MTA calls for “reinventing” state evaluation system

The state’s largest teachers’ union has proposed that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education dramatically change the way teachers and administrators are evaluated. Under the Massachusetts Teachers Association plan, assessments based on observation and instructional artifacts, such as lesson plans, would be validated by two additional sources of information: multiple measures of student learning and evidence of the educator’s contributions to the school, district or profession.

Other key changes include:

  • Streamlining the number of standards and indicators on which evaluations must be based. The current system of seven standards and 72 indicators would be reduced to five standards and a recommended 22 indicators, with the exact indicators negotiated locally.
  • Establishing four teacher and administrator ratings: unsatisfactory, needs improvement, proficient and exemplary. Many districts currently have just two ratings.
  • Encouraging districts and their unions to negotiate establishing Peer Assistance and Review programs under which educators rated exemplary would, under some circumstances, take the lead in assessing novice teachers’ practices and providing them with guidance. We know of no Massachusetts district that has yet implemented a PAR program.
  • Requiring all educators to have professional growth plans and requiring administrators to provide   the support – such as professional development or mentoring – called for in these plans.
  • Establishing new timelines for improvement, including one stating that educators with Professional Teacher Status rated “unsatisfactory” would be given intensive support for one year. If they failed to make significant progress toward meeting the goals articulated in their plans in that time, they could be dismissed or demoted.
  • Establishing opportunities for advancement and additional compensation for teachers rated “exemplary” who take on new roles, such as becoming instructional coaches or mentors.

Reinventing Educator Evaluation Policy Brief 
"While the current evaluation system works well in some districts, many of our members report that their evaluations are infrequent, superficial and lacking in specific guidance on how they can improve their practice,” said Dr. Kathleen Skinner, director of MTA’s Center for Education Policy and Practice and the author of the new MTA report Reinventing Educator Evaluation: Connecting Professional Practice with Student Learning and a shorterpolicy brief that summarizes the proposal.

Changes in the educator evaluation system are required under the federal Race to the Top grant awarded to Massachusetts and 11 other states plus the District of Columbia. State education officials have said that they intend to establish a new evaluation framework for all districts by the 2013-14 school year, not just for those participating in RTTT. The MTA is an active participant in the evaluation reform process.
Under the MTA plan, trends in student MCAS growth scores – where available – would be included in the evaluation system as one of multiple measures of achievement used to validate the original assessment of the educator’s practice.

Paul Toner, president of the MTA, said that the MTA Board of Directors voted to support these recommendations because board members recognize that the current system is inadequate. “Teachers don’t believe in a ‘gotcha’ system of evaluation,” Toner said. “What they want is timely, meaningful information to help them continuously improve their practice. If adopted, the changes we are proposing will improve the quality and depth of the evaluations performed, and that will improve teaching and learning. Our schools, already the best in the country, will be even better. A good evaluation and support system is one mechanism for ensuring that every student is taught by an excellent teacher.”

The most controversial provision in the RTTT grant program is the requirement that student standardized test scores be included in evaluations. The MTA conducted two member surveys in 2010 that included questions on that topic. Educators expressed strong opposition to any formulaic use of student MCAS scores – such as comparing one year’s class to the next or comparing scores from one district to another – because there are so many non-school factors, including poverty and home environment, that affect test scores.

Considering the state’s intention to include some student test score data in educator evaluations, MTA members expressed stronger support for using trends in MCAS growth scores over other standardized test-based measures, as long as it is just one of multiple measures of achievement.

Growth on MCAS refers to a calculation of how well each student performs in a given year relative to the performance of all students in the state who had similar scores in previous years. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has begun calculating growth scores for individual students and schools, but has not yet calculated those scores for individual teachers. The DESE estimates that only about 17 percent of all educators teach in grades and subjects for which growth scores can be calculated. Districts will be required to come up with other ways to measure student learning in non-tested grades and subjects. In addition, even where growth scores are available, the state’s RTTT grant proposal and the MTA plan call for using multiple measures of achievement.

Reinventing Educator Evaluation: Connecting Professional Practice with Student Learning

Policy Brief 

Frequently Asked Questions

From the NEA:

Proposed Policy Statement on Teacher Evaluation and Accountability

From the DESE:

Proposed Regulations, April 2011

Commissioner Mitchell Chester's memo on proposal, April 2011

Media Coverage:

Listen to MTA Pres. Paul Toner's interview on WBUR's Morning Edition program

Paul Toner on YouTube: Insights and details about the proposal to dramatically change the way teachers and administrators are evaluated

Paul Toner explains the MTA's teacher evaluation plan on Fox25 Morning News