Connecticut education leaders reached agreement Thursday on how much student standardized test results should count toward a teacher’s evaluation.
And if the State Board of Education signs off, school districts may be able to tie as much as 49 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to standardized measures.
“We cleared a major hurdle today,” Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said of the vote by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council.
The deal reached — with leaders of the state’s largest teachers’ union abstaining — establishes a numerical formula by which to rate individual teachers.
At least 22.5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation would be linked to how well his or her students perform on state standardized tests, such as CMTs.
Districts would have the ability to decide, in collaboration with a teacher, what goes into another 22.5 percent of the evaluation: One part can be another standardized measure; as for the second part, it must be at least one measure that is not a test. This could include, for instance, a student’s portfolio or how well he plays an instrument. A final 5 percent can be tied to schoolwide performance on tests.
The remainder will come from teacher observations and student, parent and peer surveys.
“Where [tests] are appropriate, they ought to be used,” said Joe Cirasuolo, the executive director of the state’s superintendents’ group.
“It’s offering [districts and teachers] a choice,” said Karissa Niehoff, leader of the Connecticut Association of Schools, which represents principals.
But teacher union leaders are not on board.
“I still have a concern that there might be too much testing under this model,” said Sharon Palmer, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. Palmer did not abstain, however, as did her counterpart at the Connecticut Education Association.
“What you do as a teacher beyond driving test scores should be as important,” said Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the CEA. “This is chaos.”
After being assured by the commissioner that the state requirements can and may be tweaked after the pilot year if districts are too heavily relying on tests, union leaders decided not to block passage.
“None of this is final until the pilot is complete,” Palmer said.
During the school year that begins this fall, eight to 10 districts will pilot these state evaluations, and the following year every district will be required to implement the state model. Districts that have exceptional existing evaluation systems already in place will be exempt from having to implement the state plan.
The new education reform law, which was signed earlier this month, for the first time links teacher tenure decisions to evaluations and allows teachers to be fired if rated “ineffective.”
Teachers will have a say
The state panel also agreed that whatever goes into the second 22.5 percent must be “mutually agreed upon” by the teacher and the principal at the start of the school year.
Teachers will meet with their principals and select two other indicators and goals to be measured by. One of those can be a standardized test accounting for almost all of that 22.5 percent.
The commissioner said he wants to see a spectrum of weighting on tests in the pilot.
“It is my hope that there’s a diversity of approaches,” he said after the meeting.
This model is similar to how the process works in New Haven, which received accolades from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan earlier this week for a contract supported by both unions and administrators.
While Loftus Levine said she supports the section of the agreement that calls for teachers to approve of how they will be measured, she worries that non-tenured teachers could be bullied into agreeing to measures they don’t want so they don’t get fired.
“Let’s get real,” she said.
Several other panel members had a more fundamental question: What happens if an agreement can’t be reached on what measures to be graded on?
“You’re not always going to have a New Haven situation where agreements can be reached,” said Palmer, responding to a presentation that showed all 1,600 teachers in that district were able to reach agreement with principals on how to be graded this year. “There’s a real lovefest in New Haven… That doesn’t happen everywhere.”
Pryor promised that the state will create guidelines for how such disputes are mediated.