There’s a 1997 book by Todd A. DeMitchell and Richard Fossey titled “The Limits of Law-Based School Reform.” I don’t know where DeMitchell and Fossey are today, but they’re probably pointing at Illinois’ teacher evaluation law as an example of what they were writing about.
Joy Resmovits of the Huffington Post provides the following details of what brought about a breakthrough in negotiations to end the Chicago teachers’ strike:
In fact, a source said, the two parties had mostly cleared up the thorny issue of teacher evaluations, agreeing to a scheme that decreased emphasis on the rankings based on students’ standardized test scores.
Twenty-five percent of the rankings will be composed of standardized test scores, and another 10 percent will come from teachers’ evaluation of student performance, thus satisfying a state law’s requirement of relying on performance measures for 30 percent or more after the first year.
Assuming Resmovits’ source is correct, both sides will be able to use this formula to claim victory, while both sides actually sold out on the principle they claimed to be defending all along.
On the union side, congratulations. You’ve eliminated the district’s proposal to base 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on student test scores. But you went on strike for a week to cut it down to 25 percent? Really? I’m just not picturing all those red-shirted picketers celebrating this.
On the district side, congratulations. You appear to be on the brink of settling the issue and getting teachers back to work. But if I read this correctly, you are going to base 10 percent of your evaluation of a teacher’s performance on that teacher’s evaluation of his or her students’ performance. Really? Will it go like this?
Evaluator: “How are your students performing?”
Evaluator: “Terrific! You get the full 10 percent.”
I don’t pretend to have the answer to how best evaluate teachers, but I don’t think the problem is in trying to design the perfect system. The real sticking point is lack of trust. The district (and by extension, the public) doesn’t trust the teachers to give an honest assessment of whether the kids are learning and how well they are teaching. The teachers don’t trust the district to give them an honest assessment of how well they do their jobs, fearing they will be judged only on Johnny’s latest reading and math standardized test scores, with no allowance for Johnny’s home conditions, Johnny’s poor work ethic, or even Johnny’s attendance record.
So while the strike appears to have led to contract language both sides can live with, it actually made the problem worse. Is there more trust after this week than before?
Evaluators need a full understanding of – and empathy for – the tasks required of a teacher and the challenges in fulfilling them. Teachers need to acknowledge and respect the expertise of an evaluator and feel confident they are being judged fairly, even if strictly. Cultivate this kind of climate and you don’t have to worry so much about what percentage of what measure determines what cut score.