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Trend Watch: How Can Teachers of ELLs Be Fairly Evaluated?

Teacher evaluation protocols need to be better tailored to gauge the effectiveness of special education teachers and specialists who work with English-language learners, a research and policy brief from the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality says.

The brief makes the case that teacher effectiveness is different for specialized teachers, such as those who work primarily with students with disabilities and ELLs, and those elements need to be spelled out in evaluation processes.

The issue is important, the brief indicates, because federal policy has spurred some states to change their policies to put a greater emphasis on teacher evaluations. States received extra points in the federal Race to the Top funding competition if they linked teacher evaluation to student achievement data. The brief mentions that Illinois, Tennessee, and Rhode Island are among the states that approved such policy changes.

"Although many teacher evaluation instruments explicitly address teachers' attention to meeting the needs of 'diverse' learners, they may not attend to the special skills and strategies that are required to balance the acquisition of English with the affirmation of students' home culture and language," the brief says. "Teacher evaluation protocols should include and affirm teachers' abilities to navigate this territory."

The brief says that the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, a professional development model promoting strategies for working with ELLs, could provide a starting point for states to include information about what it takes to be effective with ELLs in their teacher evaluation systems.

Critics of policies that link teacher evaluations of ELL specialists with students' scores on standardized tests contend that such tests are not valid and reliable for ELLs so the scores on such tests shouldn't be used to gauge teacher effectiveness with such students.

This is the first publication I've seen that examines in some depth how evaluations of ELL specialists could be improved. The authors of the brief call for evaluation protocols to provide a checklist or rubric that includes specific standards for ELL specialists. They also say that protocols should account for evidence of teachers' contributions to student learning other than only how their students perform on standardized tests.

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