MEA protests use of student scores for teacher evaluations

AUGUSTA, Maine — Representatives of public school teachers and administrators told the Maine Department of Education on Monday that they don’t want standardized tests to play too great a role in determining whether they’re doing a good job.

Some argued that standardized tests fail to measure student progress adequately so they would be even worse as a test of teachers’ skills.

“It would be like playing baseball with football rules,” said Leo Todd, who teaches music to more than 500 students at Waterboro Elementary School.

Todd and more than 20 other educators shared their concerns during a hearing Monday on the Department of Education’s proposed rules for implementing an educator evaluation process that will be required by law as of the 2015-16 school year. The law, LD 1858, was proposed by Gov. Paul LePage and enacted with unanimous support of the Legislature in 2012. It requires school districts to develop and implement systems for evaluating teachers and principals based on professional practice, student achievement growth and other measures.

The major bone of contention for educators, including representatives of the Maine Education Association, the Maine Principals Association and the Maine School Management Association, is the degree to which student achievement is included in an educator’s evaluation. Driving that concern are questions about how to measure student learning and growth.

The Maine Department of Education, in rules proposed for public schools, wants 25 percent of a teacher’s overall rating to derive from student achievement. That’s more than double the 10 percent favored by some members of the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council, a 16-member panel created by the Legislature to develop the program. Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesley said the council never reached consensus on the issue.

“Every teacher and principal deserves clear expectations and a fair evaluation process that rewards effectiveness and supports teachers in constantly improving,” LePage said previously in a news release. “In private business, we call that professional development. Teachers deserve that as much as workers in private industry.”

But teachers who testified at Monday’s hearing on the Department of Education’s proposed rules questioned their clarity and effectiveness. Few disagreed with the concept of professional evaluations, but speaker after speaker pointed out to Deborah Friedman, director of policy and programs for the Maine Department of Education, what they see as flaws in the proposed rules and how they would be implemented.

In seven pages of comments on the proposed rules, Kilby-Chesley argued Monday that any evaluation system should emphasize “professional reflection and growth,” while expressing concerns that failing to do so would create “carte blanche for nonrenewal of teachers.”

Kevin O’Shaughnessy, a social studies teacher at Wells High School, elaborated on that concern during testimony Monday. He told Friedman that educators dismissed because of poor evaluations would “not just be out of a job, they will be out of a career.” Among his suggestions, which built upon Kilby-Chesley’s, were to include more teachers on evaluation steering committees to ensure that they fairly reflect developmental and subject-area expertise.

O’Shaughnessy drew attention to the “political context of the law.” He listed a number of LePage’s criticisms of Maine’s public schools, then accused the governor of “waging a war on logic.” He also argued that greater reliance on standardized testing would open Maine to private testing companies that would “repeat the mistakes of No Child Left Behind.”

At least one other teacher questioned whether the educator evaluation rules represent part of an effort by LePage to privatize education in Maine.

Other speakers argued that the department’s proposed performance evaluation rules would not fairly measure the work of special education, art and music teachers, as well as media specialists, guidance counselors, occupational therapists and others whose work takes place outside regular classrooms.

Groups representing administrators also voiced concerns. Sandra MacArthur, deputy executive director of the Maine School Management Association, suggested lowering the portion of an educator’s evaluation based on student learning or growth measures to 15 percent, which could be adjusted “after we get several years of experience with the new system.”

Richard Durost, executive director of the Maine Principals Association, asked if the state would provide money, time and logistical support to help school systems implement performance evaluations. He also noted that his organization has not found any research to demonstrate that educator evaluations improve student achievement.

At least 37 states are developing teacher evaluation systems, many of them to meet requirements under a waiver process introduced by the Obama administration to refocus the No Child Left Behind Act and a grant program called Race to the Top.

David Connerty-Marin, a spokesman for the Department of Education, previously told the Bangor Daily News that the department’s review of other states’ evaluation systems showed them using student performance for at least 25 percent of educator evaluations.

“This could work if it was well-funded, people were trained and given enough time to implement it,” Paul Hambleton, deputy executive director of the MEA, said after the hearing. He suggested that instead of standardized tests, individual student growth be used to measure educators’ effectiveness.

“Standardized tests compare students over a fairly narrow domain of learning,” he said. “If you take that to measure teacher performance, you’re using something that wasn’t meant to do that.”

Friedman kept the four-hour hearing open until 6 p.m. to allow teachers arriving after school to testify. The last person to testify, John Soifer, a special education teacher at Skowhegan Area High School and member of the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council, urged a delay in implementing the evaluation rules, arguing that the rules proposed by the Department of Education do not reflect a consensus of the council.

“The appropriate recommendation to DOE would have been to request a delay in implementation rather than pushing ahead with an incomplete and faulty evaluation system,” Soifer said, after listing concerns about costs that would put poorer districts at a disadvantage, the proposed rules’ emphasis on punitive measures, and mandates to create local systems that he said would undermine the goal of statewide reform.

Jaci Holmes of the Maine Department of Education said the department will respond to comments and recommendations from Monday’s hearing and to submitted written comments. They will be reviewed by the attorney general’s office and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen. The proposed rules, reflecting any revisions, will go to the Legislature’s Education Committee for work sessions and hearings.

As co-chairmen of the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council, Bowen and Grace Leavitt, vice president of the MEA, will present an interim report on the council’s recommendations to the Education Committee on Wednesday.

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Sandra Coulombe's picture

There is no doubt there are

There is no doubt there are some really great teachers out there and some really bad teachers and most fall somewhere in between. There needs to be more evaluations done but they need to be fair. Too many variables that are beyond the control of any teacher goes in to how well or how poorly a student performs for student test scores to be used to fairly evaluate a teacher. A student who is poor but has parents who care and emphasizes the importance of education may well be the top of the class while a child from a wealthy family with parents who don't spend the time and don't push for academic excellence may be at the very bottom of the class.
Parental involvement from the start of a child's life is the single most defining factor in whether or not a child will succeed in school. Do the parents emphasis education's importance, did they provide educational toys and games to the child from the start, do they make sure homework is done and done correctly before the kids get to watch TV or play video games, do they make sure the kid is fed and gets enough sleep? These are the most important factors of how well a child will do in school and they are completely out of the control of the teachers.
I am not a teacher or employed by the schools in any capacity. I am a mother and grandmother. I care about the education my grandchildren receive. I also know from experience what makes the most difference in their lives. Thankfully 2 of my 3 sons have taken my advice, the 3rd whines about being expected to teach his kids at home with all that homework they get and the teachers don't do enough and on and on. Guess which 2 of my sons have the kids on honor roll and which one has a kid that is failing. The teachers fault? I don't think so.


Teacher eval

So now instead of working hard to motivate and teach the student who is learning impaired, or has poor support at home, or is dealing with difficult emotional issues the teacher will be working towards finding a way to get that student out of her class so that she can get a raise. Teachers should be encouraged to improve their skills and that means learning how to teach the challenging student not how to get rid of him. There are other criteria that are way more important than test scores such as keeping current on your skills, and effectiveness at interacting with parents and the community, effectiveness at creating a desire to learn, effectiveness in classroom management, leadership, professional involvement etc. None of these are measured in a student's test scores but they make a difference in the way students, parents and the community respond to the learning environment. Test scores should be considered but they tell very little about what kind of effort or success the teacher has achieved. They are most useful in preparing the student's future learning plan. Schools do not make things, they educate children and the goals for the two jobs are not the same. Teachers are not factory workers and should not be evaluated as if they were.

Brad Alexander's picture

It's a failure of the system

The fact that they want to use student's test scores is more than just the scores not representing their actual level of education. If this is implemented then the teachers that already only what's on the test will push even harder to only teach what's on the test in order to better their scores.

I am not in aggrement with the whole system of the test scores for this reason alone.

Mark Elliott's picture

Of course they protest

Of course they protest it......and I don't want my sales figures used to determine my commission too!

RONALD RIML's picture

There ya go - Comparing 'Sales' with 'Education'

Do I have a 'Bridge' for you.........

Mark Elliott's picture

If it's the bridge you bought

If it's the bridge you bought from Breton...I'll pass.


Not selling anything

What would happen if the doctors who had the higher rate of patients who died while in their care were paid less. Who would you find to treat seniors, or cancer patients. They would all suddenly become sports doctors. Not everybody should be working on commission.

Mark Elliott's picture

Now that's just silly Claire!

Now that's just silly Claire! There are all kinds of doctors that specialize in all different areas....but if one doctor in one area of expertise had a higher death rate than all the others in the same area of expertise then I would expect he wouldn't keep his job for much longer. ALL employees need to be reviewed on a regular basis and should have goals and/or expectations to meet. Teachers are no exception..........


Missing the point

The point is should you evaluate all of the specialties on one criteria and shouldn't it be one that is relevant to what the worker does? Teachers also specialize in things like Phys ed, English as a Second Language, Special Education, Latin or Culinary arts. Should they all be evaluated on the standard math and English language scores when they don't even teach that ? Even within the specialties there is little value in test scores without the context of how they came to be what they are.

Mark Elliott's picture

No, there is no cookie cutter

No, there is no cookie cutter set of guidelines across all teachers because not all teachers teach the same subjects, BUT, Eg: all reading teachers should have similar guidelines and student test scores should be an important PART of it. If a teacher teaches reading and his class is continuously reading below expectations, then ALL parameters need to be looked at, INCLUDING his ability to teach effectively. We owe it to our children to not only help them learn at home, but also make sure they are not being "un taught" at school. There are bad teachers and, unfortunately, many of those are "protected" by contract making it too difficult to purge them out of the system.


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