TELL-Delaware—Rodel’s Take: We Want to Hear from Teachers

May 20th, 2015

Category: News

Recently, my colleague Jeff Taschner, the executive director of DSEA and someone I have known and respected for more than a decade, wrote a letter to what appears to be all DSEA members. In it, he suggested that the State Board of Education and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware blocked the release of the TELL-DE survey. I understand Jeff’s frustration with the process, but I see things differently.

Before posting this, Jeff and I took some time to talk. My point in writing this is not to engage in a back-and-forth about the issue, but to simply explain our perspective and move on. We may not agree on this issue, but I believe we both want to move forward on the real work of supporting and elevating our schools and students.

To be clear, the State Board, Rodel, and all the other public and private partners that were asked to help deliver the survey wanted to see the core TELL-DE survey administered. Some of us objected to the additional questions that were proposed–but not cleared—by the New Teacher Center. We felt these questions ran the risk of creating a bias in the survey, but we didn’t ask for a delay.

For context, Rodel has supported the TELL survey since its inception in 2012. We were asked to join a partnership that included members of the DSEA, Department of Education, State Board of Education, Delaware Charter School Network, Delaware Association of School Administrators, and others. The TELL Delaware survey is an anonymous, statewide survey of teachers to assess teaching conditions. It is administered by the New Teacher Center, which also administers the survey in more than 20 other states. The 2013 survey was externally validated by AIR (American Institutes of Research) and designed to gauge educators’ thoughts around the teaching conditions that impact their working environment and student learning.

We shared the results and analysis of the 2013 TELL survey on our blog. As a state, we learned a lot (positive and negative) from the first survey and we looked forward to seeing it continue.

As we prepared for the release of the 2015 survey, we were asked in the winter for our suggestions on additional topics and questions that could be added. We offered several questions on personalized learning and the integration of technology in classrooms (which, as far as we know, were not included). However, for most of the partners, the process went silent for 2-3 months until we saw two additional documents ten days before the survey was to be released. The first document was a “partnership agreement” that was meant to ensure that the results of the survey would not be used for accountability purposes. The second was a set of 10-15 additional questions that none of the partners other than DSEA, DASA, and DOE had seen before. The full partnership group was asked our opinion on the revised survey, and the State Board of Education raised several concerns. They indicated that the proposed questions were:

  • Beyond the intention of the TELL survey
  • Not relevant to all those being surveyed
  • Duplicative of other surveys
  • Incomplete and/or unclear
  • Not recommended or endorsed by the New Teacher Center

Rodel had a similar reaction as the State Board, so I reached out personally to those involved with the hope of finding a good path forward, but was unsuccessful.

I get that there is a lot of tension in the system right now and I respect the fact that DASA and the DSEA want to gauge their members’ opinions on policies that impact them. But because these additional questions had not been approved by a third party, the National Teacher Center, I made my concerns clear. I supported forging ahead with the survey, and supported the “partnership agreement,” but indicated that I didn’t support adding the additional questions. When I gave my feedback on the new questions, I was just one voice in the partnership, and didn’t feel as though I was in a position to suggest the path forward.

As it turns out, neither the State Board nor Rodel suggested delaying. The DOE could have very well taken our feedback and decided to move on without the additional questions, and DSEA and DASA could have asked their questions to their members separately from the TELL survey, as DASA ended up doing. Or frankly, DSEA, DASA, and DOE could have moved forward with the additional questions without the other partners. Again, we didn’t suggest a delay, we were asked our opinion about the additional questions and we said that we didn’t feel good about them. Because DASA and DSEA felt strongly that the additional questions must be added, ultimately, the school superintendents suggested a delay, and DOE concurred.

Going forward, I hope we try to do our best to de-politicize the results of this survey. By adding questions that have not been vetted by a broad base of stakeholders, we run the risk of coloring the core survey results themselves. So to that end, I’d suggest that any questions that are added in the future go through a third-party review from the National Teacher Center. I believe the power of the TELL-DE survey comes from its straight-forward, almost vanilla quality. It asks the right questions.

In closing, I’m disappointed about the process and how Rodel was portrayed in Jeff’s letter, and I believe we can and need to work together going forward. I look forward to working together on a better process for delivering this survey next winter.

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Paul Herdman



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