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Common Core and Evaluations: Are Teachers 'Going Crazy'?

On the off chance people were looking for a lively discussion about the connections between the Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluations on a mid-summer Sunday afternoon, they would have found it at the National Association of State Boards of Education's annual conference in Arlington, Va., on July 28.

The 2013-14 academic year is shaping up to be a hugely important year for both education policy topics, and a year when they will begin to converge in schools. For the upcoming school year, 17 states (including Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, and Oregon) will be asking districts to fully implement new teacher evaluations, Angela Minnici, the principal researcher in the American Institutes for Research's education program, told an audience during a NASBE panel on the new standards and evaluations. (Last school year, 11 states, including Illinois, New York, and Virginia, did so.)

With pilots of new common-core-aligned assessments also slated to be given to students in 2013-14, state board members and others should no longer consider the common core and educator evaluations on two different tracks, Minnici and that there is in fact a "broad consensus" now on the substance of the evaluations across states' policies, Minnici said. Three key goals, she said, is to get trained professionals to administer the evaluation systems, recasting teacher certification and professional development for the standards, and the need to have a greater quantity of reliable measures by which to measure teachers.

But the NASBE audience in several instances expressed anxiety about the convergence Minnici discussed, perhaps an indication of just how nervous states generally are about the next two years (common core assessments in their finished form are scheduled for the 2014-15 academic year). One audience member questioned the basic validity of tying evaluations to test scores, given the non-random placement of students in classes, and another said teachers are simply worried about keeping their jobs under the sweeping policy changes. Remember, an Editorial Projects in Education survey in February found that nearly half of responding teachers (who were also edweek.org registered users) felt unprepared to teach to the common core.

The U.S. Department of Education has provided potential flexibility for states on the impact of these evaluations, amid concern about how states will be required to use the new tests for accountability in 2013-14.

But another audience member said that implementing the common core and new evaluations simultaneously was putting too much stress on those in the classroom: "Our teachers are going crazy."

In a few cases, Minnici emphasized to what extent states need more information to help schools adjust to the new, common-core landscape. Asked about the extent to which states are already tracking the measurable effectiveness of teacher training and development programs, she said, "States are not doing that. Districts are not doing that for the most part."

One possible role model for officials to deal with some of these questions, Minnici said, is Colorado. For each of three groups in that state—students, teachers, and schools or districts—officials set up a framework asking what they want the group to know, how officials will know if expectations are being met, and how they will provide additional support to each stakeholder group.

The NASBE discussion highlights that at the very least, 2013-14 could reveal a great deal about just how well-prepared states are to blend the new standards and evaluations.

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