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States Must Tread Cautiously on Evaluations of Special Ed. Teachers

With school reform efforts combining with federal incentives to encourage more districts and states to change how they evaluate teachers, the Council for Exceptional Children today shared recommendations and views for how to evaluate special education teachers.

Federal initiatives including waivers from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top not only have pressed for new evaluation systems, they push for teacher ratings to include student performance as a unit of measure.

However, special education teachers' work may differ sharply from school to school, the CEC notes. They may co-teach, work with students one on one, act as consultants to other classroom teachers.

"On any given day, or in any given week, I may work directly with families in the community, provide one-on-one instruction in a classroom, consult with other educators in my school about the best ways to accommodate children's needs—all of these various activities are part of my role and you must understand all of them to fairly evaluate my work," said Hannah Ehrli, a special education teacher and CEC's 2012 teacher of the year. She works in Orange County in central Florida.

The CEC has spent the last three years working on these recommendations, convening an advisory group made up of teachers of students with disabilities in states where new evaluation systems were being tried out and experts who considered the current state of special education teacher evaluation and potential challenges. In addition, the group solicited and received hundreds of comments about the issue.

In its new position paper, CEC said as a result, evaluations of special education teachers should, among other things:


  • Be based on an individual teacher's specific role and responsibilities, which may vary from year to year;

  • Define performance expectations based on professional standards that are mutually agreed upon by the teacher and the evaluator;

  • Consider the population of children a teacher works with and their range of disabilities;

  • Be conducted by those with expertise in special education and training in evaluation;

  • Consider, potentially, teachers' development of students' individual education plans and their implementation, their skill in providing access to general education classrooms, and measures of student growth that are a fair and accurate representation of student growth and the special education teacher's contribution to that growth;

  • Never be based solely on student growth;

  • Consider research; and,

  • Consider the consequences of wide-scale implementation of teacher evaluation systems.

In addition, CEC said, special education teachers must be involved in the development and implementation of the teacher evaluation process.

There are lots of other proposed evaluation methods for other teachers, and many districts are implementing new evaluation systems now. In addition, last week, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association offered its recommendations for evaluating speech pathologists.

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