Education

LSU teacher study finds educators stressed by heavy workload, accountability policies

According to a study by an LSU professor of education, teachers’ stress levels are abnormally high. source Michelle Tripp

A new survey from the LSU Office of Educational Research found that teachers across the state are mainly stressed by four factors: workload, engagement of students and their families, accountability policies and restrictions on how teachers are allowed to educate their students.

According to LSU professor and researcher Eugene Kennedy, this is the second in a series of surveys LSU hopes to conduct.

The survey took 1,207 anonymous preK-12 teacher responses from late fall 2020 with the goal of figuring out what teachers thought about their work environments and how teachers responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and its obstacles. Most surveyed teachers were white, located in rural or suburban schools and worked with mainly low-income students. 

“We ended up with a sample that is not as representative of the state population of teachers as I would have hoped, but I actually think it’s very useful,” Kennedy said. “We need something somewhere communicating, giving voice to the education community, teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders that’s outside of the traditional networks.”

The results show many surveyed teachers are satisfied with their careers, but several aspects of the industry add significant stress to their work. These stressors mainly stem from Louisiana educational policies, such as quick curriculum pacing, testing and teacher assessments. The most reported stressor came from nearly 28% of surveyed teachers who said time, workload and expectations greatly affected their work environment.

“You’ve got people that are generally satisfied with where they are, but they have incredible workloads and a pandemic did not help trying to balance what they need to do, maybe online instruction or sort of a hybrid format or the protocols associated with COVID, and just having a life,” Kennedy said. “Many of them talked about working long hours and taking additional work home.”

Many of those surveyed referred to pacing guides, where teachers essentially have a script where they are told what series of things they need to do during the course of a school day. Teachers are not allowed to customize these pacing guides. Kennedy said the guides ensure that students are exposed to certain material, but they take away from a teacher’s creativity.

“The number-one stress for me as a teacher is being forced to push curriculum on students who are below grade level. Many of my students can’t keep up, because they simply do not understand the content. They continue fall behind and never receive

the help they need to be successful,” one teacher said in the survey.

According to the survey, 60% of respondents found the Louisiana teacher accountability system to be unfair, and many suggested the system was “punitive rather than supportive.”

“Teachers today lack autonomy due to central office curriculum staff dictating every single thing that occurs during instructional time in the school day,” another teacher said in the survey. “The accountability system used to grade teachers is also unfair since they utilize student performance very heavily. Many factors play into a student’s performance. A teacher’s instruction is only one piece of the pie. A student’s home life and parental participation is a big part of the pie. Unfortunately, teachers cannot control what goes on out of school.” 

These stressors sit on top of other issues like pay, which became a larger source of stress with COVID-19 pressures.

Using survey results to spur change

Kennedy said the findings from the survey will help spawn what the next survey may look like as they work to gather a more representative sample. Once those data are collected, it will be submitted to decisionmakers, though the timing of the next survey depends on the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Monday was the first day of school for the 2021-22 school year for much of NELA, including Ouachita Parish and Monroe City Schools.

“The next thing to do is to communicate it to people that need to know, state agencies, legislators, school leaders system leaders and so on,” Kennedy said. “They want to know, and they support us doing this and want to help because quite often they don’t have the resources. They are relying on feedback from individuals who take the time to comment or show up to a meeting, but there are a lot views that they fail to hear — and that’s one of the things that we want to try to offer.”

The LSU survey comes out after the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and School Employees sent a letter to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education asking for teachers not to be held accountable for 2020-21 teacher assessment scores similar to the waiver granting a pause on school performance scores for the same year. 

The letter, which was sent Aug. 18 by LFT President Larry J. Carter Jr., cited HR 133 from the Louisiana House of Representatives, which urged and requested the State Board to “take all necessary actions to provide that no measure of student growth be used in the evaluation of teachers for the 2020-2021 school year.”

The Board has yet to grant the waiver.

LFT Legislative and Political Director Cynthia Posey said the organization had previously tried passing a bill that would allow the state to collect teacher assessment data without holding teachers accountable and administering repercussions. However, that bill did not pass.

“It’s not fair to judge students, teachers, school, school systems by the results of any type of evaluation for last year because, quite frankly, they went from complete virtual to back to school, and they were put into quarantine; then some more hybrid,” Posey said. “There was just no consistency.”

In addition to inconsistencies, Posey said teachers were confronted with several obstacles, including adapting to online teaching, some for the first time, and grappling with the pandemic and natural disasters.

How teachers are evaluated

According to state law, teacher evaluations are made of two halves: professional practice and student growth. Student growth metrics differ based on the subject and/or grade level.

Many teachers’ student growth is partly based off value-added model, which looks at how much students grew between yearly statewide assessments. That model accounts for 35% of a teacher’s score, and the remaining 15% comes from student-learning targets, which according to Posey, is where administrators set goals students need to reach by the end of the school year.

The value-added model only pertains to English Language Arts, math, science and social studies for grades 4-8 and Algebra I, Geometry, English I and English II for all grade levels. Teachers who do not  teach these grade levels or subjects receive their student growth scores solely from student-learning targets.

Posey said teacher assessments hold significant weight. A positive assessment could lead to extra money. A negative assessment could lead to a teacher losing their tenure.

Because scores in the value-added model require the previous year’s LEAP scores, and there were no LEAP scores for spring 2020, the state had to change how those scores would be calculated for the 2020-21 school year. BESE decided to use 2018-19 scores as the “prior year score” in lieu of the 2019-20 scores.

In light of this decision, the 2020 Second Extraordinary Session created Act 53, which stated the model would not be used as part of teacher performance evaluations for the 2020-21 school year, because students usually change teachers each year and there would be no way to determine a teacher’s contributions to their LEAP scores over a two-year period.

Act 53 meant all teachers would get their student growth metrics from student learning targets for their 2020-21 assessments. Posey said this poses a problem because most student learning targets are “dictated” to teachers instead of them working with administrators to assess where students are and how they can grow by the end of the year. For this reason, LFT asked for a waiver.

Current evaluation system doesn’t give the full picture

“Just like with the hurricanes and COVID and and all the things that happened this last year, there are a lot of things that can have an effect on (student growth scores),” Posey said. “And even if you have a perfectly normal school year, think about the children that don’t get enough to eat that, for one reason or the other are kept up all night or homeless; so many different things can affect that.”

Posey said LFT and teachers are not against teacher accountability, but the current education evaluation system “doesn’t really give an accurate picture of what happens in the classroom.” For example, schools receive performance scores each year partly based on student LEAP scores, and over the past few years, the threshold for becoming an “A” school has increased.

Posey said giving a school an “F” letter grade is misleading to the public, which may assume that school is inherently bad when there may be other factors at play that contribute to that score. The score also overshadows the fact that teachers are mandated to teach a certain way instead of being able to adapt to their classrooms.

Despite reforms in how Louisiana schools and educators are assessed over the past decade, Posey said scores continue to fall, perhaps due to the metrics being used rather than the performance of students and teachers.

“If you use a system that’s designed to fail or an evaluation metric that’s designed to fail, it’s going to fail,” Posey said. “The reality is that we have so many good teachers. We have so many bright students, and they’re graduating, and they’re going and doing wonderful things, but the only thing we hear repeatedly is Louisiana has a terrible education system. And I think we just need to start looking at that narrative.”

Written by Sabrina LeBoeuf

Categories: Education

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