students who can't be bothered and parents who are openly antagonistic, and a public (egged on by the anti-education, anti-science, anti-intellectual Republican party) that is increasingly hateful and dismissive of teachers.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

I just read an interesting article on how introducing a writing-intensive curriculum in a New York school raised achievement scores in science and math as well as reading and writing.

 

It seems like investigating such a simple-to-implement, successful program might be worth discussing. But I guess arguing over idiotic crap like this is better for the kids. Hiney may be gone, but his spirit soldiers on.

Michael.MacNaughton
Michael.MacNaughton

I have heard from around 10 teachers that hey are being told the scale is zero to three and that nobody is getting a three.  The best teacher response was this:

"If the new "spot check" or whatever it is called is a righteous evaluation tool, then SOMEONE in the district must have received higher than a "two" on some aspect of the observation tool  (zero to three scale) by now in a district of how many thousands of teachers?

 

If not then it calls into question the validity of the tool and the goals of the evaluators. There is good to this whole thing and I'm willing to play the game as long as the house hasn't rigged it so I can never receive an winning hand.

 

We are told that the spot check numbers by local administration count towards our evaluation and spot check for the school are averaged for a CAMPUS number, which is also a part of the teacher evaluation."

 

There is a poll over on the DISD teacher blog - www.disdblog.com -  asking if any teachers received a "3" or not.

TitusGroan
TitusGroan

Out, damned spot.  Will these hands never be clean?

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

 

Given the multiple reasons for the constant chaos and  unstable state of the DISD along with all the Baggage that is carried along from one Superintendent to the Next This kind of Evaluation will be like taking a cheese grater along with generous portions  salt and lime to the unhealed wounds of its checkered past..

 

What could possibly go wrong ?

tmarclyman
tmarclyman

Note to teachers: The beatings will continue until morale improves.

 

I was never bothered by unexpected visitors in my class room, parents or administrators. I always tried to do the best I knew how at all times whether an "outsider" was there or not. However, I don't think very much evaluating can be done in a 5 to 15 minute "fly by". Especially when done by administrators who never had charge of a classroom, or who did and were so bad at it that they "failed upward" into administration. It sounds like Mr Miles is doubling down on the failed idea that rigid  adherence to cookie cutter curriculum, uniformly administered by unquestioningly obedient teachers creates superior educational outcome for every student. Works pretty good for assembly lines - for education, not so much. Just more damage inflicted by the insane idea that running everything "like a business" is the best way to success.

mik534
mik534

Well, on my campus, you get a spot observation, and then you get to conference with your observer the next day.  The observer explains the process, but then informs the teacher that nobody can make a 2 or 3.  Everybody gets 1's.  No matter what.  But, don't worry!  A "1" is still good!  When one teacher was disappointed in his score of "1" and asked the principal what he could've done to make a 2 or 3, the principal had no answer for him.  Why?  Because the principal must be following a directive, like a soldier follows an order.  No questions, just do it.  So much for constructive feedback.I think I'm going to go ahead and follow the lead set by district leaders and the next test I give my students, I will tell them that the highest score they can earn is a 100, but nobody is going to make a 100.  If I find an i that is not dotted or a t that is not crossed or a missing period, or the wrong date, that is not a 100.  Why?  Because now I'm searching for the negatives and the "bads" and ignoring the "goods."  This is a way to start generating "negative" paperwork and a "negative" paper trail (which is fine as long as your evaluator doesn't tell you that you are pre-destined to receive a "1" no matter what you do.  It's a crock.

jerikjonsson
jerikjonsson

1. Was this an oral or e-mail interview with Ms. Honea?  The reason I ask is "principle."

 

2. If she really thinks that these spot evaluations are confusing, then she hasn't been paying attention to Miles's speeches.  He's clearly an advocate for more teacher training and development.

 

Good stuff from you this week, AM.  Loved the sagging story.

BillHolston
BillHolston

ask him what is going on in that 45 minutes. I think the problem is not that they are being asked to work 45 more minutes, but they are being asked to do additional reporting/beaurocratic requirements that no real teacher finds helpful. 

 

No teacher ends their school day at the end of duty hour. None. 

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

 @Edward you were doing Great until you decided to make a political partisan rant out of a particular party, instead of an educational system.  foul ball edward...go sit in the corner.

krw005
krw005

@Cliffhanger Would be great if you'd post the link. I intend to teach history or reading in HS and I totally figured that improvement in the articulation of thought and the use of thought provoking material should exact benefits across all subjects if the proper readings and engagement is utilized.

GotIt
GotIt

 @Michael.MacNaughton

 Let's consider the facts. Miles wants data to back up his choice of firing as many teachers as he wishes at the end of the year. By giving everyone a low scores x 18 spot checks, he has set every teacher in the district up to be fired with a record of low scores.

Why does he need this choice? If EOC scores look similar to the ones last spring, there will have to be a ritualistic bloodletting of some sacrificial goats and it won't include Miles but will include as many teachers as needed for Miles to make his point.

The elitists in Dallas will feel much better after a bloodletting. That fact that a thousand teachers can't be replaced won't offend them because their kids don't go to these schools.

Matthew Haag's video at the morning idiot showed the true state of Dallas classrooms. A theoretical demonstration lesson that panned a classroom of at least 40 students where the math department head at WT White can't even make it down an aisle in her own classroom for the overcrowding. How many secondary classrooms in Dallas are this overcrowded and why isn't someone reporting on the fact that teaching 7 classes that size is impossible. Instead Haag repeated Miles' statement regarding firing teachers. Haag didn't attend Dallas schools and is totally unaware on the history or conditions.

Teachers are being set up with low scores on these spot checks, but they are too tired to protest. They are being kept too tired to protest on purpose. Miles will continue to bring in more administrators paid for by allowing huge classes in high schools.

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

 @Michael.MacNaughton

"I have heard from around 10 teachers that hey are being told the scale is zero to three and that nobody is getting a three."

 

What better way to inspire confidence in the employees .

BTW 1-2-3  and then a 1/2 scale in between ?

Sure seems like a very small grading scale/range  to have such an impact on everyone it touches

Is there away someone can "HAPPEN Upon" one of these evaluation Packets / Sheets ?

It would interesting to be know how this is structured.

gollyrojer
gollyrojer

 @tmarclyman You have said what I was going to say. Teachers shouldn't be "confused" by an unannounced visit, and little to no accurate assessment can be done in ten to fifteen minutes.  I'd say for an assessment to have any worth, it would have to encompass the entire class period for a period of two weeks to a month.

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

 @mik534 if everyone gives out "C's" to all students, then there are NO A students.  so what is the point?  same with teacher evaluation....some Human Resource game playing.

gofigure
gofigure

 @jerikjonsson

 Right--the journalist can misspell a word, but the teacher's professional organization leader must be illiterate. By the way--might want to check the spelling abilities of Miles' pr baggage from Colorado--word is she definitely can't spell. We're all  holding our collective breath to find out exactly what it is that she does well.

More teacher training and development aren't synonymous with playing "gotcha" with a goon squad from the layers of administrators added by Miles. The poorest of poor management techniques is to drop in on teachers who have been told that no one will receive a top evaluation. The evaluators have been told not to rate teachers highly.

None of Miles and his handlers show up to assist in teacher training. They are there to bully teachers who have until the end of this semester to salute and sing his core values. This is narcissistic pathology and has nothing to do with teacher development.

Class size continues to grow while daily meetings soak up more time. This is nothing but harassment that will be met by the top talent leaving the district.

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

 @jerikjonsson Ha, this was a phone interview. Just fixed that stupid mistake. Should appear correctly in a couple minutes. Good eye. 

 

And thanks. I'm on the sagging beat lately, I guess?  

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

 @Bill260 I think you are exactly right. The teachers I know say that the principals are making up busy work for them because they don't know what to do with the time but they want a paper trail to show Miles what they are doing. The teachers would much rather be tutoring, grading, planning or contacting parents - things that really have an impact on student achievement instead of mindless, pointless busy work.

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

 @oakclifftownie  @Michael.MacNaughton If people have examples of these evaluation sheets to show me, I'd love to see them. anna.merlan@dallasobserver.com.

 

Ms. Honea had one, which she read to me over the phone, but I'd like to see what the differences are. 

jerikjonsson
jerikjonsson

 @gofigure I was making the opposite assumption.  I haven't met Ms. Honea yet, but her previous public statements led me to think she knew how to spell.

 

If Miles intends to play gotcha with teachers, he won't get improved results in the classrooms, the Board will get rid of him in a few years, and I'll be pretty sad.  But I haven't seen evidence of any of the accusations you make.

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

 @Anna_Merlan  @Michael.MacNaughton An AH-HA moment here.

With an artificially  low showing for the teaching staff in the first  spot check it will be easier to show a large jump when the later spot checks are done 

Someone  will be able take credit  because of the methods  they instituted.

 

I have a feeling  the 1-2-3 scale in place today will be lost in the commotion..

 

 

 

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