On Oct. 24th, I attended a meeting hosted by the South
Carolina State Superintendent of Education. I was joined by more than 600
fellow special education and general education teachers. The topic of the
meeting was teacher evaluation systems – one of the most hotly debated issues
for teachers today. I have held off writing about this topic for a few reasons.
First, I don’t like talking about issues that are political. Second, I wasn’t sure that it was an
appropriate topic for Reality 101. Finally, I was too angry to have a rational
discussion about it.
I decided now is a good time to write about this change for
a couple reasons. First, I don’t think teacher evaluation is as much about
politics as it is about education. Second, the more I think about the South
Carolina plan, the more I can see real-life, everyday implications for the reality of a teacher as a result of the
changes that are being proposed. Third, I have had time to review the proposed South
Carolina plan in its entirety, listen to the explanation from the State
Department of Education, and think reasonably and rationally about the topic.
The South Carolina State Department of Education has
proposed changing the teacher evaluation system to an A-F grading scale that
relies on classroom value-added and school value-added formulas to calculate a
teacher’s grade. For those of you still in college, think of ADEPT or SAFE-T.
This system will replace ADEPT and SAFE-T in South Carolina.
I won’t go into all the details of this plan, but this link will give
you more information if you would like to read more about it. Basically, classroom
value-added is judged by student growth on test scores by students in your
class. School value-added is based on how your school as a whole performs. For
high school teachers, it is based on HSAP (exit exam) scores and graduation rates.
Ironically, on the same day I was attending this meeting on
the South Carolina teacher evaluation system, CEC published a Position on Special Education Teacher Evaluation. I highly encourage all special education
teachers—or general education teachers for that matter—to read it and evaluate
your state’s system based on CEC’s Position.
I am against the proposed plan in South Carolina for several
reasons, and am pleased to note that justifications for most of these reasons
can be found in CEC’s Position.
1. Not all teachers have the same formula to
calculate a grade.
Teachers in state-wide tested grades and content areas have the following
formula: Teacher Observation and Performance Scales (TOPS) count 60 percent, classroom
value-added counts 30 percent, and school value-added counts 10 percent.
For teachers in grades and content areas not tested statewide, 70 percent
of the grade is based on TOPS, and 30 percent is based on school value-added.
The state superintendent said that the teachers in South Carolina would be split
approximately 70/30 with 70 percent following the 70/30 formula, and 30 percent
following the 60/30/10 plan. I would like to see a teacher evaluation system that was the same
for all teachers.
2. The proposed system does not take into
account the varying responsibilities and roles of a special education teacher.
I have often wondered how much time I spend on things such as IEP
development, progress monitoring, collaborating with general educators and
families, and implementing accommodations. My guess would be that these
responsibilities take up easily half of my time at work. The proposed system
does not take into account these aspects of a special educator’s job.
education advocates must be involved in the development, implementation and
evaluation of the teacher evaluation process.
I spoke to Dr. Kathryn Meeks from the State Department of Education after the
meeting to address some of my concerns regarding the plan. One thing I asked
was how many special educators were involved in the development of this system.
She could not say that special educators were involved in the development of
the system although she did say that they received feedback from a handful of
schools and special education teachers at those schools gave feedback on the
I also asked if they had sought input from the CEC. She said they had
not. To her credit she said she had worked with the South Carolina Office of
Special Education Programs, but I would have appreciated an effort to include
and collaborate with the world’s largest advocacy organization for educators of
students with disabilities, as well as the students with disabilities
4. The proposed system uses a statistical
model that does not have consensus acceptance among researchers as to its
estimate of student growth.
Several times during the meeting, the teachers in attendance showed great
displeasure with the State Department of Education. One of those times was when
the state superintendent discussed how this formula calculates what growth a
student should be able to achieve.
I’m no statistician, but
calculating what my students will be able to do from day to day is nearly
impossible. Calculating student growth is actually a significant portion of the
formula. Some 20 percent or 30 percent (depending on if your students
participate in state-wide testing) of the grade is based on classroom
value-added, but a significant portion of the TOPS section is calculated based
on student growth. When combined, the student growth and student value-added
portions account for over half of the teacher’s final grade. Over half of my
reputation as a teacher will be based on measures that do not have sufficient
research to support them.
5. The proposed system does not take into
consideration the unintended negative consequences for students with disabilities.
The meeting was filled with emotion from the hundreds of teachers
in attendance. On several occasions the speakers from the State Department of
Education were interrupted by an angry shout from the crowd followed by a
standing ovation and cheers from the fellow teachers. But in all of the
emotional comments, I heard some teachers reveal opinions about students with
disabilities in general education classrooms that, frankly, offended me.
for students with disabilities have made great strides toward including students
with disabilities. I fear that if a teacher’s reputation is on the line (or his or her pay—as our state superintendent has stated he advocates) teachers will not
readily welcome students with disabilities in the general education classroom.
I could go on with more reasons why I am opposed to this
system. For example, a hostile work environment with teachers looking out for
themselves and the fact that there would be absolutely no incentive for good
teachers to teach at low performing schools each have enough content to make a
whole new blog post.
I do think education needs reform. South Carolina has some
of the lowest rankings for education in the country. While dozens of other
factors play a part, I do think teachers play a big part in student growth. I
do think some teachers are less effective than others. I do think student
growth can be factored into a teacher’s evaluation in a way that is equitable
for all teachers.
Education needs reform, but this system is not the answer.
Many states are planning systems similar to the one in South Carolina. How is
your state’s system incorporating student growth into its evaluation? What
pitfalls or benefits do you see to your system?