Teacher judging to get stricter

Arizona students' progress will be part of scrutiny
2013-04-01T00:00:00Z Teacher judging to get stricterJamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

In the fall, all Tucson-area school districts will start judging teachers more strictly based on how their students perform on standardized tests and other measures of student progress.

School districts, along with charter schools, are creating teacher evaluations that will put a stronger emphasis on student growth as measured by test scores, while still evaluating teacher effectiveness through classroom observations, surveys and other aspects.

Principals and other administrators have always evaluated teachers, but the new focus on test results and student growth is the result of a state law passed in 2010.

A school and district's letter grades from the Arizona Department of Education will also influence a teacher's evaluation.

Although school districts have until next school year, some districts and charter schools have already implemented the new teacher evaluations.

Some teachers support the new evaluations, as long as expectations are clear, the test results are reliable enough to track student progress and they are not judged solely by test scores.

"I think it could be a very good thing, but it's going to depend on how it's going to be measured," said Nina Godlewski, a math teacher at Canyon del Oro High School. "The idea is good, but it's how you put it into operation."

Godlewski took part in a committee that created the evaluation system for the Amphitheater Public Schools district.

Local administrators say the biggest challenges will include finding reliable test data to track student growth, training school officials to evaluate teachers properly and making sure evaluations are fair to teachers.

Schools also will have to account for students who may transfer during the year and determine which teacher would be held responsible for that student's progress.

The AIMS test is the state's primary assessment test for students, but districts are also encouraged to use other tests such as Measures of Academic Progress and district level assessments.

State lawmakers voted last week to get rid of the AIMS test as soon as the 2013-14 school year, although there's no guarantee the test will disappear that soon.

The test was originally going to get phased out by 2017 and replaced by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, which will accompany the more rigorous Common Core standards.

"AIMS isn't the only assessment they should be using. As a teacher, I wouldn't want just one data point," said Karen Butterfield, associate superintendent for highly effective teachers and leaders for the Arizona Department of Education.

The Department of Education has allowed districts and charter schools to pilot evaluations this school year, Butterfield said.

The state has provided a framework for districts to follow, outlining how much of a teacher's evaluation should be based on student testing performance, classroom observations, and school- and district-level goals or surveys.

At least 33 percent of a teacher's evaluation will be measured by test scores and student growth, with about 50 percent based on observations and the remainder on surveys and district- or school-level goals.

Surveys could solicit input from students, parents and other teachers at each school. Goals could include improving a school's third-grade reading scores.

School districts have the freedom to customize evaluation systems, but creating a system that effectively judges teachers has been an arduous task for some districts and charter schools.

The Tucson Unified School District is trying to determine which type of test data would properly show a student's progress, said TUSD Deputy Superintendent Maria Menconi.

The district was considering AIMS, other assessment tests and the possibility of using schoolwide test data, Menconi said.

"I believe that the first couple of years of full implementation are going to be a little rocky until everyone figures out the data part and until teachers are very comfortable that the data is about their kids," she said.

The Amphitheater district has determined it will use three years of test results from multiple assessments for a teacher's evaluation, said Roseanne Lopez, executive director of elementary education for Amphitheater.

Teachers who have less than three years' experience will not have test results included in their evaluations, Lopez said.

The district has closely tracked student progress data in the last six years, which should make the test data more reliable.

Some of the biggest challenges for Amphitheater will include managing the data, matching test results with the correct students and making adjustments to the evaluation system as needed, Lopez said.

However, Lopez said the district has made progress and will continue to improve as long as officials are willing to make the necessary adjustments.

"It has the power to pull us together as educators. It could also tear us apart but, if well-managed, it won't" she said.

On StarNet: Find education-related resources and special reports at azstarnet.com/education

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4115. On Twitter: @JamarYounger

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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