Chicago Teachers Express Concern Over New Evaluation System

Chicago Public School teachers are unenthusiastic about proposed teacher performance metrics for the district, saying they give excessive weight to standardized testing, according to a new survey released by the school district.

Starting next year, some Chicago school teachers will be graded in part based on their students' performance, if the new evaluation proposal drafted by CPS and Illinois State Board of Education members passes the Illinois legislature as is. But many details of the plan still need to be hashed out, including which tests will factor into teachers' scores and what weight test results will carry.

The plan, which will pilot in at least 300 schools by next September, isn't receiving good marks from Chicago's teachers. According to a new study released by CPS on Monday, Chicago teachers object to being evaluated by testing alone, saying it wouldn't accurately reflect their performance.

But frustrations with the reform effort didn't mean teachers were happy with the status quo: Only 30 percent said the current evaluation helps improve their practice.

In the report, which gathered teachers' reactions to various methods of evaluating their performance, educators offered alternative means of reviewing their work, including assessments of student work portfolios and individually set goals. But the teachers acknowledged the alternative evaluations presented logistical problems.

Two of their primary concerns were how much weight should be given to student performance, and how performance should be measured. Sixty-four percent said student performance should count for less than one quarter of a teacher's overall rating, with the remainder coming from other rating methods, such as conferences and teacher observations.

These positions set teachers at odds with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who unveiled a merit-pay model earlier this month to CPS principals and network school chiefs.

Discussions of the value of standardized testing are particularly tense in light of the most recent batch of Illinois state performance exams. Illinois students returned record-low scores this year, after new legislation closed loopholes that had previously prevented 8 percent of low-performing 11th graders from taking the test.

Monday's study, commissioned by CPS and The Chicago Public Education Fund, is part of an outreach initiative to involve teachers in the redesign their evaluation system -- an approach mandated by the state's effort to reform teacher and principal evaluation, which launched in early 2010.

"Having the voice of teachers in this process was extremely important, having their input on the front end of this process" said Marielle Sainvilus, a spokesperson for CPS. "We respect our teachers and wanted them to be our partners because they're on the front lines in educating our children; they know best what works in a classroom."

Approximately 2,300 teachers had attended meetings held at 200 schools -- which Sainvilus said could give the study credibility in the eyes of the Chicago Teachers Union. The Chicago district has around 21,000 teachers.