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Delaware Links Student Test Scores with Teacher Ratings

October 11, 2011

This is an interesting development, the state of Delaware is now officially linking teacher ratings with student test scores.  Never mind all the research that says this is not a valid way to rate teachers, never mind students who come in feeling bad on test day, never mind students whose parents are fighting, or taking drugs, or going through divorce, never mind the student who really just doesn’t care about passing this test.  Throw all of those variables away and link teacher evals to test scores.   Sometimes common sense is just not present.

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The state Department of Education and the state’s largest union representative for teachers have come to an agreement on how to rate teachers for the current school year.

For the first time, student test score data will be used as one measure for rating teachers in Delaware. This comes one year after the state rolled out a new computer-based assessment for students that helps measure test score growth by requiring students to take the exam several times during the school year. The test score data are part of a five-component ranking system that also takes into account other factors.

Teachers will not face negative consequences for the 2011-12 school year if they score low in the student test score portion of the rating system. That’s because the state failed tocreate a complete system for gathering student achievement data for all teachers. For instance, school auto mechanic vocational teachers or music teachers are untested content areas.

“Teachers have a right to a fair evaluation system, one that makes sense for the job they were hired to do,” said Delaware State Education Association President Frederika Jenner, who also is a teacher. “We know that both parents and teachers want studentprogress to be determined fairly and reliably, and this year is about continuing to work together to make that happen.”

Since there is no test score data available for all educators, the agreement with the DSEA was created as a one-year patch as the state works to complete the major overhaul of its teacher rating system. That will allow test score data to be part of an educator’s ranking, but teachers will not be punished if they fail in this area. For teachers who do not have a test linked to their subject area, the state will substitute school-wide scores in that area.

Teachers will, however, be eligible for rewards if they do well in the student data and the other four components. They are eligible for retention bonuses and other financial incentives to transfer to high-needs schools. These rewards are being paid for with a portion of the state’s $119 million Race to the Top grant.

Delaware, along with several other states, promised to make majorchanges in teacher ratings systems in return for federal grants under Race to the Top. The state earned the grant based, in part, on its ambitious goals for rating teachers.

A new state law requires that those who began teaching after the 2009-10 school year have at least two years of satisfactory ratings in three years under student test score performance to be afforded special due-process rules that affect how a union teacher can be fired. However, because the state failed to create a test score component for every teacher, this provision will not go into effect this year.

Should Delaware fail to create the system it promised in the Race to the Top grant application, the federal government has threatened to withhold $13.8 million of the state’s grant, according to a U.S. Department of Education letter sent in July approving the state’s one-year delay in using student data to rate teachers. The federal government made this threat as a condition for allowing the state to roll out a modified teacher rating system this school year.

“They gave us the extension, but it’s an exception with consequences for failure,” said Dan Cruce, deputy secretary for the state Department of Education.

To help the state come up with a way to include student data for currently untested subject areas, the state Department of Education has been meeting with groups of educators. About 250 teachers were part of a group that met last week. The state Department of Education hired Diane Donohue, the outgoing president of the teachers union, to help oversee this work.

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