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Rating Teachers On Kids' Work

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Under the new pilot program, scheduled to begin in the fall, the school district will use the same database to rate each of its 8,000 teachers. The goal, district officials say, is to identify the weakest 20 percent of the teaching force and target staff-development and mentoring programs to help them. The top 40 percent of teachers in the district would be evaluated every three years, and the remaining 40 percent would be evaluated annually.

District officials maintain that they have made the system fair by factoring in variables that affect student achievement, including class size, student mobility, socioeconomic levels, language proficiency, and gender.

Still, the local teacher organizations oppose tying teacher evaluations to student performance, arguing that teachers will be held accountable for factors they cannot control. "This program says they can reduce your teaching effectiveness to a number, based on a formula that is supposed to level the playing field,'' says Maureen Peters, president of the 3,200-member Alliance of Dallas Educators, the local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. "No matter what characteristic your student has, he is put through a mathematical-formula processor and comes out homogeneous.''

Superintendent Chad Woolery says the plan is necessary because the classroom-observation system now used to evaluate Dallas teachers takes into account only what a teacher does--not whether it works for students. The new system "is a support model,'' Woolery says. "Instead of treating every teacher the same, we'll be investing lots more resources, time, and training to those in high need. This is a scary thing for some of our teachers because there isn't any place left to go and hide.''

The district will set an effectiveness index for each teacher, tied to the subjects he or she teaches. Taking into account students' initial performance levels, the indexes will measure teachers' influence on achievement against the results of similar students in the district. Student data to be examined include results on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, a Texas basic-skills test, college-entrance tests, attendance and dropout statistics, and other measures. William Webster, the system's research director, concedes that the program is unpopular with teachers. "This is probably going to be a recruitment tool for our teacher organizations,'' he says. "But the point is our kids are not progressing, and we need to focus on continued progress.''

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