Fairfax Teachers In Virginia Struggle With New Evaluations, Express Plans To 'Cheat'

President Barack Obama listens to student Alexandria Sutton, 16, during his visit to a classroom at Thomas Jefferson High Sch
President Barack Obama listens to student Alexandria Sutton, 16, during his visit to a classroom at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., Friday, Sept. 16, 2011.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Teachers in Fairfax County, Va. say they are so confused and overwhelmed by the new system of teacher evaluations that they will resort to cheating, the Washington Examiner reports.

"Honestly, I feel as though [Fairfax County Public Schools] is putting me in a difficult position -- my job is on the line so what do I need to do to make my students perform well?" one teacher wrote on the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers survey. "Guess what, this is GOING to lead to some staff cheating and/or cutting corners."

The survey by the teachers union received responses from 450 educators in the district regarding the county's new evaluation system implemented this year, which bases 40 percent of a teacher's rating on student performance data. The model is part of a mandate under the state's application for a waiver from the most onerous requirements of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law.

NCLB sought to achieve 100 percent student proficiency in math and reading by 2014, a lofty goal that is far from realization. After Congress failed to reauthorize the law when it expired in 2007, the Obama administration began offering states relief from its toughest provisions in exchange for individual reform plans. States had to show systems that would include college- and career-ready standards and methods of grading teachers that would, in part, use students' standardized test scores.

Fairfax County's 40 percent composition is more than that of neighboring Washington, D.C. schools, where student progress now comprise 35 percent of teacher evaluations, down from a previous 50 percent . Virginia's guidelines under the NCLB waiver require that teachers be rated on seven standards: professional knowledge, instructional planning, instructional delivery, assessment of learning, learning environment, professionalism and student academic progress.

But teachers are struggling with student progress component, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steven Greenburg told The Washington Post in June. It's unclear how teachers will be evaluated if their students don't take standardized tests, or whether outside factors like student background and academic foundation would be accounted for.

And the work required of teachers for their own evaluations were both confusing and time-consuming, Fairfax educators said in the survey. The documentation requires educators to provide evidence, or "artifacts" of their success. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said it wasn't making them better teachers.

"I spent six hours today gathering data… I was seriously thinking of 'cheating' since I really believe that time could have been better spent planning out how to reach some of my students," one teacher wrote, according to the Examiner.

A paper out of the American Enterprise Institute in September called for evaluation requirements to allow for flexibility, criticizing the "unintended consequences of the nation's teacher evaluation binge."

The report’s authors offer several policy recommendations for designing new teacher evaluation systems moving forward:

  • Be clear about the problems new evaluation systems are intended to solve.
  • Do not mistake processes and systems as substitutes for cultural change.
  • Look at the entire education ecosystem, including broader labor-market impacts, pre- and in-service preparation, standards and assessments, charter schools, and growth of early childhood education and innovative school models.
  • Focus on improvement, not just deselection.
  • Encourage and respect innovation.
  • Think carefully about waivers versus umbrellas.
  • Do not expect legislation to do regulation’s job.
  • Create innovation zones for pilots—and fund them

CORRECTION: A previous version of this piece incorrectly stated that Fairfax's student performance portion of teacher evaluations includes student scores of standardized exams. Virginia permits individual districts to determine the composition of the student performance portion, and Fairfax has opted not to use standardized scores.