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“Teachers are Nervous”: States Are Changing the Way They Evaluate Educators

Photography Credit: 123rf

“Teachers are nervous,” Sandi Jacobs said earlier this week. “They’re hearing a lot of things that are scaring them.”

Jacobs, a former educator and current vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, was talking about job performance evaluations. As many who have worked in the field for any length of time will tell you, education trends come and go. One of the latest is a trend toward evaluating teachers based on student achievement. Yesterday, the national council released a report providing an overview of changes states are making in the way they evaluate educators.

As recently as two years ago, few states were taking student achievement into account, Jacobs said, adding that previously the emphasis had been on teacher qualifications. However, over the last 18 months — according to the national council’s report — almost half of states started requiring at least some evidence of teacher effectiveness. Both Kansas and Missouri are following this trend, with new teacher evaluation systems under development in both states.

As the KC Education Enterprise reported last week, two metropolitan-area school districts are participating in a pilot project of the new Kansas Education Evaluation Protocol (KEEP). And Missouri officials are developing a method of sharing standardized test information that they eventually plan to use in evaluating teacher performance.

The authors of the national council’s report caution that most of the teacher evaluation plans they describe are too new to allow anyone to draw firm conclusions about the impact on teacher effectiveness. However, the authors do provide some early observations regarding challenges states — including Kansas and Missouri — may face as they develop these plans.

One of the national council’s observations is that states “can do more to anticipate fears and diminish tensions” among teachers, who “not unlike most of us, are afraid of the unknown.” In Kansas, state education officials are working with local National Education Association (NEA) chapters to train teachers and administrators volunteering to participate in the pilot teacher evaluation program. At the end of the pilot period, these volunteers will have the opportunity to provide feedback to help improve the program and to help train other teachers and administrators. Although KEEP is not without controversy among wary educators, Kansas does at least appear to be trying to involve them in the process, which may help diminish fear and uncertainty.

In Missouri, a planned new teacher evaluation system is part of the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP), which is undergoing revision. Last spring, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) drew criticism from a number of professional organizations because of the impression that DESE had announced new accreditation rules without adequately seeking input from teachers, administrators and other education experts. Perhaps the state has learned from that mistake, though, because there is a long list of districts and charter schools — including 13 in the Kansas City metropolitan area alone — volunteering for the pilot program that started this fall.

Many educators have been wary of new teacher evaluation plans such as those under development in Kansas and Missouri and nationwide. In particular, educators have been reluctant to endorse plans using student standardized test results in evaluations of teacher effectiveness. According to the NEA, for example, “Just as a standardized test is not an accurate reflection of what a student knows, it is not an accurate reflection of what a teacher has taught.”

In Kansas, state education officials are working with the ETS — one of the leading producers of standardized tests for students — to develop a standardized method of evaluating teachers. This is the system being tested in this year’s pilot program. In Missouri, state education officials have not yet released a new teacher evaluation plan, which they say is coming next year. However, based on this year’s pilot program, state officials appear to be planning to base teacher evaluations largely on student performance on the standardized Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests.

Despite concerns about possible inappropriate uses of standardized testing, this year NEA members did agree to a new policy stating that student performance should be one measure of educator effectiveness. In place of testing, evidence of learning could be students’ oral and written presentations or teacher reports of how well students met learning goals. Also, the NEA policy states there should be additional measures of teacher effectiveness, such as classroom observations by principals, peer reviews or portfolios.

Despite disagreement about the best way to evaluate educators, just about everyone agrees change is needed. According to the national council’s report, up until a couple of years ago administrators rated the performance of almost all teachers as satisfactory. Such ratings are probably not the result of meaningful assessments, because of the natural variation of human skills and abilities. The NEA agrees, stating in their new policy that “Current systems for assessing, evaluating, and supporting teachers too often fail to improve teacher practice and enhance student growth and learning.”

Education research suggests teacher effectiveness is important to student success. It may be the most important factor schools can control. However, other important school factors are administrative support and collaboration time. Research also suggests that teachers and schools have no control over some of the most important influences on student success, factors such as family income and parenting skills.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, which released this week’s report on the evaluation of educators, is a nonpartisan research organization. Funding for the report came from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Joyce Foundation.

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Recommended reading: A Tale of Two Teacher Evaluations http://tinyurl.com/3jjx4zx

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Follow our Twitter feed for more education news from local, regional and national sources:http://twitter.com/#!/JW_Martinez

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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.

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