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Board prepares way to grade state teachers

by Evie Blad | April 11, 2012 at 4:29 a.m.

— Arkansas is preparing to launch its first uniform statewide system for evaluating teacher performance.

The Teacher Excellence and Support System was created when state lawmakers passed Act 1209 of 2011, whichrequires the Arkansas Board of Education to approve rules for the evaluations using a framework created by the law.

The board voted Tuesday to seek public comment on the rules, which will ultimately be used to encourage teachers to improve theirinstructional skills and to provide districts “a basis for making teacher employment decisions.”

“We wanted people to understand that truly effective teachers cannot be gauged by a single test score,” Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said after the meeting.

“This has proven to be a very tough rule to put into writing.”

It was tough because the state’s education leaders didn’t want to rely too heavily on students’ state test scores to determine the success of a teacher, he said.

The planned evaluationsystem was a factor in the state’s application for a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind testing standards, Kimbrell said.

The evaluations, which will apply to about 35,000 teachers in the state, will go into effect in the 2014-15school year.

The proposed rules call for an evaluation that would combine methods such as classroom observation, discussions between teachers and their supervisors, and “artifacts,” such as student projects, to determine teachers’ success.

Half of the evaluation for a teacher who teaches in a “tested content area,” such as math or literacy, would be based on student performance of “external assessment measures,” such as the state Benchmark exams. Teachers would work with the supervisors, evaluating them to select which scores to use, the rules said.

The evaluations would also include a scored rubric for each teacher, rating them in the areas of planning, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities.

That rubric would rank teachers on four levels: distinguished, proficient, basic and unsatisfactory.

Under the rules, teachers would be placed in “intensive support” status if they score unsatisfactory ratings in any category of the framework.

Teachers who cannot satisfactorily complete plans to be removed from “intensive support” could be subject to termination, the rules said.

The state began piloting a version of the teacher assessment in 2010 in the Pocahontas, Jonesboro, Magnolia and Lee County school districts.

That pilot program grew to 35 districts this year, Kimbrell said.

The proposed evaluation model was based in part on the work of national teacher quality consultant Charlotte Danielson of Princeton, N.J., whose clients have included the College Board, the Educational Testing Service and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

When Danielson addressed the Arkansas Education Association, the state’s teachersunion, in 2010, she said she was not a fan of evaluating teachers based on students’ standardized test results.

Standardized teacher evaluation models have been criticized in some states for relying too heavily on test scores.

Kimbrell said Arkansas’ model is meant to provide a guideline for “professional conversations” between teachers and their principals about their performance.

“The whole idea is not to get rid of bad teachers; it’s to create better teachers,” he said.

The state worked with the teachers union, the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, lawmakers, the Arkansas School Boards Association and the Walton Family Foundation, among others, to help draft the rules.

Arkansas Education Association President Donna Morey said her organization felt included in the process.

The proposed rules “aren’t perfect,” but they are better than some models used in other states, she said.

Northwest Arkansas, Pages 9 on 04/11/2012

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