On Oct. 24th, I attended a meeting hosted by the South Carolina State Superintendent of Education. I was joined by more than 600 fellow special education and general education teachers. The topic of the meeting was teacher evaluation systems – one of the most hotly debated issues for teachers today. I have held off writing about this topic for a few reasons. First, I don’t like talking about issues that are political. Second, I wasn’t sure that it was an appropriate topic for Reality 101. Finally, I was too angry to have a rational discussion about it.
I decided now is a good time to write about this change for a couple reasons. First, I don’t think teacher evaluation is as much about politics as it is about education. Second, the more I think about the South Carolina plan, the more I can see real-life, everyday implications for the reality of a teacher as a result of the changes that are being proposed. Third, I have had time to review the proposed South Carolina plan in its entirety, listen to the explanation from the State Department of Education, and think reasonably and rationally about the topic.
The South Carolina State Department of Education has proposed changing the teacher evaluation system to an A-F grading scale that relies on classroom value-added and school value-added formulas to calculate a teacher’s grade. For those of you still in college, think of ADEPT or SAFE-T. This system will replace ADEPT and SAFE-T in South Carolina.
I won’t go into all the details of this plan, but this link will give you more information if you would like to read more about it. Basically, classroom value-added is judged by student growth on test scores by students in your class. School value-added is based on how your school as a whole performs. For high school teachers, it is based on HSAP (exit exam) scores and graduation rates.
Ironically, on the same day I was attending this meeting on the South Carolina teacher evaluation system, CEC published a Position on Special Education Teacher Evaluation. I highly encourage all special education teachers—or general education teachers for that matter—to read it and evaluate your state’s system based on CEC’s Position.
I am against the proposed plan in South Carolina for several reasons, and am pleased to note that justifications for most of these reasons can be found in CEC’s Position.1. Not all teachers have the same formula to calculate a grade.
Teachers in state-wide tested grades and content areas have the following formula: Teacher Observation and Performance Scales (TOPS) count 60 percent, classroom value-added counts 30 percent, and school value-added counts 10 percent.
For teachers in grades and content areas not tested statewide, 70 percent of the grade is based on TOPS, and 30 percent is based on school value-added. The state superintendent said that the teachers in South Carolina would be split approximately 70/30 with 70 percent following the 70/30 formula, and 30 percent following the 60/30/10 plan. I would like to see a teacher evaluation system that was the same for all teachers.2. The proposed system does not take into account the varying responsibilities and roles of a special education teacher.
I have often wondered how much time I spend on things such as IEP development, progress monitoring, collaborating with general educators and families, and implementing accommodations. My guess would be that these responsibilities take up easily half of my time at work. The proposed system does not take into account these aspects of a special educator’s job.
education advocates must be involved in the development, implementation and
evaluation of the teacher evaluation process.
I spoke to Dr. Kathryn Meeks from the State Department of Education after the meeting to address some of my concerns regarding the plan. One thing I asked was how many special educators were involved in the development of this system. She could not say that special educators were involved in the development of the system although she did say that they received feedback from a handful of schools and special education teachers at those schools gave feedback on the system.
I also asked if they had sought input from the CEC. She said they had not. To her credit she said she had worked with the South Carolina Office of Special Education Programs, but I would have appreciated an effort to include and collaborate with the world’s largest advocacy organization for educators of students with disabilities, as well as the students with disabilities themselves.
4. The proposed system uses a statistical
model that does not have consensus acceptance among researchers as to its
estimate of student growth.
Several times during the meeting, the teachers in attendance showed great displeasure with the State Department of Education. One of those times was when the state superintendent discussed how this formula calculates what growth a student should be able to achieve.
I’m no statistician, but calculating what my students will be able to do from day to day is nearly impossible. Calculating student growth is actually a significant portion of the formula. Some 20 percent or 30 percent (depending on if your students participate in state-wide testing) of the grade is based on classroom value-added, but a significant portion of the TOPS section is calculated based on student growth. When combined, the student growth and student value-added portions account for over half of the teacher’s final grade. Over half of my reputation as a teacher will be based on measures that do not have sufficient research to support them.
5. The proposed system does not take into
consideration the unintended negative consequences for students with disabilities.
The meeting was filled with emotion from the hundreds of teachers in attendance. On several occasions the speakers from the State Department of Education were interrupted by an angry shout from the crowd followed by a standing ovation and cheers from the fellow teachers. But in all of the emotional comments, I heard some teachers reveal opinions about students with disabilities in general education classrooms that, frankly, offended me.
Advocates for students with disabilities have made great strides toward including students with disabilities. I fear that if a teacher’s reputation is on the line (or his or her pay—as our state superintendent has stated he advocates) teachers will not readily welcome students with disabilities in the general education classroom.
I could go on with more reasons why I am opposed to this system. For example, a hostile work environment with teachers looking out for themselves and the fact that there would be absolutely no incentive for good teachers to teach at low performing schools each have enough content to make a whole new blog post.
I do think education needs reform. South Carolina has some of the lowest rankings for education in the country. While dozens of other factors play a part, I do think teachers play a big part in student growth. I do think some teachers are less effective than others. I do think student growth can be factored into a teacher’s evaluation in a way that is equitable for all teachers.
Education needs reform, but this system is not the answer. Many states are planning systems similar to the one in South Carolina. How is your state’s system incorporating student growth into its evaluation? What pitfalls or benefits do you see to your system?