Unions fight state's teacher evaluation policy

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By Mackenzie Mays
The Charleston Gazette

The state’s teachers unions are up in arms over a teacher evaluation policy proposed by the West Virginia Department of Education that they say throws away years of teachers’ input on the system and unfairly holds some teachers more responsible for student test scores than others.

Beginning next school year, due partly to the state’s detachment from No Child Left Behind, math and reading teachers who teach grade levels that take state standardized tests will have a larger percentage of their performance evaluations based solely on test scores.

Teachers who do not teach in the tested grades and subjects will be evaluated in other ways based on certain student-learning goals – not solely on test scores.

According to state code, 5 percent of all teachers’ evaluations in West Virginia are already based on “school-wide growth” based on standardized test scores.

That means that if the proposed recommendations are passed as is, about 20 percent of certain teachers’ evaluations will be determined by student achievement on standardized tests.

“Fifteen percent of math and English teachers’ evaluations is solely based on the growth of their test scores. They don’t set goals for anything else, and you’re treating those teachers different than anyone else. That’s a problem,” Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said. “It amazes me that [the board] would take something that everyone was proud of and being touted all across the nation, and change it with disregard.”

The state established an Educator Evaluation Task Force in 2009 that allowed teachers and principals to be involved in developing and piloting a new teacher evaluation system to reflect the state’s new teaching standards.

But the state school board’s approval of Policy 5310 on Wednesday, which was placed on public comment for 30 days and depends more on test scores, voids years of educators’ work on the Task Force, Lee said.

“We worked on that task force for five years and it’s just disrespectful to go against what we said. We came up with an evaluation system that was positive,” Lee said. “It’s back out on comment and hopefully they will listen to the teachers and the principals on the task force.”

Eighty percent of an educator evaluation is based on an appraisal of a teacher’s ability to perform established professional standards.

Christine Campbell, president of the state’s branch of the American Federation of Teachers, also spoke out against the policy at Wednesday’s board meeting, saying it’s inconsistent with state code and full of unrealistic expectations.

“I feel like we’re moving in the right direction to improve education by collaborating with all stakeholders, but we have to support the decisions made by those who invested their time, resources and expertise up to this point. In its current form, policy 5310 raises as many questions as it answers,” Campbell said. “AFT-WV recommends the state board allow the Teacher Evaluation Task Force to complete the work that is so important to increasing student achievement through effective instruction. We must invest time, energy and resources to make this a system we can be proud of. We owe it to the educators who invest their time, energy and resources to educate our children.”