Growth in student learning would count initially for at least 25 percent and eventually 30 percent of teacher and administrator evaluations, under new rules that won preliminary state approval on Friday.

The impact of the new rules will be wide ranging, affecting, for example, the state’s recognition of teacher  preparation programs as well as teacher tenure and layoff decisions.

The public will have 45 days to comment on the rules before the Illinois State Board of Education takes a final vote. The rules spell out how the state’s  Performance Evaluation Reform Act is to be implemented. That law requires that student performance be a “significant factor” in teacher and principal evaluation.

Some school reform advocates maintained that 25 percent was too low; teacher unions maintained it was too high.

Calling 25 percent “almost negligible,” Mary Anderson, executive director of Stand for Children, said, “An educator with proficient or excellent practice ratings would never receive an evaluation other than proficient or excellent – even when student growth is unsatisfactory.”

She said she is also concerned that the rules allow schools to exclude high-mobility students. “Without a rule in place, districts would be permitted to exclude students with high truancy rates or who enter mid-year from the growth calculations. … We don’t want to see any incentives to push out these at-risk students or enable them to slip through the cracks.”

The Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers both said they thought the 25 percent was too high, given that growth evaluations are uncharted territory for the state and concerns over their reliability.  

 “We believe student growth should be at 20 percent during the phase-in period,” said the IEA’s Daryl Morrison.

The phase-in reflects the staggered start for the new evaluations, which begin next fall for principals throughout the state and for teachers in 300 Chicago schools.

 “We are at the point where this seems like the right direction,” said Larry Stanton, co-chair of the council that drafted the rules, “but it seems like a huge execution challenge.”

 One challenge is training the evaluators before the effective dates.  ISBE Deputy Superintendent Linda Tomlinson said the state recently learned it will get $28 million under the federal Race to the Top program. Some of that money will be used to train principals and superintendents to do good evaluations, she said. 

“Everyone who does an evaluation must be certified,” she noted, and that will require passing a test.

A number of advocates have questions about how the evaluation rules will affect teachers of English language learners and special education students. Those issues may be addressed in a future rule, the state board noted.

Phase-in, the result of public comments, stirs more controversy

The percentages that the state approved for student growth are a floor. Under state law, districts and unions negotiate the process and could go higher.  However, if they deadlock for at least 6 months, the percentage would default to 50 percent (except in Chicago, where it defaults to CPS’ last proposal).

According to the law, the student growth portion of the evaluation must show “demonstrable change in learning between two or more points in time.”  The law treats Chicago and the rest of the state differently on a number of points, which is not unusual.

It allows CPS to use value-added state test scores as its only measure of student growth. But it instructs other districts to use several other measures and rules out use of the states ISAT and PSAE tests.

 “We have been very up-front about the fact that the ISAT and the PSAE were not designed for teacher evaluations,” Darren Reisberg, the state board’s general counsel, said during an explanation of the rules at Friday’s meeting.

Principals, however, will generally be evaluated based just on state tests or district-wide assessments, unless they are at schools where most students don’t take such tests (for instance, because the students are too young.) Assistant principals can be evaluated on student growth data that relate to their duties – for instance, attendance and discipline progress. (No new evaluations are required for CPS assistant principals.)

Eventually, Tomlinson said, the state may suggest that districts use the assessments that are being developed to align with the Common Core State Standards, a new set of more rigorous standards that Illinois is in the process of implementing.

Using teacher practice

The evaluations must also account for “teacher practice,” measured by observations using a tool supported by research. Districts also can come up with their own evaluation framework or choose one like Charlotte Danielson’s “Framework for Teaching,” a well-regarded evaluation tool. A University of Chicago Consortium on School Research study of a Chicago pilot program on the Danielson framework found that the ratings principals gave teachers reflected growth in student test scores.

At a future meeting, the Illinois State Board of Education will likely adopt “model” teacher and principal evaluation processes – intended largely as resources for districts that lack time and money to design them from scratch..

Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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