Chicago Teacher Evaluations: Chicago Public Schools Consider Enacting New Standards

Chicago Public Schools and the Illinois State Board of Education held a series of public forum meetings last weekend to consider a new law that would change how teacher performance is evaluated across Chicago Public Schools districts.

The move was prompted in part by concerns about inconsistency between reported student and teacher performance: the Chicago News Cooperative reports that more than 90 percent of Chicago Public School teachers are rated excellent or superior at a time when Illinois students are registering all-time low test scores and plummeting graduation rates statewide.

An advisory council last week drafted the terms of evaluation that would be enforced by law if approved by legislators in nine months, according to the CNC. Starting next year, some CPS teachers would be graded in part based on their students' performance, with plans to expand the program statewide by 2014. But first, district officials and the Chicago Teachers Union must agree on guidelines for the evaluations, including determining which tests will factor into teachers' scores, and what weight their results will carry.

Earlier this year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled a merit-based bonus program for principals based on student performance. That program will evaluate student reading and math scores on the Illinois State Achievement Test, on college readiness benchmarks on the eighth grade EXPLORE exam, and on ACT scores and reductions in dropout rates at the high school level.

Teacher evaluation at CPS and across the state has been a contentious topic, with the nationally-recognized TeacherFit screening system coming under fire for disqualifying job applicants based on survey responses, including allegations that responses suggesting opposition to Mayor Emanuel's longer school day initiative would lower applicant scores.

The initiative is anticipating pushback from teachers, but Julie Mack, who attended a Chicago conference on the issue Saturday sponsored by the Education Writers Association, wrote in the Kalamazoo Gazette that presenters described the new evaluation system as an effort to provide educators with better feedback and support, not an excuse to fire ineffective teachers.

"We have no trouble telling kids whether they're passing or failing [the state tests], but we're reluctant to tell adults that they're not effective," Emily Barton, acting director of educator evaluation for the Tennessee Department of Education said at Saturday's conference, according to the Gazette. "We're used to putting average, good and excellent teachers in the same category, so this is uncomfortable."

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