How do you grade a teacher? How much should student test scores figure in that grade? That's one of the questions that kept 350,000 kids out of school in Chicago.
That's why this information is surprising: the weight that standardized test scores will have in grading teachers is exactly the same as it was before months of negotiations, seven days of strike, and declarations of victory from the union.
Lots of teachers oppose the idea of using their students’ standardized test scores to judge how well they teach. They say students’ scores depend on more than their teaching. They point to studies showing the scores are inaccurate, unreliable.
Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis took up the topic at a rally of thousands last Saturday.
"Evaluate me!" Lewis told the crowd of red-shirted teachers. "Show me how I can get better! But don’t tell me some...test you pulled off of a shelf that a child sits down and bubbles in is going to tell you what I’ve done—it does not!"
Many teachers say one of the victories of the weeklong strike was keeping the use of standardized testing in check. Reports have said the union beat back how much test scores count in a teacher's evaluation.
But the fact is, the weights that student standardized test scores play in determining a teacher’s rating will be precisely what the district said they would be last March, when it unveiled its "REACH" teacher evaluation system.
WBEZ has obtained a copy of that part of the contract. Both the union and school district agree the weight standardized tests will be given is the same as it was before.
District spokeswoman Becky Carroll says the district would not reduce the weight test scores are given in evaluations because they are "a key factor indicating how much teacher practice is influencing student growth."
The biggest part of teachers’ ratings were always going to be determined by principals’ observations of them in class. That percentage will now be even greater, post-negotiations.
"We held the line," said union vice president Jesse Sharkey. "We said that most of a teacher’s evaluation –70 percent—is going to be based on their practice. And we feel like that’s a fair standard."
Think of a pie. The test score slice is the same as what the district proposed under its original evaluation system. The principal observation slice is bigger. That's made possible because the union and school district threw out another slice of pie that was going to be used in a grading teachers: student surveys.
The surveys would have asked students fourth grade and older to agree or disagree with specific statements, such as, "In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes." Sharkey says kids are unqualified to judge teachers’ pedagogy.
Teachers’ evaluations will still include student work like essays or science labs. Some people have lumped that measure of student growth together with standardized tests to give the impression that tests are taking over teacher ratings.
Actually, whether you check last March, before the strike, or today, standardized test scores were never going to be more than 25 percent of a Chicago teachers’ grade. This year, they’ll account for 15 percent.
All percentages are for elementary school teachers in tested grades and tested subjects.