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Published in Print: May 3, 2000, as Del. Ties School Job Reviews To Student Tests

Del. Ties School Job Reviews To Student Tests

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Delaware would temporarily relax testing requirements for students but start holding teachers and principals more accountable for those youngsters' achievement, under legislation that Gov. Thomas R. Carper is expected to sign into law this week.

By enacting the plan, which comes after a nearly two-year battle involving state school groups, business leaders, and Mr. Carper, the state would become one of the first to link educators' job-performance evaluations to their students' test scores.

The compromise plan, approved by both chambers of the legislature last month, would create a new system of licensure, certification, and performance review for teachers and administrators. The plan represents the final part of an education accountability plan that Mr. Carper, a Democrat, has promoted during his two terms as governor. His tenure will end next January.

"This particular piece of our efforts was really the crown jewel in efforts dating back to 1993," said Anthony Farina, Gov. Carper's spokesman.

Gov. Carper himself made clear that he sees the package's significance as extending beyond his state's borders.

"We've provided Delaware students, parents, and educators with the first comprehensive education reform package in America," he said in a written statement to Education Week.

Kathy Christie, a policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States in Denver, said many states are discussing ways to tie student performance to educators' evaluations, but are finding that it's a politically delicate process. Delaware now joins the few that have actually been able to pass such plans, she said.

Thomas R. Carper

"It's growing, but it's growing very slowly because it's so difficult to do," she said. "It's hard to get through legislatures because of issues of fairness."

One of the considerations, she added, is making sure that teachers who take the toughest jobs, such as those in high-poverty, low-performing schools, aren't driven out or discouraged.

Delaware's educator-accountability plan was initially proposed in Mr. Carper's State of the State Address last year. At that time, he called for requiring all teachers to pass a national exam, and for taking into account students' showing on tests when judging educators' job performance.

Under the revised plan that passed the legislature, a new professional-standards board would be charged with crafting an evaluation system that would make students' scores on state and local assessments count for at least 20 percent of the performance reviews given to teachers, administrators, and other instructional-staff members. The Delaware State Education Association had initially opposed the bill, including the 20 percent weight afforded student performance. But the National Education Association affiliate's concerns were partially addressed by provisions in the final measure that added considerations for factors such as poverty, absentee rates, and other adverse conditions that educators face in attempting to improve student performance.

Certification Revamped

The legislation would also set up a new, three-tiered system of licensure and certification, requiring educators to take professional-development courses before advancing. In addition to initial three-year licenses and continuing licenses renewable every five years, teachers could obtain advanced licenses good for 10 years by becoming certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Delaware would get its own standards board, under the bill, half of whose 16 members would be teachers. The board, which the governor would appoint, would work with the state education department to write rules governing the new certification and training requirements.

Another provision in the plan would require teachers applying for jobs in other districts to present their previous three evaluations to their prospective employers, in an effort to prevent bad teachers from skipping from one district to the next. The legislation also slightly increases the teacher-salary scale, with focus on new teachers.

Penalties Postponed

On the student-accountability front, the measure would postpone for two years the implementation of new testing requirements in reading and mathematics that were scheduled to go into effect this spring. Those provisions would penalize students who did not meet cutoff scores on state tests by denying them graduation or promotion to the next grade.

The postponement follows a backlash against the high-stakes assessments—which are given in grades 3, 5, 8, and 10—among some parents and educators.

State officials have said only about a third of the 8th and 10th graders who took the tests in April 1998 would have cleared the mathematics bar to advance to the next grade had the testing requirements been in place.

Gov. Carper supported pushing back implementation after hearing from thousands of parents and educators who were worried that their students would be held back without warning.

Under the bill, for the next two years, any student who fell short of the cutoff scores would have to have an "individual student-improvement plan." The legislature has also allotted enough funding to ensure that about one-third of students could go to summer school and after-school activities this year, said Peg Bradley, the governor's education aide.

"We want to make sure that [funding] is focused on the kids not meeting the standards in this two-year window," Ms. Bradley said. "We felt, in fairness to the students, we needed a little more time for districts" to align instruction with state curriculum standards, she added.

The bill also sets up a new diploma system for students. To receive an "academic" diploma, students would have to pass the 10th grade assessments in math and language arts. Those who met all the course requirements but did not pass the exam would receive a "standard" diploma, while special education students who were unable to meet those requirements could receive a certificate of performance.

Vol. 19, Issue 34, Pages 24,27

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Web Resources
  • Some of the history behind the accountability movement in Delaware is detailed in a synopsis of the April 1997 Delaware Policy Forum, "Educational Accountability Decisions for Delaware," sponsored by the Delaware Department of Education and the University of Delaware.
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