Virginia education officials, prodded by the federal government, have required school systems to develop evaluations, effective next school year, that incorporate student growth as a key factor.
It’s a sea change in philosophy: Until now, the state’s teachers have largely been judged on how they deliver information, not on whether kids learn.
At least 17 states now base teacher evaluations largely on student performance, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based advocacy group.
In the District, student progress — including standardized test scores for some teachers — counts for 50 percent in evaluations. It will count for 50 percent in all Maryland schools beginning in 2013-14.
In Virginia, under guidelines the state Education Department set in April 2011, schools must rate teachers on each of seven standards: professional knowledge, instructional planning, instructional delivery, assessment of learning, learning environment, professionalism and student academic progress.
The latter has drawn resistance in Northern Virginia from teachers groups and some school officials who say they haven’t had enough time to grapple with on-the-ground implications.
What is a good measure of progress, for example, for the approximately two-thirds of teachers whose students do not take state standardized tests? How should evaluations account for the differences — in home lives and academic preparation — that children bring with them through the classroom door?
“We’ve had some real unanswered questions,” said Steven Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, who served on a task force that developed Fairfax’s plan.
Michael Hairston, president of the Fairfax Education Association, which also represents teachers, warned in a letter to the county School Board that the new system “may appear to be suspicious of and punitive toward all teachers,” and could discourage them from working in high-needs schools.
But Luke Chung, a Fairfax parent who served on the task force, said he is hopeful that evaluations will set higher, clearer expectations for all teachers — and that teachers will appreciate the change.
“You don’t want to be on a team where some people are coasting while you’re busting your butt,” Chung said in an interview. “Whether at a school or the Washington Redskins, that’s no good for the team.”
Until last month, most school systems operated under the assumption that they had some latitude to decide how much weight to give academic progress. But in an effort to win a waiver from burdensome parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law, state officials in May told the U.S. Education Department that school systems would be required to make student progress count for 40 percent in the ratings.