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NEA Passes Teacher-Evaluation Policy, With a Catch-22 on Test Scores

The National Education Association just approved a policy statement on teacher evaluation theoretically permitting use of standardized-test scores as one measure of teacher performance—but the union's leaders underscored that no existing standardized tests currently meet the criteria for inclusion spelled out in the policy.

The move was urged by the union's leaders as a way of putting forth a coherent vision for the place of evaluations in promoting teacher effectiveness. It amends all the union's current resolutions dealing with teacher evaluations, support, and due process.

As Teacher Beat reported earlier, the union's board of directors put many qualifications on the use of test scores in teacher evaluations even before delegates got a whack at the proposal.

In introducing the proposal, NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle made it clear that the NEA's main focus is on teacher improvement. "The decision is whether we will define a truly high-quality evaluation and accountability system that honors our profession," she said.

Given that no existing tests currently meet the requirements as stated, she said the union would engage in "ongoing work to ensure they are created."

On the convention floor, delegates added a few additional amendments. Let's take a look at them:

• Objective evaluators must now "be agreed to by the local affiliate," which would, for example, not permit evaluators like the district-hired "master educators" used by the District of Columbia's IMPACT teacher-evaluation system.

• On tenure-granting (or as the union calls it "career status"), the original proposal said that teachers after receiving two "meets" or "exceeds" ratings on evaluations should earn tenure. But the final version says tenure should be granted for a good evaluation "at the end of their probationary period."

• On top of all the other requirements, standardized tests used in evaluations would now have to be "developmentally appropriate," too.

Strong statements both pro and con during the debate on this item. Here's a delegate from Michigan, speaking on behalf of his state's delegation:

"It is disturbing that the largest labor union in the U.S., the largest teachers' union 3.2-million members is flipping on this position. ... Standardized tests narrow our curriculum. Standardized tests are not an accurate measure of teacher performance or student achievement."

And here's Ken Swanson, president of the Illinois Education Association, speaking on behalf of the union's board of directors, in favor of adoption:

"We act on many things every year at the RA. Some are somewhat trivial, some are important, some are profound. But occasionally we act on something that fundamentally charts the course of the organization and fundamentally changes the national debate about public education. This is one of those items. This is a change to get off of defense and start playing offense. ... Now it the moment, now is the opportunity. ... It is time to act. It is time for us to talk about what makes for effective teaching and effective evaluation."

An interesting subtext also emerged during the debate. A few education support personnel were not happy that the statement does not reference how they should be evaluated.

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