Remember last year when we voted down Amendment 3 by 76.4%? This amendment called for a change to our state constitution requiring teacher evaluations to be based on student performance. The public responded quite definitively that we didn’t want the state dictating how we would evaluate our teachers. We wrote about the specifics of Amendment 3 on MEW here and here.

Here we are just a year later, and the state is still trying to get its way. This time it is using the Missouri School Board Association to push its agenda through. MSBA has provided districts around the state with proposed policy changes that look surprisingly like Amendment 3.  The reference copy of the policy begins with this.

“This policy was revised at the request of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) as a way of helping districts understand that student growth must be part of the evaluation process.”

Isn’t that nice of DESE, helping districts “understand” what the state is dictating they must do? Isn’t it great that MSBA is working for them? The policy itself provides not understanding, but rather specific language that the state wants districts to adopt in order to make the claim that DESE put in our NCLB waiver true, that our LEA’s will change the teacher evaluation process to include VAM (which the American Statistical Association does not support.)

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The language is softened only a bit by allowing a “wide variety of performance measures” be used and not one specific system approved by DESE. Yippee. It still says that student performance will be a “significant contributing factor” in teacher evaluations. The only difference now is that 5-7 local elected officials get to vote on whether you have this or not, not everyone in your district. And here’s their incentive to do so (from MSBA.)

“The primary purpose of the evaluation is to improve student performance by promoting the continuous growth of teachers in a manner that is aligned with the district’s Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (CSIP) and, where applicable, building improvement plans (BIPs). Results of the evaluation will inform employment decisions, but may not be the only factor considered.”

CSIP and BIP were also part of the state’s NCLB waiver and are used in determining district accreditation. Many districts have already approved this policy as it was presented to the board as something they “needed to do for accreditation.”

The explanatory language goes on to say,

“This policy was also revised to reflect the requirements of House Bill 1490 (2014) that prohibits the sharing of evaluation results with state and federal agencies. MSBA has also included language from state law describing the essential principles that must be incorporated in all evaluation procedures and made changes in wording for clarity and consistency with standards approved by the State Board.”

In the policy language itself, this is covered with this statement. “The district will not share the evaluation with any state or federal agency unless it is required by law to do so.”

What 1490 attempted to do was prevent districts from sharing student test data with the federal government. Tying test data to teacher evaluations was one mechanism for making that happen. Note that this language does not provide any real barrier to doing this as the state need merely make this a law or regulation for districts to be forced to share specific student data (how else do you know it is for Mrs. Smith’s evaluation?) with the state or feds.

One nice thing is that our superintendents are now on the hook for the same thing. A separate draft MSBA policy covered Superintendent evaluations. It looks very similar to the one for teachers but adds,

“The superintendent and Board will jointly identify two or three to five areas of or quality indicators based on the Missouri Superintendent Standards for the upcoming year’s evaluation. At least one indicator will address student growth as demonstrated by district wide student growth data. This will be done These decisions will be made within the first six weeks of employment for a new superintendent and at the end of the previous school year, or in conjunction with the previous year’s summative evaluation, for a returning superintendent.”

This is positive only in that it hold superintendents to the a similar standard as the teachers. It also, unfortunately, focuses the Super’s attention on student scores which, as was noted above, is fraught with all kinds of statistical problems.

So you can mount a petition drive in this state, get something on the ballot, educate the public about it enough to get it passed (or failed) but the state can still override all that with a little policy slipped to the 5-7 individuals on your local school board who may or may not be awake enough to recognize it as the same as the policy the public voted down, and who will have the incentive to vote for it in order to maximize their accreditation points so they can keep their district open. That’s the way government works now.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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