How Should We Evaluate Special Ed Teachers?

The US Department of Education’s Race to the Top grant program, which will hand out over $4 billion in grants, has already led to more than a dozen states reforming the way in which teachers are evaluated, usually by linking these evaluations to student performance on standardized tests. There is an ongoing question, however, of how to test for the growth of special education students and consequently rate their teachers.

While the Department of Education has set increasing the number of effective teachers in special education as a priority for states applying for RTTT funds, it leaves it up to individual states to decide how to measure student growth. The mechanics of evaluations are already generating bitter debate regarding how to conduct measurements for general education teachers; many are bewildered at how to track growth for special education kids, who tend to display significant differences in progress and ability even within a single class.

“The great concern right now in many states is they’re using the same criteria for the general education teachers that they’re going to use for the special education teachers and there’s real resistance to that,” said George Giuliani, director of the special education program at Hofstra University’s Graduate School and executive director of the National Association of Special Education Teachers.

Bev Campbell is one such special education teacher whose class consists of children with autism, Down syndrome and a variety of other disabilities. So far this school year only one of her students has learned how to say their own name, a task they’ve been working on since the start of the year. Ms Campbell has seen growth in other ways among her nine-strong class, but how to measure these little steps of progress, which for the kids concerned are immense milestone, remains a mystery.

A professor at the University of Illinois, Kevin Kumashiro, notes a trend for students who require special services to be turned away or not tested in situations where standardized test scores have significant repercussions for the school and teachers concerned.

“We’re trying to implement something that wasn’t well thought out and now the clock is ticking,” said Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for Florida’s statewide teachers union. “It’s a real problem.”

In New York, student growth will be part of this year’s evaluation. Chicago will begin implementing its new system in the Fall. Florida and other states will be using a ‘value-added’ measure starting next year.

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