For the Record: Teacher evaluation in contract talks

September 12, 2012

Sparring between CPS and CTU has recently focused on the issue of state-required teacher evaluations, with the union lambasting plans for a new evaluation system, first detailed in March.

The union says thousands of teachers could be at risk of being fired in the program’s first two years. But CPS says this is inaccurate.

Most likely, CTU is referring to CPS’ estimation – based on the district’s pilot teacher evaluation programs – that 1.5 percent of teachers would be rated as unsatisfactory and another 28 percent would fall into the second-lowest rating category, known as “needs improvement” or “developing teacher.”

But for this group of teachers, the district says, even a slight improvement year over year would protect them from being fired.

Teachers’ jobs would actually be safe “as long as you move at least a point in the right direction,” says CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll. Teachers would be rated on a scale of 100 to 400 points.

Carroll says that the “needs improvement” or “developing teacher” rating “simply means that we will provide additional support to help them become proficient.”

“Only if there are two consecutive years of “needs improvement” and their total summative rating in year two decreases, will a teacher then be placed on the statutory remediation plan,” Carroll says.

Once a teacher is placed into remediation, by state law, they have 90 working days, amounting to about 18 weeks of school, to improve or be fired. Carroll says the two years with a needs improvement rating provide “ample time for a teacher in this category to improve.”

The district estimates that 56 percent of teachers would earn a rating of proficient, and 14 percent would get an excellent rating.

Carol Caref, who helps coordinate the Chicago Teachers Union’s Quest Center, says that even more teachers than the district estimates could end up in the evaluation system’s lower tiers.

Caref says the pilot program the CPS estimates are based on included more training for teachers – improving their ratings – than CPS teachers will get this year.

The union also wants the district to change the cut scores for each category. CPS already lowered the cut score for the second-lowest category, “Developing Teacher” or “Needs Improvement,” by 10 points, but CTU wants it lowered another 10 points, to 200 on a scale of 100 to 400.

The union also wants cut score for proficient lowered about 35 points, to 250; and scores for Excellent lowered by about 40 points, to 300 out of 400. This way, Caref says, the cut scores would correlate more closely with the 1-point to 4-point scale the entire rating system is based on.

Part of the issue, as well, is who is deemed “proficient.” Right now, Caref says, the description of teachers in the proficient category show “an outstanding teacher” who always uses best practices; CTU thinks the category should include teachers who use best teaching practices most of the time. “Most teachers are proficient,” Caref says.

The union also takes issue with teachers in the “Developing” category  being eligible for dismissal if their scores decline from one year to the next, saying that dismissal should be reserved for only the very lowest-scoring teachers.

State, feds prompt new ratings

The state requires that eventually at least 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be tied to student performance.

CPS has also submitted a letter of intent to apply for up to $40 million in federal funding through Race to the Top (for school districts). Applications are due Oct. 30. One of the factors CPS and other districts will be evaluated on is the quality of its teacher evaluation system and how well the system ties teacher performance ratings to student data.

Under CPS’ plan, the district would eventually tie at least 35 percent of evaluations to performance in the 2015-16 school year – 15 to 20 percent each to individual or school-wide value-added scores (for elementary teachers) or expected gains (for high school teachers), and to student growth on teacher-designed “performance task” assessments.

Value-added scores for elementary teachers will be distributed based on how far above or below the district average a teacher performs.

Performance task scores would be based on the percentage of a teacher’s students who move up one point on a 4-point scoring rubric by the end of the year. (Students who get the maximum score at both the start and end of year would be counted as having shown growth.) CPS says this scoring system was CTU’s idea.

CPS changes evaluation plans

Initially, CPS wanted to tie up to 40 percent of teachers’ evaluations to student growth in 2016-17, but it has now backed away from that plan – saying that instead, it wants the final year of implementation to be jointly agreed on by a union-district committee.

CPS also says it has offered the union numerous concessions, including:

*Making the first year of the evaluations a dry run for everyone except untenured probationary teachers. Originally, the evaluations would also have counted for those tenured teachers whose last rating was “unsatisfactory” or “satisfactory.”

*Evaluating “proficient” teachers less frequently – every two years, rather than every year. (“Excellent” teachers would also be evaluated every two years.)

*Conducting a joint CTU-CPS study on how the teacher evaluation plan is working and making the final year of implementation contingent on the agreement of a joint CTU-CPS committee, which can also modify the plan based on how it works out. Before, CPS wanted up to 40 percent of teachers’ ratings to be based on student growth in the final year.

*Renaming the “needs improvement” rating category as “developing teacher.”

*Allowing teachers to choose whether or not their first observation this school year counts toward their evaluation, or not.

*Implementing a limited appeals process for teachers whose evaluations are “clearly erroneous.”

But CTU is not satisfied with the appeals process the district has offered.  “It is very minimalistic,” says Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the union. “It has all kinds of conditions that make it virtually meaningless.”