Teaching Profession

NEA to Consider New Evaluation Policies

By Stephen Sawchuk — May 11, 2011 4 min read
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National Education Association officials will put a “policy statement” before the union’s governing body for approval that, among other things, would open the door to the use of “valid, reliable, high-quality standardized tests,” in combination with multiple other measures, for evaluating teachers.

The statement, passed by the NEA’s board of directors May 7, wouldn’t take effect unless the 9,000 delegate Representative Assembly signs on to it at its meeting over the July 4th weekend in Chicago. The statement—which could be significantly modified by delegates before approval—will likely be a topic of lively debate.

It stands, nonetheless, as a major entry by the NEA to discuss issues of evaluation, tenure, and due process. To date, the national union has remained silent on most of those issues even as the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the other national teachers’ union, has put forth various proposals.

“We have multiple states struggling with these issues,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in an interview. “Members want NEA to speak up and lead in this discussion.”

Crafted by state affiliate members as well as national staff, the statement says that evaluation systems must be comprehensive and built on three kinds of indicators. First, they should take into account indicators of teachers’ practice, such as their lesson plans and classroom-based observations about their ability to deliver instruction. Second, the systems should take into account teachers’ leadership in the school, collaboration with peers, or participation in professional development. And finally, they should show how the teacher has contributed to student learning and growth.

The final element marks a departure for the NEA, which has historically opposed most attempts to tie teacher accountability to student scores. The policy statement says that measures of student growth could include student-learning objectives set with principals, like those now used in Denver’s ProComp system, teacher-created assessments, and reviews of student work, but it also specifically references student test scores.

Although the union is willing to discuss the appropriate use of standardized tests, Mr. Van Roekel said he continues to believe that standardized tests are not designed to measure teacher effectiveness and that alternatives must be crafted.

The statement also notes that the indicators must “reflect that there are multiple factors that impact a student’s learning beyond a teacher’s control,” nodding at a divisive national debate about how much teachers and schools can overcome the affects of student poverty and background characteristics.

The policy statement also outlines features of such a system’s implementation. The evaluation system should provide lots of nonevaluative feedback to help teachers improve their craft, as well as a final rating, it states. And observations must be conducted by trained objective evaluators, including, potentially, mentor teachers or peers.

It calls on such systems to be fully funded and supported, noting that “our schools currently do not have enough staff trained to provide meaningful evaluative and nonevaluative feedback to teachers.”

Those teachers who don’t meet performance standards should be put on an improvement plan not to last more than a year and given help to meet expectations from an accomplished teacher.

Finally, the document outlines how the evaluation system should fit within the current tenure system. Probationary teachers, the document asserts, should be granted tenure if they receive satisfactory evaluations in the final two years preceding the year in which tenure is granted under state law. Tenured status should be portable from district to district, it asserts.

Tenured teachers failing to improve should be dismissed through a “fair, transparent, and efficient” dismissal process.

The statement, as currently written, conflicts with several of the union’s approved policy resolutions. But if passed, it would supercede those policies, NEA officials said.

On occasion, the NEA’s RA doesn’t back its leaders’ propositions. Back in 2000, when union leaders proposed a resolution that would have moved closer to endorsing experiments with performance pay, the union’s delegates reversed course, actually tightening up language prohibiting merit pay. A similar situation remains a possibility this July.

“I’m very hopeful it will go through pretty much intact,” Mr. Van Roekel said, when asked about potential modifications. “The outreach [by the writers of the proposal] to people to explain why it says what it says is going to have a powerful influence on delegates.”

National policy statements notwithstanding, state and local affiliates can choose to approach things like pay and teacher evaluation however they like. Mr. Van Roekel has also indicated a willingness to support affiliates who take stances on things like merit pay outside the national policy strictures.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.