Conn. Districts Ask to Avoid Using Test Data to Evaluate Teachers

A number of districts around Connecticut are hoping to develop teacher evaluation systems contrary to the guidelines set out by the state. Kathleen Megan of The Hartford Courant reports that some superintendents feel that state requirements are too rigid and inflexible and simply don’t make sense when it comes to the evaluation of their own teachers.

Thomas Scarice, who heads up the school district in Madison, explains that because students in his schools regularly score in the top 10 of all districts in the state, assessing teachers based on test scores sets the bar too low. In effect, Scarice argues, it defeats the whole purpose of teacher evaluation systems – which is to improve quality of instruction in the classroom. Instead of using standardized test scores for the large chunk of the final rank of teacher effectiveness, Scarice would like to use “21st century learning goals” including fewer objective markers and more evaluation traits like creativity, collaboration and understanding of material.

A law passed this month gives superintendents like Scarice a way to petition the state for a waiver from the standardized test evaluation requirements. Most districts around Connecticut have already received the blessing of state education authorities for the assessment approach of their choice, but Madison – along with a number of others – is yet to come to a similar understanding.

“The department will set a high bar for the granting of waivers,” Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said Wednesday. It is up to Pryor and his staff to grant a waiver. “We are requesting that districts express a rationale for variances from the core requirements. Such rationales must be compelling and the model must be exemplary or exceptional in its quality.”

Under state guidelines, 45 percent of a teacher’s evaluation hinges on measures of student achievement. Half of that figure, or 22.5 percent, is supposed to be based on state standardized test scores for teachers in grades where the tests are given. Other factors in the evaluation include teacher observations and student feedback and surveys of parents.

Pryor didn’t outright reject the idea of any assessment system that would disregard standardized tests entirely, merely saying that his office has been working with district officials to craft a compromise that produces both a clear picture of instructional quality and that fits well with the unique circumstances within each district.

However, there’s a chance that if Madison is unable to resolve this issue with the state, they might be able to push implementation back one year, thanks to the announcement made earlier this week by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that under some circumstances, the Department of Education will not mandate that the states use student performance data in teacher assessment in the coming academic year.

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