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Editorial: Public school teacher evaluations questionable

Last Modified: Monday, October 21, 2013 10:52 PM

Evaluations of public school teachers in Louisiana remain a sore topic with many of those educators who are under the microscope.

A study by the National School Boards Association Center for Public Education said the reforms that weigh student growth as the main factor in the evaluations represent a seismic change in the education world with no certainty of the long-range impact.

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal pushed through an education overhaul package last year that linked teacher tenure and compensation with student improvement on standardized tests.

Any sea change was bound to be met by some teacher resistance. But the state Department of Education Superintendent John White didn’t do himself or the evaluations any favor when he forecast that the Value Added Model results would resemble a Bell Curve, with 10 percent of the teachers reaching the highest tier, highly effective, 80 percent falling into the middle categories of effective proficient and effective emerging and 10 percent drawing an ineffective label. If a teacher receives an ineffective rating two consecutive years they could be subject to termination.

As it were, 89 percent of public school teachers earned either a highly effective or effective proficient rating and only 4 percent were gauged as being ineffective.

Principal evaluations comprising a sizable chunk of teachers’ final ratings has also stirred controversy.

Jim Hull, a senior policy analyst for the National School Boards Association, noted that teachers received their evaluations from principals with little ‘‘useful feedback or direction to teachers on how they can improve.’’

White acknowledged to this newspaper’s editorial board that the principal classroom evaluations may have included too much subjectivity and intimated that the answer is making principals’ job security dependent on student improvement and teacher evaluations.

There’s merit to holding the principal to standards similar to the accountability that the head coach of the school’s football or basketball program endures. If the school isn’t winning, i.e. students not showing academic progress, fire the principal.

But White’s comments also suggest naivety. In rural schools and parishes, the principal at a school may be evaluating teachers that are the wives or family members of his minister or doctor or attorney. How objective will the principal be in that instance?

And many of these rural schools don’t have a waiting list of teachers ready to step in.

Clearly, these assessments remain a work in progress, and White appears to be flexible in amending them to ensure that they are both reliable and fair.

Still, there remains a number of factors here that suggest these teacher evaluations have far too many gray areas to adequately assess a teacher’s ability.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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