State Board of Education demands action on teacher evaluation

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On April 6, I attended a public meeting by the Connecticut State Board of Education (SBE), in which members of the SBE vigorously debated the merit of further delays to implementation of real teacher evaluations in Connecticut. They were discussing the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council’s (PEAC) recommendation to permit school districts to go yet another year without incorporating the results of the state mastery test as one of multiple measures in a teacher’s evaluation.

I applaud the SBE for pushing back on PEAC’s recommendation and drawing a real line in the sand.

Connecticut’s teacher evaluation model, which has never been fully implemented to date, calls for using measures of student growth as one of many components of a teacher’s evaluation. However, during the past two years, the use of state data on student learning has been “de-coupled” or excluded from evaluations.

The absence of such objective data has left our evaluation system light on accountability, as evidenced by recently released evaluation results that rated almost all Connecticut teachers as either proficient or exemplary. That outcome doesn’t make much sense; surely some of the more than 50,000 teachers employed in Connecticut must be in need of improvement.

In the face of considerable political pressure—to which some state legislators seem to have caved—the SBE and its Chairman, Allan Taylor, deserve credit for refusing to kick the can down the road. In their meeting, they essentially agreed to de-couple assessment data for one more year, but they also made it clear that they will not tolerate additional delays or extensions. All too aware that Connecticut continues to have one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation, the SBE appears committed to continuing to take this issue on.

Compared to the performance of low-income children in other states, Connecticut’s low-income students continue to rank among the lowest in America —demonstrating that our schools are failing them. Almost a quarter of our low income students do not manage to graduate high school in four years, while approximately 8,000 students drop out altogether each year.

It is estimated that each dropout costs Connecticut approximately $500,000 over his or her life time, costing the state billions of dollars each year. In the face of looming budget deficits, the SBE is absolutely correct in prioritizing accountability as an important pillar of school improvement in Connecticut.

In stark contrast, however, the Education Committee of the General Assembly seems to have abandoned any effort to establish accountability through teacher evaluations. Last month, they voted out of committee Senate Bill 380, which would make the ban on inclusion of state mastery test results permanent.

If this bill passes, it would take our most valid and reliable data on student learning completely out of the equation in evaluations of teachers’ job performance. Such a move would remove one tool by which the SDE can begin to address the needs of Connecticut children.

It is not surprising to see some legislators giving in like this, given the hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on lobbying for these changes by Connecticut’s largest teachers union, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA). The CEA has continued to push for an absolute ban, even despite the fact that a majority of the CEA’s own constituents believe that measures of student learning should be included in their evaluations.

It is highly unfortunate that Connecticut’s poor students do not have the resources to hire their own lobbyists to rebut the CEA’s proposals. Instead, these students are expected just to accept Connecticut’s education system as is —a system in which 44 percent of Connecticut graduates find themselves in need of remediation when they go to college. That seems like a raw deal to me.

Thank goodness Allan Taylor and the other members of the State Board of Education are standing up for the best interests of Connecticut students.

Jeffrey Villar is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), a nonprofit organization that seeks to narrow Connecticut’s widest-in-the-nation achievement gap. To learn more about CCER, visit ctedreform.org.

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