blog posts and news stories

Pittsburgh Public Schools Uses 20 New Content Suite Videos


In June 2015, Pittsburgh Public Schools began using Observation Engine for calibration and training their teacher evaluators. They were one of our first clients to use the Content Suite to calibrate and certify classroom observers.

The Content Suite contains a collection of master scored videos along with thoughtful, objective score justifications on all observable elements of teaching called for by the evaluation framework used in the district. And it includes short video clips focused on one particular aspect of teaching. The combination of full-length and short clips makes it possible to easily and flexibly set up practice exercises, collaborative calibration sessions, and formal certification testing. Recently, we have added 20 new videos to the Content Suite collection!

The Content Suite can be used with most frameworks, either as-is or modified to ensure that the scores and justifications are consistent with the local context and observation framework interpretation. Observation Engine support staff will work closely with each client to modify content and design a customized implementation plan that meets the goals of the school system and sets up evaluators for success. For more information about the Content Suite, click here.

2016-11-10

U.S. Department of Education Could Expand its Concept of Student Growth

The continuing debate about the use of student test scores as a part of teacher evaluation misses an essential point. A teacher’s influence on a student’s achievement does not end in spring when the student takes the state test (or is evaluated using any of the Student Learning Objectives methods). An inspiring teacher, or one that makes a student feel recognized, or one that digs a bit deeper into the subject matter, may be part of the reason that the student later graduates high school, gets into college, or pursues a STEM career. These are “student achievements,” but they are ones that show up years after a teacher had the student in her class. As a teacher is getting students to grapple with a new concept, the students may not demonstrate improvements on standardized tests that year. But the “value-added” by the teacher may show up in later years.

States and districts implementing educator evaluations as part of their NCLB waivers are very aware of the requirement that they must “use multiple valid measures in determining performance levels, including as a significant factor data on student growth …” Student growth is defined as change between points in time in achievement on assessments. Student growth defined in this way obscures a teacher’s contribution to a student’s later school career.

As a practical matter, it may seem obvious that for this year’s evaluation, we can’t use something that happens next year. But recent analyses of longitudinal data, reviewed in an excellent piece by Raudenbush show that it is possible to identify predictors of later student achievement associated with individual teacher practices and effectiveness. The widespread implementation of multiple-measure teacher evaluations is starting to accumulate just the longitudinal datasets needed to do these predictive analyses. On the basis of these analyses we may be able to validate many of the facets of teaching that we have found, in analyses of the MET data, to be unrelated to student growth as defined in the waiver requirements.

Insofar as we can identify, through classroom observations and surveys, practices and dispositions that are predictive of later student achievement such as college going, then we have validated those practices. Ultimately, we may be able to substitute classroom observations and surveys of students, peers, and parents for value-added modeling based on state tests and other ad hoc measures of student growth. We are not yet at that point, but the first step will be to recognize that a teacher’s influence on a student’s growth extends beyond the year she has the student in the class.

2014-08-30

Study Shows a “Singapore Math” Curriculum Can Improve Student Problem Solving Skills

A study of HMH Math in Focus (MIF) released today by research firm Empirical Education Inc. demonstrates a positive impact of the curriculum on Clark County School District elementary students’ math problem solving skills. The 2011-2012 study was contracted by the publisher, which left the design, conduct, and reporting to Empirical. MIF provides elementary math instruction based on the pedagogical approach used in Singapore. The MIF approach to instruction is designed to support conceptual understanding, and is said to be closely aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which focuses more on in-depth learning than previous math standards.

Empirical found an increase in math problem solving among students taught with HMH Math in Focus compared to their peers. The Clark County School District teachers also reported an increase in their students’ conceptual understanding, as well as an increase in student confidence and engagement while explaining and solving math problems. The study addressed the difference between the CCSS-oriented MIF and the existing Nevada math standards and content. While MIF students performed comparatively better on complex problem solving skills, researchers found that students in the MIF group performed no better than the students in the control group on the measure of math procedures and computation skills. There was also no significant difference between the groups on the state CRT assessment, which has not fully shifted over to the CCSS.

The research used a group randomized control trial to examine the performance of students in grades 3-5 during the 2011-2012 school year. Each grade-level team was randomly assigned to either the treatment group that used MIF or the control group that used the conventional math curriculum. Researchers used three different assessments to capture math achievement contrasting procedural and problem solving skills. Additionally, the research design employed teacher survey data to conduct mediator analyses (correlations between percentage of math standards covered and student math achievement) and assess fidelity of classroom implementation.

You can download the report and research summary from the study using the links below.
Math in Focus research report
Math in Focus research summary

2013-04-01

Does 1 teacher = 1 number? Some Questions About the Research on Composite Measures of Teacher Effectiveness

We are all familiar with approaches to combining student growth metrics and other measures to generate a single measure that can be used to rate teachers for the purpose of personnel decisions. For example, as an alternative to using seniority as the basis for reducing the workforce, a school system may want to base such decisions—at least in part—on a ranking based on a number of measures of teacher effectiveness. One of the reports released January 8 by the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) addressed approaches to creating a composite (i.e., a single number that averages various aspects of teacher performance) from multiple measures such as value-added modeling (VAM) scores, student surveys, and classroom observations. Working with the thousands of data points in the MET longitudinal database, the researchers were able to try out multiple statistical approaches to combining measures. The important recommendation from this research for practitioners is that, while there is no single best way to weight the various measures that are combined in the composite, balancing the weights more evenly tends to increase reliability.

While acknowledging the value of these analyses, we want to take a step back in this commentary. Here we ask whether agencies may sometimes be jumping to the conclusion that a composite is necessary when the individual measures (and even the components of these measures) may have greater utility than the composite for many purposes.

The basic premise behind creating a composite measure is the idea that there is an underlying characteristic that the composite can more or less accurately reflect. The criterion for a good composite is the extent to which the result accurately identifies a stable characteristic of the teacher’s effectiveness.

A problem with this basic premise is that in focusing on the common factor, the aspects of each measure that are unrelated to the common factor get left out—treated as noise in the statistical equation. But, what if observations and student surveys measure things that are unrelated to what the teacher’s students are able to achieve in a single year under her tutelage (the basis for a VAM score)? What if there are distinct domains of teacher expertise that have little relation to VAM scores? By definition, the multifaceted nature of teaching gets reduced to a single value in the composite.

This single value does have a use in decisions that require an unequivocal ranking of teachers, such as some personnel decisions. For most purposes, however, a multifaceted set of measures would be more useful. The single measure has little value for directing professional development, whereas the detailed output of the observation protocols are designed for just that. Consider a principal deciding which teachers to assign as mentors, or a district administrator deciding which teachers to move toward a principalship. Might it be useful, in such cases, to have several characteristics to represent different dimensions of abilities relevant to success in the particular roles?

Instead of collapsing the multitude of data points from achievement, surveys, and observations, consider an approach that makes maximum use of the data points to identify several distinct characteristics. In the usual method for constructing a composite (and in the MET research), the results for each measure (e.g., the survey or observation protocol) are first collapsed into a single number, and then these values are combined into the composite. This approach already obscures a large amount of information. The Tripod student survey provides scores on the seven Cs; an observation framework may have a dozen characteristics; and even VAM scores, usually thought of as a summary number, can be broken down (with some statistical limitations) into success with low-scoring vs. with high-scoring students (or any other demographic category of interest). Analyzing dozens of these data points for each teacher can potentially identify several distinct facets of a teacher’s overall ability. Not all facets will be strongly correlated with VAM scores but may be related to the teacher’s ability to inspire students in subsequent years to take more challenging courses, stay in school, and engage parents in ways that show up years later.

Creating a single composite measure of teaching has value for a range of administrative decisions. However, the mass of teacher data now being collected are only beginning to be tapped for improving teaching and developing schools as learning organizations.

2013-02-14

Oklahoma Implements Empirical’s Observation Engine for Certification of Classroom Observers

Tulsa Public Schools, the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma Administration, and Empirical Education Inc. just announced the launch of Observation Engine to implement the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness program in the state of Oklahoma. Tulsa Public Schools has purchased Empirical Education’s Observation Engine, an online certification and calibration tool for measuring the reliability of administrators assigned to conduct classroom observations. Tulsa Public Schools developed the Tulsa Model for Observation and Evaluation, a framework for ensuring teaching effectiveness performance, as well as best practices for creating an environment for successful learning and student achievement. Nearly 500 school districts in the state are piloting the Tulsa Model evaluation system this year.

In order to support the dissemination of the Tulsa Model, the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma Administration (CCOSA) is training and administering calibration tests throughout the state to assess and certify the individuals who evaluate the state’s teachers. The Tulsa Model is embedded in Observation Engine to deliver an efficient online system for state-wide use by Oklahoma certified classroom observers. Observation Engine is allowing CCOSA to test approximately 2,000 observers over a span of two weeks.

Observation Engine was developed as part of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching project in which Empirical Education has participated as a research partner conducting R&D on validity and reliability of observational measures. The web-based software was built by Empirical Education, which hosts and supports it for school systems nationwide.

For more details on these events, see the press announcement and our case study.

2012-10-10

Study of Alabama STEM Initiative Finds Positive Impacts

On February 21, 2012 the U.S. Department of Education released the final report of an experiment that Empirical Education has been working on for the last six years. The report, titled Evaluation of the Effectiveness of the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) is now available on the Institute of Education Sciences website. The Alabama State Department of Education held a press conference to announce the findings, attended by Superintendent of Education Bice, staff of AMSTI, along with educators, students, and co-principal investigator of the study, Denis Newman, CEO of Empirical Education. The press release issued by the Alabama State Department of Education and a WebEx presentation provide more detail on the study’s findings.

AMSTI was developed by the state of Alabama and introduced in 2002 with the goal of improving mathematics and science achievement in the state’s K-12 schools. Empirical Education was primarily responsible for conducting the study—including the design, data collection, analysis, and reporting—under its subcontract with the Regional Education Lab, Southeast (the study was initiated through a research grant to Empirical). Researchers from Academy of Education Development, Abt Associates, and ANALYTICA made important contributions to design, analysis and data collection.

The findings show that after one year, students in the 41 AMSTI schools experienced an impact on mathematics achievement equivalent to 28 days of additional student progress over students receiving conventional mathematics instruction. The study found, after one year, no difference for science achievement. It also found that AMSTI had an impact on teachers’ active learning classroom practices in math and science that, according to the theory of action posited by AMSTI, should have an impact on achievement. Further exploratory analysis found effects for student achievement in both mathematics and science after two years. The study also explored reading achievement, where it found significant differences between the AMSTI and control groups after one year. Exploration of differential effect for student demographic categories found consistent results for gender, socio-economic status, and pretest achievement level for math and science. For reading, however, the breakdown by student ethnicity suggests a differential benefit.

Just about everybody at Empirical worked on this project at one point or another. Besides the three of us (Newman, Jaciw and Zacamy) who are listed among the authors, we want to acknowledge past and current employees whose efforts made the project possible: Jessica Cabalo, Ruthie Chang, Zach Chin, Huan Cung, Dan Ho, Akiko Lipton, Boya Ma, Robin Means, Gloria Miller, Bob Smith, Laurel Sterling, Qingfeng Zhao, Xiaohui Zheng, and Margit Zsolnay.

With solid cooperation of the state’s Department of Education and the AMSTI team, approximately 780 teachers and 30,000 upper-elementary and middle school students in 82 schools from five regions in Alabama participated in the study. The schools were randomized into one of two categories: 1) Those who received AMSTI starting the first year, or 2) Those who received “business as usual” the first year and began participation in AMSTI the second year. With only a one-year delay before the control group entered treatment, the two-year impact was estimated using statistical techniques developed by, and with the assistance of our colleagues at Abt Associates. Academy for Education Development assisted with data collection and analysis of training and program implementation.

Findings of the AMSTI study will also be presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness (SREE) Spring Conference taking place in Washington D.C. from March 8-10, 2012. Join Denis Newman, Andrew Jaciw, and Boya Ma on Friday March 9, 2012 from 3:00pm-4:30pm, when they will present findings of their study titled, “Locating Differential Effectiveness of a STEM Initiative through Exploration of Moderators.” A symposium on the study, including the major study collaborators, will be presented at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) on April 15, 2012 from 2:15pm-3:45pm at the Marriott Pinnacle ⁄ Pinnacle III in Vancouver, Canada. This session will be chaired by Ludy van Broekhuizen (director of REL-SE) and will include presentations by Steve Ricks (director of AMSTI); Jean Scott (SERVE Center at UNCG); Denis Newman, Andrew Jaciw, Boya Ma, and Jenna Zacamy (Empirical Education); Steve Bell (Abt Associates); and Laura Gould (formerly of AED). Sean Reardon (Stanford) will serve as the discussant. A synopsis of the study will also be included in the Common Guidelines for Education Research and Development.

2012-02-21

Poway District Using MeasureResults

With the new school year approaching, we are excited to announce a partnership with MeasureResults’ newest user, Poway Unified School District (PUSD). With the help of MeasureResults, PUSD educators will design and conduct their own program evaluations, while outsourcing the analytics and reporting functions to MeasureResults’ automated analysis engine. Planned study designs include an “interrupted time series,” which compares current achievement levels to levels from several years prior to the introduction of the program under evaluation. Plans also include a comparison group study which, by matching classrooms that are using the program with similar classrooms that are not, can estimate the difference that the new program has made. Special analyses will determine whether the program benefits various subgroups of students (e.g. English language learners) more than others. We anticipate that PUSD’s valuable product feedback and input will enable us to make ongoing improvements to MeasureResults’ functionality and usability.

2009-08-17

Reports Released on the Effect of Carnegie Learning’s Cognitive Tutor

The Maui School District has released results from a study of the effect of Carnegie Learning’s Cognitive Tutor (CT) on long-term course selections and grade performance. Building upon two previous randomized experiments on the impact of CT on student achievement in Algebra I and Pre–algebra, the study followed the same groups of students in the year following their exposure to CT. The research did not find evidence of an impact of CT on either course selection or course grade performance for students in the following school year. The study also found no evidence that variation among ethnicities in both the difficulty of course taken and course grade received depended on exposure to CT.

A concurrent study was conducted on the successes and challenges of program implementation with the teachers involved in the previous CT studies. The study took into account teachers’ levels of use and length of exposure to CT; the descriptive data comprised surveys, classroom observations, and interviews. The major challenges to implementation included a lack of access to resources, limited support for technology, and other technological difficulties. After 3 years of implementation, teachers reported that these initial barriers had been resolved; however teachers have yet to establish a fully collaborative classroom environment, as described in the Carnegie Learning implementation model.

Maui School District is the company’s first MeasureResults subscriber. A similar research initiative is being conducted at the community college level with The Maui Educational Consortium. The report for this study will be announced later this year.

2008-12-10
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