Saturday, December 18, 2010

CARROT FOR CHANGING TEACHER EVALUATIONS: Will districts respond to State Board's incentives?

By John Fensterwald - Educated Guess |

Posted on 12/17/10 • Last month, State Board of Education President Ted Mitchell couldn’t get any votes for his plan to encourage districts to change the way they evaluate teachers and administrators. Education groups didn’t like the proposal any better.

But this week, with the California School Boards Association and the Association of California School Administrators now praising it, the Board unanimously adopted a new version that offers an incentive to districts willing to link evaluations with student achievement and good classroom practices.

The State Board’s role in what has become a national debate on evaluations is limited by state statutes and local bargaining. But there is one modest area – the authority to grant waivers from the onerous Ed Code – in which the State Board can offer a carrot. Under the new policy, schools or districts that create annual principal and teacher evaluations that meet a dozen broad criteria will be on a fast track to get waivers tied to improving student achievement.

The policy coincides with the efforts in some districts to adopt  new evaluations. Mitchell himself led a task force in Los Angeles Unified whose recommendations have met resistance from United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers union. (Mitchell explains why the State Board’s policy is important in a video interview I conducted; click here for it.)

One big stumbling block, which the union reaffirmed this week, is its opposition to using test scores as one of the measures. The State Board’s policy calls for using “no less than 30 percent based on growth in student achievement toward meeting grade-level proficiency.”* That’s the same percentage that the Obama administration favors and that Los Angeles Unified and the six other districts in the state’s Race to the Top application used. But the State Board’s policy said other measures could be used beside standardized test scores: “classroom work, student grades, classroom participation, student presentations and performance and student projects and portfolios.”

* smf: The L.A. Times “Value-added” methodology is based 100% on test scores.

In citing the California Teachers Association’s opposition to the policy, lobbyist Ken Burt said there is no evidence to support the 30 percent threshold and called the board’s policy “ideological, a matter of belief.”

But what appealed to the school boards and administrators associations and other groups is the policy’s recognition of the importance of other factors as well: “differentiated instruction and practices; culturally responsive instructional strategies to address and eliminate the achievement gap; high expectations and active student engagement; consistent and effective relationships with students, parents, teachers, administrators and other school and district staff; and meaningful self-assessment to improve as a professional educator.”

The policy requires that districts use the evaluations “to inform” all employment decisions, including tenure, promotion, and dismissal and in the distribution of highly effective teachers and administrators to minimize disparities between high- and low-poverty and minority schools.

Noting that a new Gates Foundation-funded study of teacher effectiveness concluded that students’ views of their teachers were good predictors of teacher effectiveness, the board is requiring that parents’ and students’ opinions also be a component of an evaluation.

A committee appointed by the State Board will determine whether districts’ evaluation systems qualify for the Ed Code waivers. Those waivers may relate to class size, instructional time, or daily schedules. Or districts could seek waivers from grant restrictions from which the Legislature hasn’t yet provided flexibility. What’s unknown is whether these waivers would be a strong enough attraction for districts and unions to pursue evaluations along the lines that the State Board prescribed.

The waivers would not be automatic anyway. An existing Waiver Office in the State Department of Education would continue to review districts’ requests and could recommend that the State Board not grant them. But the assumption would be that waivers would be put on the State Board’s consent calendar, making approval pro forma for those districts whose evaluation systems passed the review committee’s muster.

No comments: