Teacher evaluations: Proposal mixes standardized tests, unannounced visits and surveys

One-third of teachers’ evaluations could be linked to their students’ standardized test results if the State Board of Education next week agrees on guidelines a state panel approved today.

The panel — which consists of representatives from superintendents, school boards, principals and teachers’ groups — is also recommending that the state’s 50,000 public school teachers be evaluated on the results of announced and unannounced observations and anonymous parent and student surveys. Another factor will be if teachers met the goals agreed upon at the start of the school year.

The leaders of the state’s largest teachers’ union disagreed, however, with many components of the panel’s recommendations. The president of the state’s other teachers’ union is cautiously supportive.

Allan Taylor, chairman of the state board, said during a phone interview later Thursday that although he hasn’t yet seen the recommendations, they will hold a lot of weight with the state board.

“I am inclined to support them because [this panel] has reached consensus on these guidelines” he said of the agreement by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council.

This will be the first time that teacher evaluations will be allowed by state law to be used to influence tenure and dismissal decisions. If approved by the state board, that will start in the 2014-15 school year, as required by a newly passed state law.

The principal and teacher will have to mutually agree upon which components will be included in almost half a teacher’s evaluation, which means, how much weight can be given to standardized tests results. However, standardized tests must account for at least 22.5 percent of a teacher’s grade.

The local school board will determine whether surveys and feedback will count for 10 percent or 15 percent of the grade. Observations will need to be done three times a year for all teachers, but highly rated teachers will only need one in-class observation.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said while “it is possible” for standardized tests to account for one-third of an evaluation, “the objective that’s been stated by the…committee is for balance.” He also said that the upcoming pilot year for these new evaluations will help his department determine if districts are too heavily relying on tests and if the tests accurately predict teaching success.

But officials from the state’s largest teacher’s union said allowing tests to play a part in evaluating teachers is a mistake.

“I would hope that when the pilots are done and we see that our worst fears come true, that the guidelines will have to be changed. There is no reliable study that shows that standardized tests…they were never designed to measure teacher performance,” said Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association.

Levine and her colleagues on the advisory panel do not support some components of the guidelines, to be presented to the State Board of Education next week, but did not block the recommendations moving forward to the state board. There was no final formal vote, however, each section of the guidelines did seem to reach consensus among panel members during the lengthy meeting.

Sharon Palmer, AFT’s president, said during a phone interview after the meeting that she’s willing to back these guidelines for now with a footnote next to her support that they will need to be amended next year after the pilot.

“It’s not perfect, but let’s try it and see where the pilot takes us,” she said. “We are still uncomfortable with the tests, and we are not shy about speaking up if they are being used too much in the pilot… It’s time to get going on these evaluations. This is important stuff.”