The State Board of Education Wednesday approved teacher evaluation requirements that pave the way for up to a third of a teacher’s grade to be linked to how his or her students perform on standardized tests.
The state’s 50,000 teachers will also be evaluated on the results of announced and unannounced classroom observations and anonymous parent or student surveys, if their local school board decides to use surveys to fulfill the feedback requirement.
“This is probably one of the most important things we are going to be doing this year,” Allan B. Taylor, the chairman of the state board, said before the unanimous vote.
While the requirements are being praised by various education groups — including those that represent principals, superintendents and school boards — the state’s largest teachers’ union does not support the evaluations because of their heavy reliance on standardized test scores and surveys.
These new evaluations will begin in 16 pilot districts — which collectively have 5,000 teachers — in the coming school year, and there will be statewide rollout in the 2013-14 school year. The results of these evaluations will influence tenure and dismissal decisions beginning in the 2014-15 school year, which was the centerpiece of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education reform proposal this year.
Malloy said in a statement that today’s vote “is a significant step forward in the implementation of our education reform program. We look forward to the upcoming pilot of the new system.”
Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said during Wednesday’s day-long meeting at the state Capitol complex that while he is “proud” that the state has made it to this point, “profound disagreements” and questions remain among key stakeholders.
Some of those questions include whether these evaluations will actually improve education. What happens when there’s a dispute in how much weight to give standardized tests in a teacher’s grade? And, finally, who will pay for all these new requirements?
“We don’t have enough administrative personnel to carry this out [statewide]. We are going to be laying off teachers to carry out these evaluations,” said Joe Cirasuolo, executive director of the state’s superintendents association, who is supportive of these new evaluations but cited cost concerns after the meeting of the panel that forwarded these recommended guidelines to the state board.
For the pilot year, the state legislature has provided $2.5 million so the first districts can begin evaluating their teachers. The source of the money needed in the subsequent years to implement the detailed evaluations and provide the required support to improve struggling teachers remains to be seen.
“This could be a huge budget mandate. The funding for this would have to be raised at the local level if the state deserts the funding,” said Sharon Palmer, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.
Many education officials have said that to have the ratings system, but no follow-up support, the evaluations would have all been done in vain.
“Evaluation and support: That is the spirit and intent of all this,” Pryor said Wednesday. “That is our big task.”
Stephen Wright, a state board member from Trumbull, suggested the board seek a legislative fix to ensure that professional development receive funding since, “that the first thing that’s cut when budgets get tight.” He recommended that the state’s education funding grant be dependent on whether a district provides a sufficient amount of professional development.
Pryor didn’t say whether he would propose such a measure to legislators but noted that the Malloy administration allocated $5 million in the adopted state budget so the education department could offer professional development and help with teacher recruitment for low-performing schools.
Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the state’s largest teachers’ union, said she’s not sure that will be enough money to provide meaningful professional development, but added that she is reserving judgment.
Weighing standardized tests
Teacher unions have opposed allowing standardized tests to account for up to one-third a teacher’s evaluation. These new evaluations do require teachers and principals to mutually agree on how much standardized tests count and what goals a teacher will be expected to meet throughout the school year. The new guidelines require that standardized test count for at least 22.5 percent.
Levine said while the intention of this “mutually agreed” upon requirement is good, she worried about nontenured teachers being pushed into agreeing that their evaluation be weighted heavily with standardized test results.
“My concerns have not changed,” she said during a break in Wednesday’s meeting.
A looming question remains what will happen when a teacher and principal cannot “mutually agree” on what goes into the teacher’s evaluation. The state board decided to let local boards come up with a procedure to resolve these disagreements, which the state board will have to approve.
Pryor said that a state model will be created for those districts that can’t resolve the impasse.
Will it work?
There was no shortage of optimism Wednesday about these requirements leading to improved student performance.
“I think it’s going to make such an important difference in our schools,” said board member Patricia Luke, from East Hampton.
“The core requirements before you today reflect the best practices and the lessons learned elsewhere,” said Jennifer Alexander, of ConnCAN, an education policy group that advocates for teacher evaluations linked to student performance.
The National Council of Teacher Quality reports that 13 states require teacher evaluations to be tied to student achievement.
But officials at the Connecticut Education Association says there’s no proof the process will lead to increased learning.
“This is going to blow up,” Levine said. “All you have to do is look around the country and see it has a lot of unintended consequences… My fear is that it’s going to drive more people out of the profession.”
The state has arranged for the University of Connecticut’s Center for Education Policy Analysis to evaluate the pilot program.
Casey D. Cobb, the director of UConn’s center, said his team intends to report on the rollout of the evaluations, but not whether the system is improving student outcomes.
“The pilot could be a spot-on system for evaluating teachers. Most likely it’s not and will need to be fine-tuned. That’s where we come in,” Cobb said. “A validity study cannot be done in a year. That’s a much longer study.”