South Carolina Teachers Worry as State Plans to Grade Them

In South Carolina, students may not be the only ones who await report cards nervously. State superintendent Mick Zais has put forth a proposal that would see teachers given letter grades based in part on how their students perform on state tests, and teachers have begun to sweat — and put forth objections.

Zais says that teachers who protest these measures are dodging accountability, while teachers claim that Zais misunderstands their job and has created a badly-flawed proposal.

On the teachers’ side, pushback against the plan is a preemptive strike. A pilot program for the evaluation system will deliver conclusions in a few months after its first full year of operation, and Zais says that both sides should wait to see how that plays out before demanding changes:

“You don’t redesign a plane in the middle of a test flight,” Zais said last week of the plan, currently being “beta” tested in 22 schools.

The current proposal would bring an updated teacher evaluation system to South Carolina’s schools in 2014.

But teachers are already on edge, claiming that the evaluation system will drive teachers from the state in droves. Their concerns range from their ‘grade’ being composed in part of student performance in other subject areas t to not having been consulted on designing the evaluations to discomfort with the evaluation’s nomenclature. Writing in The State, Jamie Self says that Education Board members at the state level have called letter grades “insulting” and “demeaning” and think that terms like “Exemplary” and “Unsatisfactory” best fit the professionalism of the South Carolinian educator.

About 2/3 of the new evaluation system will be comprised of peer and administrator observations and reviews, which is what serves as the current evaluation model.

As in other states, South Carolina teachers in certain hard-to-measure subjects like music and special education are particularly worried. These subjects tend not to use standardized tests and can see wild fluctuations in student achievement, often due to factors independent from their teaching.

Teachers in South Carolina are forbidden from unionizing, yet advocacy groups comprised of and on behalf of teachers are getting involved.

Zais says that teacher pushback is a result of an effort to make him and reformers the bad guys and is just a form of intimidation. As Self reports:

Zais said talented teachers want to be recognized and rewarded for their hard work. “The only teachers who have anything to fear are those who, in their heart, know they’re not doing a very good job.”

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at www.matthewktabor.com , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.