The evaluation system at the heart of the Chicago strike

Thanks to the Chicago Teachers Union strike, 350,000 of some of our nation’s neediest children have missed school this week. While it sounds like the strike may be close to an end, its impact will likely be far reaching and linger long after the teachers go back to work.

According to the unions, the fact that Chicago children have been denied the education they deserve is unfortunate but necessary to stop what they perceived as an unfair and unjust evaluation system that “would rely heavily on student standardized test scores.” One of key talking points being thrown around by the media is that student performance on standardized tests would account for as much as 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, something that even many reformers can’t stomach.

However, a close read of the final teacher-evaluation proposal from the Chicago Public Schools reveals a very different picture. In fact, the CPS proposal is more thoughtfully crafted and balanced than the rhetoric suggests, using a well-developed and tested teacher evaluation rubric, peer evaluation from master teachers, and student performance on teacher-created and teacher-scored performance assessments.

In fact, according to the final proposal, student achievement on standardized tests will never account for more than 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. And, even then, the district ensures that the often-derided state assessments—which, as critics note, are in desperate need of improvement—will not be used to judge a teacher’s effectiveness.

According to the CPS proposal, there are four essential elements of a teacher’s performance evaluation:

1. Teacher Practice

Chicago Public Schools has worked with noted educator, Charlotte Danielson, and developed a rubric that is a modified version of the well-known “Danielson Framework for Effective Teaching.” Each teacher would be evaluated across four categories—effective planning (10 percent of the score), the classroom environment (25 percent, and this includes “creating an environment of respect,” and “encouraging a culture of learning), professional responsibilities (25 percent, including reflecting on learning, communicating with families, maintaining accurate records), and instruction. 
What’s more, the city has also offered to provide mentor teachers who will help evaluate probationary teachers and who will help calibrate scores across the district.

2. Standardized Tests

This is of course the most controversial element of the teacher evaluation proposal. It’s also the smallest. At most, student performance on standardized tests will account for 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. And that is only for teachers of tested subjects. 
But perhaps most importantly, the state tests—which people most often think are used in these teacher evaluation plans—will never be used. Instead, in grades 3-8, the state will administer the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) “Measure of Academic Progress” (MAP), a computer-adaptive reading and math test, to each group of students twice a year, once in the beginning and once at the end of the year.
 For high school teachers, students will take one of three College Board assessments—the EXPLORE, PLAN, or ACT test.
Of course, it’s fair to push CPS on whether these are the right tests to use, and whether they are aligned to the standards and curricula teachers are being asked to teach. But as for whether or not student results will factor “heavily” in a teacher’s evaluation, it seems clear from the final proposal that that is not true.

3. Performance Tasks

According to the final CPS proposal, student performance on performance tasks, that will be created by a team of Chicago teachers and scored by each student’s own teacher, will account for between 15 and 20 percent of each teacher’s evaluation. Again, this is hardly the kind of assessment that most fear when they hear that teacher evaluations are going to use “student achievement” to judge teacher performance.

4. Survey

For teachers in grades 4-12, the final 10 percent of a teacher’s evaluation will be informed by a student survey.

In isolation, any of these things can be scary. A student survey! What if I ask too much of my students and they hate me! Or, a standardized test? What if my students have a bad day? Principal evaluation? What if we don’t get along?

But taken together, it’s easy to see how these can give administrators a fair, holistic view of each teacher’s effectiveness.

What’s more, because CPS realizes it’s navigating uncharted waters, its final proposal to the union included provisions whereby CPS would partner with the union to study the effectiveness of the evaluation plan, and where they would jointly decide on next steps once the results of the study were released.

Yet, this proposal is being held up as the main reason that the Chicago Teachers Union denied 350,000 of our neediest children access to schools and meals for at least a week.

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