Seattle Teachers Defeat Effort to Tie Evaluations to Test Scores
The Seattle Education Association (SEA) and Seattle Public Schools struck an agreement on a new contract Wednesday night, breaking a stalemate over the issue of teacher effectiveness. While the two sides agreed on a new, more sophisticated evaluation system, SEA succeeded in excluding key provisions of the district’s proposal to directly tie teacher evaluation and pay to student test scores.
“This is a big victory for our teachers,” said SEA President Olga Addae. “It’s an historic change.”
Under the current system, Seattle’s teachers are rated on a two-level scale: satisfactory and unsatisfactory. Staff will now be evaluated on a four-level scale: unsatisfactory, basic, proficient and innovative. Even though test scores will not be a part of teachers’ final evaluations, truly abysmal scores might be used to trigger a more comprehensive evaluation and additional support. “That is the one caveat,” said Addae.
Still, Seattle Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson wanted a lot more and didn’t get it. Her 11th hour push to tie evaluations to student test scores was particularly galling because the district and teachers had made significant progress over the past year in arriving at a consensus over this contentious issue. The two sides had already agreed to scuttle the existing system in favor of a jointly developed, research-based evaluation system – until Goodloe-Johnson introduced the “SERVE Seattle” proposal in early August to make test scores a major part of the evaluation process.
Goodloe-Johnson said the proposal was mostly optional, merely a tentative step forward and that it paled in comparison to systems being implemented in other cities. In other words, no big deal.
But it was. Seattle teachers know that a reliance on student test scores does not accurately determine teacher effectiveness, does nothing to raise student achievement, and is generally detrimental to public schools. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit think tank based in Washington D.C, concluded that reliance on scores should not dominate important decisions about teacher evaluation and pay.
Still, the lack of evidence supporting its usefulness has done little to stifle the impulse of so-called “reformers” to champion the practice. When Goodloe-Johnson jumped on the bandwagon, however, Seattle’s teachers were ready.
“Our organizing really worked for us,” said Addae. “Members were united, the rallies were a success and our community outreach was critical.”
Supporting this commitment was the fact that SEA’s stand was built on a solid foundation of research and collaboration.
“We had already shown our commitment to building a more effective evaluation system,” Addae said. “And we had the research and the facts behind us.”
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