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June 21, 2012 | By | Posted in General News

Updated: Teachers could be rated based on test scores; groups say move is unfair

By Jared Sichel | PA Independent

Republican lawmakers want to evaluate public school teachers using student performance as part of an overhaul of the rating system.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett and Republican lawmakers want to evaluate public school teachers using student test scores, but unionized and non-unionized teachers’ associations don’t want instructors held accountable for factors beyond their control.

Under the state’s current rating system, student performance is not considered. Teachers receive either satisfactory or unsatisfactory scores.

The system drew criticism when 99.4 percent of Pennsylvania’s public school teachers were rated as satisfactory in the 2010-11 school year, even though about half of the students in 17 of the state’s 500 school districts were performing below grade level, according to the state Department of Education.

In the new system, teachers would be ranked as distinguished, proficient, needs improvement or unsatisfactory. The evaluation would be based on student performance and classroom observation.

“The administration believes that this is an appropriate balance between traditional educator practice and student achievement,” said Tim Eller, press secretary for the Department of Education.

The unionized Pennsylvania State Education Association and non-unionized Keystone Teachers Association agree that student performance is based on multiple factors, most of which are outside a teacher’s control.

PSEA, which represents 193,000 Pennsylvania teachers, said ratings based on student performance will not reflect the impact of the teacher accurately.

“Teachers receive lower ‘effectiveness’ scores on standardized tests when their students are disproportionately English learners, low-income or special education students,” said teacher and PSEA board member Linda Cook in testimony to the House Education Committee in November.

KEYTA, which represents teachers in more than 100 school districts, supports factoring in student performance, but opposes the pilot system’s method of heavily weighting test scores.

President Randy Hoffman said teachers have far less effect on a student’s performance than peers and family. A teacher with a classroom of unmotivated kids, Hoffman argues, would unfairly result in a negative rating for that teacher.

State Sen. Jeff Piccola

“There are too many factors dragging a kid down,” Hoffman said. “The kid doesn’t go home and have conversations around the dinner table with the teacher.”

State Sen. Jeff Piccola, R-Dauphin, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said any change the evaluation process would have to weigh student performance heavily.

State Sen. Andrew Dinniman

“Language in the teacher evaluation bill that doesn’t preserve that measure or high level of student achievement involved in the evaluation would be problematic,” Piccola said.

State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, agrees that the current rating system must go and student performance must be considered, but argues that heavily weighting test scores would be a mistake.

“I’m just not sure that having tests at 50 percent truly reflect on how someone learns,” he said.

Dinniman criticized Corbett for failing to gain enough support from the teachers who will be evaluated.

“You don’t show much respect for a profession unless you involve a profession fully in the (evaluation) process,” he added.

Eller said in an email that even if the pilot program becomes law, the state would implement it in the 2013-14 school year.

For the 2012-13 school year, 264 public school districts, charter schools and vocational schools will participate in the pilot program.

Corbett said this week that he wants the new evaluation system passed into law along with the state budget this month.

This story was updated at 10:11 p.m. to accurately reflect the number of schools in the pilot program in the 2012-13 school year.

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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