Delegates offered a variety of opinions on the National Education Association’s teacher-evaluation policy statement at an informal “open hearing” this afternoon in Chicago, with many, though certainly not all, praising it as an important move for the union.
“This is a great step forward in defining what it means to be a great educator, a standard we can start to work toward,” said Frank Laurinec, a Michigan delegate: “We have a chance in these times to act, or be acted upon.”
The generally favorable reaction can probably be partly explained by a small but significant addition that the union’s board of directors made to the proposal. It notes that all tests must be scientifically validated for judging both students and teachers if they’re to be included in teacher evaluations.
In reviewing the proposal at the hearing, NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle made it exceedingly clear that the union feels that few if any tests currently in operation meet those requirements.
“There are not many of you who know much about high-quality standardized tests,” she said, earning chuckles from the crowd. “I know many of you can agree with me that most of our standardized tests right now are crap.”
“What we want to do with this statement is give you the power, when it’s time, for you to say ‘no,’ ” she continued. “If those test have not proven to be valid—that they are measuring what they have been designed to measure, and are reliable, and yield consistent results over and over and over again—then those tests should not be used to punish teachers or students.”
The change in language notwithstanding, some commentators felt that any reference to test scores, no matter how qualified, would set a dangerous precedent. Take this comment from delegate “Patrick,” from Georgia, who referenced the cheating scandal going on in the Atlanta public schools:
“How can we really send home the message that this is not the way to go, because you’re going to get a lot more in the way of teachers cheating?” he said. “How can we send the message we are not about using one-time test scores to evaluate teaching?”
The most surprising comment came from a delegate from California who liked the mention of test scores. He opined that the 5th grade science test in his state did a pretty good job of measuring higher-order skills. “Thank you for that inclusion,” he said.
Finally, there were a couple of starkly divergent opinions.
Contrast the feedback from a delegate from Georgia, who said the proposal was a “good but cautious step moving the NEA into the real world out there...” (!)
... with that of “Mark” from California, who said the proposal, taken in combination with NEA’s planned early endorsement of Barack Obama for president, “is like backing down in the face of [Arne] Duncan and the right-wing program for education.” (!!)
(Sorry, by the way, for so many first names. A frustrating feature of the convention is the tendency folks have of identifying themselves using their first names and state affiliate only.)
So what does this all say about what will happen on July 2, when the proposal comes up before all 9,000 delegates for approval? Well, if this is an indication, expect a lot of wide-ranging discussion.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.