Evaluation methods for schools, teachers too simplistic, critics say

By Emily Donaldson

JEFFERSON CITY — Teachers and schools used to issuing report cards would be given their own form of evaluation if two bills heard before the Senate Education Committee Wednesday are signed into law.

The committee heard both measures, one that would assign letter grades to schools based on the Missouri School Improvement Standards and the other that would implement an evaluation system for teachers and principals based off of student achievement and improvement.

Missouri School Improvement Standards incorporate resource, process and performance standards that target requirements for basic facilities, school services, supplemental programs, career preparation and standardized testing achievement.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, said her biggest problem with the measures was the lack of rigorous standards included in the new programs. The measures would create evaluations to replace the current Adequate Yearly Process, or AYP, program, implemented through No Child Left Behind, without as extensive requirements.

The AYP created educational standards in the 2001-2002 school year that were supposed to be met within 12 years.

“This needs to be as comprehensive as AYP, and no less,” Chappelle-Nadal said.

However, supporters of the measures said that these evaluation standards are necessary, regardless of the level of rigor, to give parents and members of local communities power to direct their volunteer efforts effectively.

Joe Knodell, former superintendent of Carter and Twin Rivers school districts and current lobbyist for the Missouri Education Reform Council, said if parents could understand which schools were failing, they could donate time and resources to help the institutions suffering the most.

“It would help me build support among the school board and the community,” Knodell said.

Chappelle-Nadal disagreed with this statement. She said in her own experience, community support does not make a difference in improving school ratings. Even with the addition of public evaluation and a resulting influx of volunteers, a school within her senatorial district, Flynn Park Elementary School, did not change its rating over a span of four years.

Most of the debate in the hearing originated from the argument that the evaluations would simplify the performance of the education system and ignore factors such as the natural ability of students.

Mike Lodewegen, the director of Legislative Advocacy for Missouri Association of School Administrators, said a simplified evaluation process could not capture all of the factors affecting a student’s quality of education.

“We don’t feel that a single letter grade really indicates how well a school is doing,” Lodewegen said.

The sponsor of the second bill, Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, said his bill would address this concern with a sliding scale of evaluation requirements for teachers and principals. To look at all factors affecting student’s achievement, school districts would be able to choose to weigh the two evaluation areas of progress and actual achievement in a variety of ways. They could choose to base the evaluation from 40 to 60 percent off of student progress with the remaining percentage being based off of actual achievement.

If a school district would like to factor in a lower natural ability of students, districts can use a higher percentage of progress, and a lower percentage of actual achievement.

Emery’s bill would also make processes such as salary schedules and teacher tenure performance based. Tenure is currently given when a teacher has worked as a full-time employee in the same school district for five consecutive years. The measure would change this process to give high performing teachers tenure, rather than those with more experience.

“The best teachers would be rewarded for being the best teachers,” Emery said.

Emery said he was willing to improve upon his bill following the feedback of the hearing. Part of these changes is limiting access to teacher evaluations to only a personnel file instead of public access.