Published Online: November 21, 2013

Student progress questioned in evaluation rubric

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — Alabama education officials are divided over whether the teacher evaluation process places enough importance on student achievement.

A policy review by the Center for Public Education recently reported 38 states have altered their teacher evaluation systems in the past five years to include some measure of student performance that ultimately should mean improved instructional quality.

Although Alabama is among the states, local school officials said student accountability still is lacking in the formal application of the new Educate Alabama assessment.

Alabama's evaluation model changed in 2009 from the Professional Education Personnel Evaluation, which also didn't specifically measure student achievement.

Alabama State Department of Education spokeswoman Erica Pippins said teacher evaluations are formative so they remain within the local systems, thus allowing top administration to track teacher effectiveness and needs, such as areas of professional development.

The evaluation process now calls for teacher/educator reflection, self-assessment and goal setting for professional learning and growth.

Lauderdale County Superintendent Jennifer Gray said there isn't a formal student accountability aspect built in, but her school district does consider student achievement important. She said the state is looking at yet another evaluation model in which student performance would be formally included.

"The issue is that the measuring stick has to be fair across the gamut, equitable in standards for all teachers," Gray said. "Setting that criteria is the difficult part."

Most school districts in the Shoals follow a three-year formal evaluation cycle. However, every year, every teacher must complete a professional learning plan where they set goals for themselves.

Then, school administrators follow up with regular classroom evaluations throughout the school year to make sure those plans are being carried out.

Central High School Principal Ryan Harrison said there's a strong focus on the teacher's content knowledge of what they're teaching, their planning and classroom management.

He said student achievement is part of each teacher's performance evaluation even if it isn't a category for evaluation on the formal state assessment.

"Student achievement should definitely play a part in a teacher's evaluation just as a strong focus on professional development should," Harrison said. "Since our system has increased its focus on professional development for teachers, the quality of teaching has improved. I see us making strides in the classroom because of this."

Jim Hull, the Center for Public Education's senior policy analyst who authored the report, said new models of teacher evaluation can help improve instructional quality.

"Most states have done a good job of vastly improving teacher evaluation systems by listening to experts and relying on a wider range of criteria, such as classroom observation and student performance data," Hull said. "Interestingly, these evaluations are often used to help all teachers improve their skills, not just as a tool to identify and replace ineffective teachers."

According to the study, states that do rely on scores from state standardized tests use them as one of multiple measures of student achievement.

For Central High School English teacher Greta Erwin, student achievement is a definite indication of how teachers are doing in the classroom "whether it's on an evaluation tool or not."

Erwin said administrative evaluations are a common practice at her school and students' academic performance give them a firsthand look at what's going on in the classroom.

"Right now, especially with the implementation of Common Core standards, we're really setting the standards high and administrators throughout the district are observing closely at how we're achieving this," Erwin said. "I'm expected to be on task and have my students working on higher order thinking skills and application.

"As teachers, we see the future and know what's expected of us. We assess the students and address those students' needs. And likewise, we're held accountable."

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Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/


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