Illinois teachers give their ideas on how to improve evaluations

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A report released today by the Center for Teaching Quality’s New Millennium Initiative has some recommendations for state education policymakers, who are considering how to implement new rules for teacher performance evaluations.

Fifteen Illinois teachers wrote the report. The initiative – funded in Illinois by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Joyce Foundation  – also works with teachers in Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and Hillsborough County, Fla.

In Denver and Seattle, the group funds “teacherpreneur” positions, reimbursing school districts for the cost of freeing teachers from classes to work as coaches or in other jobs outside the classroom.

“It comes out of the idea of teachers being creative and having original ideas about how their skill-set can add value,” says Carrie Kamm, an Academy for Urban School Leadership coach who works at National Teachers Academy and who co-authored the Center for Teaching Quality book “Teaching 2030.” “Not only to students, but to the communities they serve, families, other teachers in the building [and] in the district.”

The report’s recommendations include:

*Tying teacher evaluations to professional development opportunities for all teachers and school staff, including social workers and other specialists.

*Using multiple measures of student growth for the evaluations, such as portfolios of student work and oral examinations or presentations. The report complains that the ISAT and Prairie State exams have led to an excessive use of classroom time on test-prep, and that results from those tests are not available until the following year.

*Evaluating teachers on measures of effective practice, such as surveys of student engagement, in addition to student learning.

*Linking tenure and school staffing decisions to measures of teacher effectiveness.

*Paying closer attention to how a school’s condition affects teaching quality, and taking school culture, class sizes, and availability of materials into account.

*Using merit pay to reward high-performing teachers and attract them to hard-to-staff subjects and schools. The report cautions that merit pay will not help improve teacher effectiveness.

“An effective teacher is going to be effective no matter what, but an effective teacher deserves more compensation than an ineffective teacher,” says Gayla Dial, who retired in June from Meridian School District 101. “You can look down the hallway and see a teacher that you wish would put a little more into it.”

Dial thinks the changes brought about through Senate Bill 7, which she urged fellow teachers to lobby for as a grassroots activist with the Illinois Education Association, will be positive for teachers.

The previous evaluation structure has long been criticized as inadequate at best. “The principal comes by for ten minutes, maybe, and writes an evaluation,” she says. “I didn’t feel like that was an appropriate evaluation. That’s more of a popularity contest. There’s always some way [a teacher] can improve, and if no one tells you, sometimes it doesn’t get done.”

However, in a climate of mistrust between teachers and officials – and one where the district’s coaching positions can be the first to go during budget cuts – some of the ideas could be a tough sell for teachers.

Rana Khan, a fifth-grade teacher at Sexton Elementary, says she learned by participating in the federally funded Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) merit pay pilot that more rigorous evaluations and improved coaching can help instruction.

But because of “the way things are being done” in the district, others teachers are skeptical.

“It’s not about giving feedback to help you grow, and it’s kind of an end point,” Khan says of CPS’ current checklist evaluation.

When her school started TAP, she notes, “Teachers were so nervous that they were going to be stigmatized, you were going to have a label put on you.”