Teacher evaluation debate centers on measuring student achievement

Posted Dec. 13, 2012, at 6:26 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 13, 2012, at 9:07 p.m.
Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen

AUGUSTA, Maine — How much weight student achievement should have in evaluating teachers and principals continues to be a major sticking point as the Department of Education prepares a new teacher evaluation program for legislative action.

The department, in rules proposed for public schools that will greet the Legislature in January, wants 25 percent of a teacher’s overall rating to be borne from student achievement. That’s more than double than the 10 percent favored by some members of the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council, which was created by the Legislature to develop the program. According to Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesley, who said the council never reached consensus on the issue, that means the debate is far from over.

“The proposed rule is not totally aligned to what [the council] has been talking about for the past several months,” said Kilby-Chesley. “In some places the DOE has filled in the blanks in areas where there hasn’t been consensus.”

She added that the MEA also seeks more details around parts of the rules, such as what kind of training will be required of people performing the evaluations and what methods will be used to identify student growth.

“Using the student growth model could cause problems,” she said. “If multiple measures for evaluation are used then that would probably work. If only one measure is used to evaluate student growth and that measure turns out to be a standardized test, it probably won’t work. Occasionally, tests don’t match up to what’s happening day-to-day in the classroom.”

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said in a press release that the Legislature’s action on teacher and principal evaluations is of critical importance.

“Of the education laws passed last session, this is one of the two most significant,” said Bowen. “We are extremely grateful for the work of the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council. They met many, many times, put in a lot of hard work and have helped us move this forward.”

The law, which was proposed by LePage and enacted with unanimous support of the Legislature earlier this year, requires school districts to develop and implement systems for evaluating educators based on professional practice, student achievement growth and other measures. There are at least 37 states developing teacher evaluation systems, many of them in order to meet requirements under a waiver process introduced by the Obama Administration under No Child Left Behind or a grant program called Race to the Top.

The rules under development by the DOE set guidelines for local school districts to follow in their teacher and principal evaluations. The goal is to identify where teachers excel, where they could use more training and in some cases, when they aren’t cut out for the profession.

“This is not about weeding out bad teachers,” said David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the Department of Education. “Yes, there are a few teachers who should go and yes, there are mechanisms here to help that happen. But the goal is to help measure effective teaching and to help provide professional growth and support.”

Connerty-Marin said when it comes to using student achievement growth to measure a teacher’s effectiveness, giving it a weight of 25 percent is the norm, not the exception.

“The requirement from the federal government is that [student growth] be a significant part,” he said. “The lowest we’ve seen in any of the states we’ve looked at was 25 percent, and we looked at quite a few.”

Kilby-Chesley, who is a teacher, said most of her colleagues agree that a teacher evaluation system would ultimately benefit students. .

“Teachers look forward to evaluations that are going to improve their teaching practices,” she said. “The goal of a teacher evaluation should be to improve the practice of the teacher in the classroom.”

LePage, who has made education reform a cornerstone of his administration, said every student in every classroom in every school deserves an excellent teacher.

“And every teacher and principal deserves clear expectations and a fair evaluation process that rewards effectiveness and supports teachers in constantly improving,” said LePage in a press release. “In private business, we call that professional development. Teachers deserve that as much as workers in private industry.”

The DOE is required to propose standards to the Legislature by early January. A public hearing on the evaluation system is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Dec. 27, in Room 103 of the Cross State Office Building, which is next to the State House in Augusta. The DOE will accept written comments on its proposal through Jan. 7.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council reached consensus on what percentage of a student’s achievement should be used in evaluating teachers. The council has not reached consensus on that issue.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council reached consensus on what percentage of a student’s achievement should be used in evaluating teachers. The council has not reached consensus on that issue.

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