COLUMBIA, S.C. – Across the nation, state education officials are working hard to develop meaningful teacher evaluation systems that accurately measure educator effectiveness.
It’s not an easy task. That’s why officials in many states have devised interim evaluation plans that are being tested and tweaked in a small number of school districts to measure their fairness and accuracy.
That seems like a fair, balanced approach.
But in South Carolina, the teachers unions and education establishment are already trying to shoot down an evaluation plan before it’s been through the testing process, according to a report from TheState.com.
It’s enough to make citizens wonder if educators would welcome any sort of increased accountability, or if they’re determined to remain blameless for failures that occur in public schools.
The proposed system, designed by state Superintendent Mick Zais, seems simple enough.
About two-thirds of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on principal and peer observations, which is very similar to current practice. The other one-third would be based on how students perform on state standardized tests, with an eye on actual student growth versus predicted student growth, according to the news report.
The testing portion of the evaluation actually counts for less than it does in other states, where test results often comprise at least 40 percent of a teacher’s overall score.
The new system will be tested over the next two academic years in school districts around the state. Changes will be made after each academic year, and the final product will not be implemented statewide until the 2014-15 school year.
The South Carolina Board of Education must approve the final evaluation system before it becomes state law.
But those safeguards aren’t enough to satisfy the unions and other defenders of the education status quo. They’ve been holding “tense meetings … across the state,” apparently to get everyone up in arms about an evaluation system that’s still in the incubator stage.
Opponents have three main concerns, according to the news report.
They say the proposed A through F grading system is “demeaning” for teachers, because it would grade them in the same manner they grade students.
What a petty, meaningless complaint.
They also say the new system fails to consider “poverty or life experiences that hinder or contribute to one student’s achievement or another student’s failure,” the report said.
If that means lowering standards or expectations for minority students, or kids from poor socio-economic backgrounds, forget about it. All children must be held to high standards, regardless of their backgrounds, and all teachers must be expected to find ways to help them meet those standards.
Any system that allows students to achieve less than their potential due to problems at home is a system designed to leave them behind.
Teaching is more difficult than is used to be, largely due to societal decay. Parents and families are not as supportive of education as they used to be, so motivating children has become a primary task for many educators.
That’s a sad fact, but that’s the way it is. South Caroline needs teachers who can rise to the challenge.
Some are also worried about a plan to use school-wide average test scores to help evaluate teachers whose courses don’t lend themselves to testing, like art, music or physical education. There may be legitimate concerns in that area.
The point is that the system is still being devised, and complaints so early in the process do nothing to help determine what works and what doesn’t.
As Zais was quoted as saying: “You don’t redesign a plan in the middle of a test flight.”
The public should reject all the premature whining. The idea is to make sure South Carolina students have teachers who are effective enough to provide the quality instruction they need and deserve.
The only relevant question should be whether kids are learning and progressing at a satisfactory rate. The new evaluation system will be designed to determine that.
If that makes life a little uncomfortable for some teachers, so be it.