Playing the Game of “TLEopoly”

By October 8, 2014 Uncategorized 3 Comments

It is that time of year when Oklahoma school administrators reach into the storage closet to dust off the TLEopoly game board for the start of a new teacher evaluation cycle.

For those who are unfamiliar with the rules of the game, let me explain some basic guidelines.

TLE stands for the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System. The system was enacted by passage of Senate Bill 2033 during the 2010 legislative session. The law required the Oklahoma State Board of Education to adopt formal rules for the game by December 15, 2011.

TLEopoly rules can sometimes be the subject of a little bit of debate, because a lot of people play with variant rules. This is despite the fact that the state has spent large amounts of money to train evaluators so they are appropriately “calibrated” to ensure consistent teacher ratings from school to school and district to district.

This is similar to the belief that having the one set of identical academic standards for all students across the nation will ensure that all children will graduate from high school equally ready for college, regardless of their background.

A quick review. Things that can be effectively calibrated and/or standardized: digital scanners, computer monitors, automobiles, Big Macs, optical devices, and electronic scales. Human beings–not so much.

Anyhow, the objective of TLEopoly is for teachers to earn a rating of highly effective or superior through the accumulation of points. According to the rules set by law, a teacher’s score will be based on:

  • 50% Qualitative Measures (observable characteristics of performance that are correlated to student achievement)
  • 35% Quantitative Measures of Student Academic Growth based on multiple years of standardized test data (Note: no one actually knows how this will work. Teachers of certain tested subjects will earn points based on roster verification and value added models;  teachers of untested subjects will have to develop student learning objectives (SLOs) or student outcome objectives (SOOs) to measure and report. These points will be added to the teacher’s score one year after they were computed. This sounds easy enough, right?)
  • 15% Quantitative Measures of Other Academic Factors (another note: Teachers who know how to play TLEopoly will quickly figure out to earn points here. For example, teachers in any high school earning an A on the A-F report card can use this measure to earn a superior 5.0 score nearly every year. This is one of the examples the state provides on their website. Unfortunately, teachers in high poverty schools may not have this option, hence the measure is blatantly UNFAIR.)

In reality, the whole TLE process is quantitative since the qualitative evaluations conducted by administrators must be converted into a number. You then take half this number, add .35 times another number and .15 of a third number to get a total number. This, of course, is why teachers got into the profession of teaching—to have their life’s work and passion for children translated to a number.

Yet, this final number is important in order for the state to effectively rank, sort, and punish teachers provide each teacher with actionable data to guide his or her professional growth.

The first step for teachers is the all-important selection of the game token which they believe will bring them the greatest chance to earn points. There are eight basic educator styles in the TLEopoly game:

Wheelbarrow: “I can carry anything you throw at me. Bring it on.”

Battleship: “I’m big and powerful but don’t expect me to turn quickly.”

Racecar: “Can we hurry up? I have more important things to do.”

Thimble: “I don’t want to get hurt. Just tell me what to do.”

Old-style boot: “I am well-worn and comfortable. Keep polishing me and I may last a few more years.”

Scottie dog: “I am typically loyal and friendly, but if you mistreat me I’ll bark a lot and pee on the carpet.”

Top hat: “Remember you’re not my first dance partner. Respect me or you’ll get nothing from me. I’ve played this game a lot longer than you have.”

Cat: “I don’t need you. Just put some food in my bowl, keep my box clean, and leave me alone.”

Each administrator can play TLEopoly with up to thirty players. This may seem like a lot of pieces moving at the same time, but principals have virtually unlimited time so this should not be a problem.

At the start of the game, each teacher is given 3.0 points. The administrator banks the rest of the points to distribute as he or she sees fit. If teachers are able to successfully navigate their way around the board without losing any of their points, they may get to play again next year.

However, if a teacher fails to PASS GO with 3.0 points remaining, they go directly to TLE jail. They must then earn additional points from their administrator through the PDP process in order to continue. If they do not earn these points, their token is removed from the board.

As the game is played, teachers may occasionally land on Chance or Community Chest spots. Upon landing on one of these, the teacher is dealt a card depending on where and whom they teach. Some examples include: Five new ELL students added to your roster. Move back three spots and lose growth points” or “Congratulations, you’ve been assigned to teach algebra to seventh graders in an affluent suburban school. Pass GO and collect more points.

Teachers who accumulate additional points may be able to trade their pewter token for a silver (highly effective) or gold (superior) game piece. They can also brag to others about the big number they have. Other than that, the points are absolutely useless.

Unless of course, the legislature decides in the future to grant monetary incentives (merit pay) for teachers who earn more points than others. At this time, the game will become much more serious. Since the number of points available for distribution will have to be limited, the objective of the game will undoubtedly change. Instead of teachers playing for the “love of the game,” their focus will become bankrupting the other players in order to gather more points. There will be winners and many losers.

Each year, the game of TLEopoly becomes even more cumbersome and confusing. Most teachers used to look forward to playing the game when the focus was on providing meaningful and timely feedback to support their growth. They didn’t really care about gathering points and they rooted for other players to have success as well. Administrators enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with their teachers and support their success.

As the game evolves and we further reduce the value of educators to a single number used to compare and rank them,  I expect even more great teachers to simply say, “I quit, the game is no longer useful or fun.”  Administrators will be buried in more unnecessary paperwork and state reporting requirements that will consume the time they need to coach and support their teachers.

TLEopoly is an outdated game created by non-educators for a 20th century industrial model. It is not an effective approach to improve teaching and learning in our schools today. It is time to put it back on the shelf of the hall closet or donate it to Goodwill. Then again, I’m not certain anyone else would want it either.

(This is part one of a three part series on teacher evaluation and TLE. In part two, I will discuss how the current system is inefficient, ineffective, and a poor use of principals’ time. For part three, I will share a highly effective model used by an award-winning school district in Maryland—a system, incidentally, they were forced to abandon in order to maintain their state’s ESEA waiver.)

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