Alaska works to link student achievement to teacher evaluations

November 9, 2012

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Victor is a communications specialist for EAG and joined in 2009. Previously, he was a newspaper journalist.
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By Ashleigh Costello
EAGnews.org

JUNEAU, Alaska – The Alaska Department of Education has proposed a new rule that would link student performance to teacher evaluations.

The proposal, which is open for public comment until Nov. 30, would require school districts to make student achievement data worth 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, reports the Anchorage Daily News.

Sondra Meredith, an administrator with the state Department of Education, said the new evaluation system would be aimed at improving teacher quality and student learning.

“Education is about being able to demonstrate that students are progressing in their academic performance,” said Meredith.

The new system would not take full effect until the 2016-2017school year, she said.

Deputy Commissioner Lee Morris said officials were, in part, prompted to implement a new evaluation system after applying for a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind mandates.  To receive the waiver, the state has to meet requirements that include linking student performance and teacher evaluations, reports the news site.

At least 30 states already tie student test performance with teacher evaluations, according to the Education Commission of the States.

Anchorage Education Association President Andy Holleman expressed concern that the new evaluation system would penalize instructors responsible for teaching troubled or special education students who score lower on standardized tests.

“There are some things about test scores you can’t control,” said Holleman.  “And if your evaluations are based on something you can’t control, reasonable people will not continue in that profession.”

Meredith acknowledged evaluations would have to take into account the challenges that accompany special needs students, but says there has been some misunderstanding about what the plan entails.

Each district would be able to individually choose what counts as “student learning data.”  In other words, student performance could be measured by anything from a standardized test to a project.  It could measure progress and improvement rather than raw scores, said Meredith.

The state Department of Education added that there are currently no plans on the table to link the new evaluations to merit pay.

Anchorage Superintendent Jim Browder said while merit pay is not something he would oppose, it’s not part of his future agenda.

“If we were going to add a pay-for-performance component, I’m really comfortable with that.  But I don’t know that the state is going down that road,” said Browder.

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