Improper teaching assignments increase, likely under-reported

Improper teaching assignments increase, likely under-reported

(Calif.) The number of teachers working outside their authorized area of specialty at the state’s lowest performing schools increased for the first time in 15 years after hitting record lows in 2015–but some education officials say the problem is likely worse than what’s been reported.

The total number of misassigned teachers increased from 1,570 during the 2015-16 school year to 1,821 in 2016-17, according to analysis from the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Those numbers are drawn from just the state’s lowest-performing schools, which still represents about a third of the state’s student enrollment

Members of the commission said at a meeting Thursday, however, that the criteria used to identify misassigned teachers is leaving out many educators who are not yet fully credentialed to lead a classroom.

“The issue of misassignment is a really important one,” Linda Darling-Hammond, chair of the commission, said during a public hearing on the issue. “One thing I think is worth reconsideration is the definition of ‘misassignment’ as we use it in California.”

Currently, misassignment is in part defined by the state as: The placement of certificated staff in a teaching or services position for which the educator does not hold a legally recognized certificate, credential, permit, or waiver.

Not included in the misassignment counts, Darling-Hammond  said, are all of those who hold substandard credentials, permits and waivers because they have not demonstrated subject matter competence or may not have demonstrated teaching competence.

“Most of the people who are by most states’ standards considered misassigned are not included in our count,” Darling-Hammond said. “We’re doing a lot of work to count the tiny number of people who don’t even have any of those substandard authorizations. I think we as a commission should be thinking with our colleagues on the state board and in the Legislature about what would be the appropriate way to reduce the actual amount of misassignments in schools.”

As part of the settlement in the landmark Williams lawsuit from 2004, county superintendents are required to annually monitor the assignments of all certificated staff for schools that rank in the bottom three deciles of the Academic Performance Index–the state’s prior system for evaluating school performance which has not been used since 2012, and was based exclusively on test scores. The state has since adopted an accountability system that uses multiple measures for judging effectiveness.

The settlement of the Williams suit required the state to address many aspects of equity in mostly large inner city schools, which continues to guide state policy. In addition to teacher qualification, the settlement also included facilities, textbooks and safety deficiencies.

While misassignment had been an ongoing problem at many schools throughout the state, it tends to be worse in inner city and rural schools, and was exacerbated in a handful of subject areas by the recession and ensuing teacher shortage.

As part of the court-ordered monitoring, the teaching assignments of between 62,000 and 70,000 instructors were reviewed between the school years between 2015 and 2017.

The largest number of identified misassignments in each year was within special education, which accounted for more than 30 percent of all misassignments. Although the overall number of misassignments didn’t increase drastically–from 568 in 2015-16 to 578 in 2016-17–there was significant fluctuation in some disability categories.

The number of teacher misassignments for children identified as Mild/Moderate, for instance, increased in that time from 19 to 58, while the number of misassignments in classrooms with students who have a speech or language impairment decreased from 158 to 143.

The second highest area of misassignments overall were identified for teachers of English learners–which increased from 180 to 313.

Other members of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing said they agreed with Darling-Hammond that those teaching on permits and waivers should be included in the misassignment count.

Alicia Hinde, vice-chair of the commission, said doing so would shine a spotlight on high needs schools that rely almost exclusively on underprepared teachers.

She pointed to a school near her home where nearly every student was an English learner, and where 80 percent of the staff is on waivers.

“One thing we miss when we talk about misassignment is how many of those teachers with waivers are in one school,” Hinde said. “It’s fine if you say we have waivers across the state, but we don’t see that there’s actually a lot of waivers in one spot. In reality, we have a lot of these pockets where the highest need is that are not being served.”

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