Leaders of the National Education Association have proposed a policy statement that positions the union in favor of using stepped-up evaluations – and even measures that include student test scores – to improve the effectiveness of the teaching profession.
Squint really hard and you can almost see similarities between the proposal and Senate Bill 1, the teacher evaluation and merit-pay measure that the Indiana legislature approved last month.
The statement “outlines a system to help teachers improve instruction and meet students’ needs,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel in a news release. “It offers sweeping changes to build a true profession of teaching that is focused on high expectations.”
It calls for “regular, comprehensive, meaningful and fair evaluations” of teachers that will be conducted by trained evaluators and based on multiple factors. And in language that can only be called cautious, it says such factors may include “valid, reliable, high quality standardized tests that provide meaningful information regarding student learning and growth.”
The statement says evaluations must be fair and comprehensive. And it says they must be used to provide feedback to help teachers improve. If a teacher “fails to meet performance standards,” an improvement plan should be developed for the teacher. And if the teacher doesn’t improve, he or she “may be counseled to leave the profession or be subject to fair, transparent and efficient dismissal process that provides due process.”
Indiana’s SB 1, a key part of the Daniels-Bennett education agenda, calls for annual teacher evaluations based on several factors. It does require implementing improvement plans for teachers who get bad evaluations. It also says teachers can be dismissed for multiple evaluations that result in a verdict of “needs improvement” or “ineffective.”
While the NEA statement says standardized test scores may be used in teacher evaluations, SB 1 says they must be. The law says student performance and improvement on tests, including Indiana’s ISTEP exam, must “significantly inform” teacher evaluations, whatever that means.
Do ISTEP exams meet the NEA’s requirement of being a “valid, reliable, high quality” assessment? No doubt folks will disagree.
Another key difference: The NEA proposal says evaluations should be “developed and implemented with teachers and their representatives.” SB 1 gives that job to school corporations and to the Indiana Department of Education. And a companion bill, also approved by the legislature, prohibits teacher evaluations from being a topic for collective bargaining.
Probably the biggest difference is the issue of merit pay. SB 1 mandates school districts to include evaluation results in deciding whether teachers get raises. It outlaws raises for teachers who aren’t rated effective or highly effective. The NEA statement is silent on merit pay.
To take effect, the policy statement has to be approved at a July meeting of the NEA Constituent Assembly – where, as Stephen Sawchuck notes in Education Week, “it is likely to be a topic of lively debate.”
But just issuing the proposed statement seems to be a significant step for the nation’s biggest teachers’ union, which has pretty much kept quiet on teacher evaluations while the rival American Federation of Teachers and some of its locals have supported agreements that include performance-based accountability.
Education “reform” is happening, whether teachers and their representatives are on board or not. As Van Roekel said, “the risk is that reform is done to teachers rather than with them.”