The state’s education commissioner, aiming to end a long-brewing controversy, is proposing to scrap a rule requiring school systems to develop individual ratings for teachers and administrators based solely on student test scores.
“I heard loud and clear from teacher unions and administrators that having a separate rating has more downsides then upsides,” Mitchell Chester, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said in an interview.
His proposal, however, would not entirely do away with the use of student test scores in evaluating teachers and administrators, prompting mixed reaction to the proposal Tuesday.
Instead, it would require school systems to fold the scores into a separate system of judging educator performance: the annual job review, a process that has been based largely on observations, and a review of other evidence, such as lesson plans.
“I don’t see any defensible way of rating the success of an educator that doesn’t take into account student learning,” he said, noting the primary mission of schools is to help students grow academically.
Under the current rules, districts were supposed to create a “student impact rating” for every educator — including art teachers and guidance counselors — based on at least two measures of student performance. The intent was to determine whether teachers or administrators were effectively boosting student achievement by assigning a numeric value to growth in test scores by classroom and school.
But the student impact ratings were proving difficult for districts to implement, especially for educators who don’t teach subjects covered by the MCAS or other standardized tests.
Consequently, superintendents, school committees, and teacher unions aggressively lobbied the commissioner to abandon the five-year-old requirement. Very few districts developed the ratings, which deemed an educator’s impact on student learning as low, moderate, or high.
Chester plans to present his proposal to his agency’s board at its monthly meeting Tuesday. If the board is receptive, it will send the proposal out for public comment before making a final decision.
The proposal — months in the making in consultation with teacher unions and administrator groups — is already generating considerable debate. The Massachusetts Teachers Association, which opposes using student test scores in teacher evaluations, formally came out against Chester’s proposal Tuesday.
“The commissioner’s plan fails to address the reality that there is no way to fairly and effectively judge teachers based on student test scores,” Barbara Madeloni, the MTA president, said in a statement. “Trying to do so is contributing to a hyper-focus on testing at the expense of more meaningful teaching and learning.”
Madeloni added that teachers already reflect on student work as they formulate their lesson plans to determine what concepts need to be reinforced and what new material can be pursued — and that kind of reflection can also have a role in evaluations.
Many teachers don’t like being judged on student test scores because other factors outside of school can influence student performance, such as a lack of sleep, hunger, or unstable home lives.
But representatives for associations representing superintendents and school committees said they believe the commissioner reached a good balance by incorporating student test scores in the overall evaluation instead of creating a separate, stand-alone rating.
“I think the commissioner has offered a very skillful and strategic accommodation,” said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. “And it gives people what they want — not having to go through the hoops and developing the algorithms on how to do a student impact rating.”
If the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approves the changes, the new requirements could still prove difficult to implement. In order for any school districts to make changes to teacher evaluations, they would need to negotiate them with their local teacher unions.
“The bottom line for us is we are hopeful that most districts will go to the table and have conversations about this and make it work,” said Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.