January 18, 2010

Tying student scores to teacher ratings in Oregon and Idaho, while WA takes a go-slow approach

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The state of Oregon is putting it on the line, taking the controversial step — with the backing of its teachers unions – to connect student test scores to teacher ratings and using them to judge effectiveness.

rita_hibbardweb“Schools will be expected to use those results to improve teaching practices and could use them to help decide which teachers they should promote, give bonuses or let go,” reports Betsy Hammond of The Oregonian. Oregon will take this step in its application to win $200 million of the Obama administration’s $4 billion Race to the Top fund – deadline Tuesday. About 43 states, including Idaho, are expected to apply in this first round of competitive funding, and Oregon is one of only 28 with teacher union backing.

Meanwhile, Washington state is proceeding more tentatively. Gov. Christine Gregoire has announced the state will apply for round two of the funding – deadline June. Superintendent of Schools Randy Dorn agrees with the go-slow approach.

“Race to the Top money will help change the way we do education and make our schools better for our students,” Dorn said. “But we need time to make sure local districts can participate in the process. Waiting for the second round of applications gives us that time.”

Like Oregon, Idaho schools also will seek the federal funding in the first round – about $75 million for a pilot program to pay teachers based on performance in several areas, including student test scores. Local school districts would be given flexibility in rewarding teachers and allowed to use criteria other than statewide tests.

Secretary of Education Anne Duncan has called this pool of money education’s “moon shot” and a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for schools to obtain significant federal money to improve performance.

Tying student test scores to individual teachers is the most sweeping change proposed in Oregon’s application, which was designed by a large team of educators, business leaders and education advocates, writes Hammond.

That doesn’t mean teachers will get raises or be fired based on their students’ test scores. Any use of test scores in teacher evaluations would be decided at a school district level after negotiations between the administration and teachers union.

But a few districts and unions have agreed on new evaluation systems that put more emphasis on documenting gains in student learning.

The idea is to improve a student’s performance, regardless of what that performance level is at when the student begins instruction. So it’s not about highest scores, Oregon officials say, it’s about progress. And if Oregon doesn’t win Obama administration funding for its plan, it plans to continue with its plan anyway.

If it doesn’t secure federal money, Oregon still will develop the ability to connect student test score gains to the teachers who work with each student — and soon, says Doug Kosty, assistant superintendent for assessment and information services. The initial data link probably will happen by fall 2011, he said.

“This is all about improving practice,” he said.

— Rita Hibbard

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