MALDEN — Massachusetts education officials, responding to widespread opposition from teacher unions and superintendents alike, are reexamining the role of student test scores in judging the performance of teachers and administrators.
The move could lead to the demise of a controversial rule that requires school systems to generate a specific rating for each educator based on how much their students have learned over the course of a year. Approved in 2011, the measure has never been implemented in the vast majority of districts.
Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, told members of his agency’s board Tuesday that he would probably present them with recommendations next month to change the regulations that govern how school systems evaluate teachers, principals, and superintendents.
Chester did not say what those recommendations would be, but his comments to the board strongly suggested that he would propose doing away with a so-called “student impact rating.” Instead, student test scores could be folded into other aspects of an educator’s evaluation — without the data being singled out as a separate rating.
“This is such a high-profile discussion,” Chester told board members at their monthly meeting at the state’s education headquarters. “Again, what we are exploring is not eliminating evidence of student learning as a component of the [evaluation] system, but what we are exploring is eliminating the separate rating of impact on student learning.”
Under the five-year-old regulations, teachers and administrators are supposed to receive two kinds of ratings as part of their job reviews. The student impact rating was created to assess whether educators were having a high, moderate, or low impact on learning, based on using scores from at least two different kinds of standardized tests or other student performance measures.
The other part of the evaluation is more traditional, based largely on classroom observations and other evidence, such as examples of lesson plans and student projects.
That information is then used to determine whether an educator’s performance was exemplary, proficient, in need of improvement, or unsatisfactory.
School systems put the more traditional evaluation approaches in place relatively quickly, and the state began reporting that data publicly three years ago.
Across the state, nearly 10 percent of teachers, administrators, and other educators were rated exemplary; 86 percent were deemed proficient; 4 percent in need of improvement; and less than 1 percent unsatisfactory, according to the most recent data, from the 2014-15 school year.
But many superintendents, school committees and teacher unions balked at the student-impact rating requirement. Opponents argued the two-test requirement — with MCAS being one of them — would force them to find and administer a second test just to comply with the evaluation rules and derided it as an unnecessary loss of learning time.
The testing requirement also was creating challenges in finding measures to assess teachers who specialize in areas not covered by state standardized tests, such as social studies, music, art, and gym, opponents said.
Opposition to the student-impact rating has been so intense that the state has repeatedly delayed implementing the student impact rating, while the teacher unions were aggressively lobbying the Legislature earlier this year to abolish the requirement.
Since then, the state education department has worked closely with the unions and superintendents to come up with a compromise.
Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said the “push back from practitioners is clearly having an impact,” and added “our members were very clear what a ridiculous burden the student impact rating was creating.”
But Madeloni said Chester is not going far enough and doesn’t want test scores to have any role in the overall rating of educators, saying “it could potentially be used in a way that is more destructive.”
Under the evaluation system, school systems can fire unsatisfactory teachers within months, while teachers rated in need of improvement have a year to meet their performance goals.
One possible change calls for including student test scores in the parts of the evaluations regarding performance goals or quality of instruction, said Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, in an interview after the meeting.
Scott said many school systems are already looking at student test scores to see if performance is matching up with the quality of instruction being observed. If there is a disconnect, then discussions ensue about whether any changes need to occur in classroom lessons or with the kinds of supports the school is offering, such as providing training or supplying classrooms with adequate materials.
Paul Sagan, chairman of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, told Chester during the meeting that he was pleased the department was able to stave off a legislative change and added he was looking forward to seeing the recommendations, adding that “the devil will be in the details.”