New teacher and principal data undependable in state report cards

SHARE New teacher and principal data undependable in state report cards

The Illinois State Board of Education has touted several new categories of data it is now including in its annual school report cards.

Those school report cards are now available to parents, and the way the information is presented — both on paper and online — has won awards for its overall utility.

But a spot-check of data from about 10 public schools in Chicago proved less than useful.

That check showed some incorrect rates for teacher retention and principal turnover — especially at the extreme ends.

On average, the state education board says that each school has had two principals in the past six years and has retained about 85 percent of its teachers over the past three years; state superintendent Christopher Koch has praised the decision to include those categories as a way to consider a school’s stability.

“In some of our districts that are experiencing more problems, there tends to be more turnover,” Koch said. “It’s just another indicator of school climate and health and one which should be known to the public.”

The data lists eight Chicago charter high schools as keeping zero teachers hired three years ago and indicates that 38 total schools have kept fewer than half of their staffs from years before. Six Chicago schools are listed as having five principals during the six school years — from the 2008-09 school year, through the 2013-14 school year.

That horrified some schools. By the numbers alone, those schools would appear to be very unstable, but officials say they are not.

Urban Prep Charter Academy’s numbers turned out to be either too high or too low. The Englewood campus has had two principals during the six years — but the those two administrators worked together as co-principals for several years, until one moved to another campus.

The other two campuses have had two each, not one, as reported by the ISBE, according to Lionel Allen Jr., chief academic officer of Urban Prep academies.

“I would like to know where ISBE is getting this information from. It can’t be coming directly from schools if it’s wrong,” said Allen, who shuddered to think the misinformation could spread.

Urban Prep’s teacher retention rate isn’t zero either, Allen said, adding, “I can tell you that more than a third of our teachers have three years or more at Urban Prep.”

The Young Women’s Leadership Charter High School calculated its own average teacher retention rate over the past three years at about 46 percent, almost twice the figure reported by the state, according to Martha Elder Khanna.  Two of their teachers were promoted to administrators, she said, so they’re “in the building, they’re just not teachers anymore.”

Palmer Elementary School, a CPS-run school in North Mayfair, had just two principals, not five, as indicated in the ISBE data, district spokesman Bill McCaffrey said.

The Galapagos Charter School also had three over six years — not five, as reported out by the state, according to the charter school’s CEO.

And one of those principals moved up in the organization, Michael Lane said.

Lane wondered if the errors stemmed from differences in titles; at many charter schools, school leaders are called “directors” rather than “principals.”

“Years ago, I was listed as principal,” he said. “I never held that role. I was listed as that because I was the main contact for compliance issues.”

Peter Godard, chief performance officer at ISBE, said school districts reported to the state which teachers they employ and in which building; the state board then calculated teacher retention rates based on the names and license numbers provided.

He said errors stemmed from mistakes in the original submitted data.

“We did do a number of runs where we looked and tried to find cases where we believed the data might be off and we alerted the school districts to that,” Godard said.

ISBE offered those districts and schools extra time to fix their data but not everyone did, he said.

“In the case of CPS, it ultimately became clear the data needed to be corrected — they realized it needed to be corrected,” ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus said. “They weren’t able to correct it by October 10.”

McCaffrey said CPS has been working with ISBE to fix the problems in the data that involved the district uploading more than 200 total data sets since June.

“In light of the complications caused by a significant learning curve of ISBE’s new data system, as well as their late start and tight deadline, CPS continues its effort to provide data to ISBE,” he wrote in an email.

Fergus said ISBE will reissue corrected data within a few weeks. ISBE saw an error rate of about 2 percent for these two new measurements, she said.

Joshua Johnston Fine Art and Design Charter School is another school listed as having a teacher-retention rate of zero. Principal Joyce Bowen was mortified that the public might think her school had none of its teachers coming back.

“This past year, we had no teacher turnover,” she said. “The same people we had this year, we had last year. The year before that, we had two” teachers leave.

“We’ve been pretty consistent,” Bowen said.

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