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To the union, teacher evaluation is primarily a professional activity, geared to improving teaching and student outcomes. The best evaluators, in our view, are colleagues who engage in a collaborative process of reviewing student work, improving lessons and fine-tuning instruction. Master teachers and mentors emerge from this process, while novice or struggling teachers are helped to grow. The measures of teacher success are well-educated students fully prepared for college and meaningful work.
Unfortunately, teacher evaluation is one of the issues that have been seized upon by so-called education “reformers” in their assault on professionalism of teaching and on teacher unionism.Many “reformers” want a new evaluation system based on student test scores alone. They have been loud and insistent in their effort to make evaluation a sort-and-fire punitive process.
When high-stakes decisions, such as teacher pay, tenure or dismissal, are attached to evaluations, the union’s priorities are to ensure professionalism, fairness and due process. We insist that evaluations use multiple measures, including structured observations and assessments of teaching skills. We have fought to limit the use of standardized test scores in evaluation.
In May 2010, the UFT, NYSUT and the State Education Department reached agreement on a new teacher evaluation and improvement plan. Under the new plan, teachers will be rated highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective. The evaluations will be a “significant factor” in employment decisions, and in awarding positions such as lead teacher, mentor or coach that may bring additional pay. Teachers rated developing or ineffective will receive a tailored improvement plan and a timeline for achieving goals agreed upon by the teacher and principal.
More specifically, teachers will be measured on a 100-point scale, with 60 points based on observations and peer review, 20 points based on student growth on state exams where applicable, and 20 points on other measures of student achievement to be negotiated by the district and the union. The growth measure based on state tests will increase to 25 percent once the Board of Regents adopts a value-added growth model.
The growth model, or value-added model, is supposed to level the playing field for teachers of higher-needs and lower-needs students when it comes to standardized test scores. The idea is that by assessing gains, rather than absolute proficiency levels, students and teachers are credited for improvement no matter where the students start the year. This is a relatively new system, and there is ongoing national debate about the validity and consistency of these measurement systems. The UFT has been, and will be involved in negotiating the system with NYC DOE and the State Education Department.
Ultimately, the success of the new evaluation system depends upon a level of trust between the professionals and administrators. The UFT is hopeful that the new system will help teachers and strengthen instruction more than the old system, which was too often cursory and subjective, limited to simple “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory” categories and offering little guidance to teachers for improvement. The new system has the potential to help move our profession forward and the union has been fighting every step of the way to create a process that is respectful and collaborative, that accounts for the complexity of our students’ needs and that provides the space for discussion and dialogue among teachers that we need to improve education.
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