Student achievement could be part of teacher evaluations

Michelle Theriault Boots

A new rule proposed by the Alaska Department of Education would add student achievement -- in the form of test scores or other data -- to the criteria on which teachers are evaluated each year.

The regulation, which is up for public comment until Nov. 30, would require school districts to make what the department terms "student learning data" worth 20 percent in a teacher's evaluation.

The change would be phased in and wouldn't actually affect teachers until the 2016-2017 school year, said Sondra Meredith, an administrator with the state Department of Education.

Meredith said the rule comes from a long conversation within the department about teacher quality and improving student learning.

"Education is about being able to demonstrate that students are progressing in their academic performance," she said.

For Alaska, there's another appeal.

The state has applied for a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind mandates, said Department of Education deputy commissioner Les Morse. To receive the waiver, the state has to meet requirements that include linking student performance and teacher evaluations.

Alaska is not exactly at the cutting edge of the debate.

At least 30 states already link test performance with evaluations, according to the Education Commission of the States.

Some teachers' unions are worried about the plan.

Andy Holleman of the Anchorage Education Association said he's heard concern from teachers who wonder whether they'd be penalized for teaching troubled or special education students who score lower on tests.

"There are some things about test scores you can't control," he said. "And if your evaluations are based on something you can't control, reasonable people will not continue in that profession."

The National Education Association-Alaska wrote that it "supports a strong teacher evaluation system which helps teachers improve their practice" but posted a list of objections to the proposed rule on its website.

Performance evaluations determine whether a teacher is considered to be performing well at his or her job, whether teachers are put on a probationary plan or ultimately whether they are rehired for the next year.

The state and Anchorage School District both say there are no plans to link the new evaluations to increases in pay. In Anchorage, that is determined by seniority and educational attainment according to the terms of the district's contract with teachers, said Superintendent Jim Browder.

Other districts in the Lower 48, including a district Browder worked in before coming to Anchorage, have instituted "pay-for-performance" plans that offer teacher compensation based on student test scores. Browder said it's not something he would oppose but it's also not in his plans.

"If we were going to add a pay-for-performance component, I'm really comfortable with that. But I don't know that the state is going down that road," he said.

Meredith said the state has received some comments on the plan.

There have been some misunderstandings as to what the plan actually entails, she said.

Under the proposed rule, each district would be able to choose on its own what counts as "student learning data." It could be anything from a standardized test to a project, said Morse. It could measure progress and improvement rather than raw scores, Meredith said.

For the evaluations to work, she said, they would have to acknowledge that some students have special needs and special challenges -- and so do the teachers who work with them.

"That's why this has to be so cautiously done," she said. "(Students) don't all learn -- and shouldn't all learn -- at the same rate and pace."


Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.