Chicago Teachers Push for Student Evaluations

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) are currently working out what should – and should not – be included in a state-mandated requirement for teachers' performance evaluations, writes Rebecca Vevea at Chicago News Cooperative.

And now, some public school students along with their teachers have formed a group called the Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) and are preparing a formal request to CPS to include student input in the new teacher evaluation system.

CPS and the CTU have until March to work out what tests to use for measuring academic growth, how much the results should factor into the evaluations and how to measure the performance of teachers whose subjects are not tested on state exams.

Thanks to VOYCE, they must also decide whether or not students should be allowed to weigh in on performance assessment.

"I think my students are in a unique position to evaluate me because they are the only people who see me teach every day of the year," said Alex Seeskin, an English teacher at Lakeview High School.

However, the CTU has not formally endorsed the inclusion of student surveys and some Chicago teachers remain hesitant, despite CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll saying that the district "fully supports having the voice of students represented" in the new evaluation process.

Last month, CPS and the Chicago Public Education Fund released a report saying that they were concerned that students may be "too immature" to evaluate teachers, turning the measure into a "popularity contest."

"I think students are mature enough to recognize the difference between a teacher who they like but don't learn anything from and a teacher that they don't like but expands their mind," Seeskin said.

Ronald Ferguson, a Harvard researcher, said he favors the use of student surveys in teacher evaluations, but urged school districts to make sure the surveys are fair to teachers, with no one metric accounting for the majority of the evaluation.

"It shouldn't be either-or, it should be both-and," Ferguson said.

The evaluation negotiations are required under a new state law, the Performance Evaluation Reform Act, which could potentially allow CPS to make student achievement count for more than 30 percent of the total evaluation.

But CTU president Karen Lewis has said teachers are "completely against using a single measure as 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation."

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