SC education board: Teacher letter grades won’t happen

Associated PressNovember 14, 2012 

— State education board members assured teachers Wednesday that the Education Department’s proposal to give teachers letter grades will not be part of South Carolina’s performance-based evaluation system, which is set to start statewide in 2014-15.

Evaluating educators on an A to F scale is not going to work, and teachers should know the board is not heading in that direction, said board Chairman Dennis Thompson.

The comments followed a presentation by the state Association of School Administrators, which offered an alternative to the state’s plan for evaluating teachers and principals. Development of its proposal involved surveys from nearly 8,300 teachers and 830 principals, said Sheila Huckabee, an assistant superintendent for Clover schools.

The governor’s board appointee, Michael Brenan, applauded her proposal as more in line with what businesses use.

“We’ve got to get rid of A through F,” said Brenan, president of BB&T in South Carolina. “We’d never use that in business to evaluate an employee.”

Superintendent Mick Zais said he’s still exploring evaluation possibilities. He noted he’s attending a meeting Thursday with chief school officers from across the nation who are also trying to implement evaluation systems that factor in student achievement.

He had wanted the letter grading system, he said, because it clearly communicates teachers’ performance, but he said he’s open to suggestions.

Evaluating educators based on performance is a required part of the state’s exemption from the all-or-nothing provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law. States granted the waivers are exempt from requirements that all students score proficient on state-standardized math and reading tests by 2014. The U.S. Education Department approved South Carolina’s application in July.

The goal is to ensure students are taught by quality teachers. Zais has said he wants to reward effective teachers, while weeding out those who should be in another profession.

Zais’ evaluation plan is being preliminarily tested in 22 schools statewide this year, to both meet the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver requirements and comply with federal school improvement grants those schools received, said Zais spokesman Jay Ragley.

Feedback from those schools will help develop a pilot program to be used in eight to 25 volunteering school districts next school year. The pilot plan doesn’t need the state board’s approval; a future statewide model will.

It must be a system that works in both the best- and worst-performing schools, Zais said.

Teachers have criticized his plan as too dependent on test scores.

“It’s degrading to a teacher,” Kathy Maness, director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, said of the letter system. “There are other ways to evaluate teachers and get the same thing we need without using A through F. They’re getting a grade based on how a child does on the test, and sometimes that’s completely out of their control.”

Different measures

The key differences in Zais’ plan and the school administrators’ plan are the lack of letter grades and how student growth is measured.

The educators propose rating teachers through either a three- or four-tiered system. The four ratings would be exemplary, satisfactory, needs improvement and unsatisfactory. Student growth would be one of five categories in which teachers would be evaluated. To receive an “unsatisfactory” on any of the five would rate a teacher unsatisfactory overall.

The ratings would be based on goals agreed to at the beginning of a school year.

“I think both models have the same intent to create a collaborative environment for school improvement. Our model is a goal-setting model,” Huckabee said. “Goals must be ambitious but achievable.”

She said the educators’ plan allows for personal decision making, rather than grades based on a mathematical formula. Using multiple growth measures, she said, also ensures teachers are graded based on what they teach in their classroom. Standardized test scores would be part of teachers’ evaluations in the grades that take them. But special education teachers, for example, could be evaluated based on their students’ individual goals.

“Special education teachers are very, very concerned,” Huckabee said.

The group proposes rating principals on a three-tiered scale of exemplary, proficient and needs improvement, across nine evaluation categories.

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