In November, voters in Missouri will decide whether to change the way teachers are evaluated and retained by school districts.
Under Amendment 3, teachers would be dismissed, retained, demoted, promoted and paid primarily using student data. It also would put a three-year limit on teacher contracts and prevent teachers from organizing or collectively bargaining on the design of teacher evaluations or how they’re used.
There’s no question the topic of teacher evaluations and tenure draws plenty of debate. But regardless of the outcome in November, school districts in Missouri are already making changes to teacher evaluations.
In 2012, the state was granted a waiver from No Child Left Behind, a test-heavy set of federal education standards put into place under George W. Bush. Part of the deal with the U.S. Department of Education required Missouri to revamp how it evaluates educators. To do that, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) laid out seven principles for teacher evaluations. While each district can develop its own evaluations, they all must align with the seven principles starting this school year.
The measure related to student outcomes won’t be required until next school year, although DESE is encouraging districts to begin considering how data can be rolled into teacher evaluations this school year.
To break down each of the seven principles, St. Louis Public Radio’s Tim Lloyd recently spoke with Alexander Cuenca, a professor of education at Saint Louis University. Below is audio of his remarks and edited highlights from the interview.
Principle One: Evaluations must be research based.
“This ensures that the evaluation being used by school districts has some grounding in research and that the practices that evaluators are using will lead to student growth."
Can you give some examples of research this evaluation principle might be based on?
“We have a lot of research from Stanford University on improving reading scores, writing scores and critical thinking scores of students. That’s something that (can be assessed) and can be evaluated.”
Principle Two: Uses multiple ratings to differentiate levels of performance.
“It acknowledges that a teacher is growing over time, that there’s a difference between a first-year teacher and a 10-year veteran. What this principle requires is that districts develop a rating scale that follows the continuum of growth along the career of a teacher.”
Principle Three: There has to be a process for bringing new teachers on board.
“A traditional problem for schools has been the ‘new teacher.’ We (know) that teachers generally last in a school three years. A lot of that has been because of a lack of support at induction. This principle requires a significant amount of support for teachers in their first or second year. That there is careful mentoring, that different kinds of observations occur throughout the year so that a teacher in the beginning stage gets the support they need to sustain them across a career.”
Principle Four: Starting next school year, DESE will require that evaluations measure student outcomes although state education officials are encouraging districts to begin piloting this measure this school year.
“This acknowledges that student outcomes are really important in any evaluation system. We can use assessment that we normally think of that are associated with standardized testing, but we can also use evidence that a teacher uses in his or her classroom that students are growing and learning”
So, not necessarily just test scores. It could measure things like student attendance or it could be based on observations?
“It can quantify a number of different things as long as its capturing growth, as long as its capturing development.”
Principle Five: Providing meaningful feedback to teachers.
“This is ensuring that a conversation occurs between a teacher and his or her administrator regarding what their expectations are, what the outcome was of the observations, and that there’s an opportunity for growth and collaboration with the administrator.”
The idea, I assume, is that there needs to be some sort of codified way to make sure that teachers know how they’re doing?
“Exactly. In the past, at least anecdotally, we’ve had evaluators come in and…a principal’s job is really hectic, and so they would come in and do the evaluation and leave the evaluation in the teacher’s mailbox. That was a little ambiguous. This tries to ensure at least from the state level that meaningful conversation occurs.”
Principle Six: Provide initial and ongoing training for observers
“Many things are going on at the same time in the classroom. This just makes sure that administrators have some sort of training and background in evaluation. More specifically, ongoing training by the state, by the district so that they can improve as evaluators.”
Principle Seven: Use the results
“This is pretty straightforward. The performance evaluation must be used to determine if the teacher continues, if the teacher needs more professional development, what we're going to do with teachers and personnel decisions we’re going to make with them. Evaluations should inform those decisions for principals, for superintendents, for school boards.”