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Teachers to be rated by pupil performance

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In theory, students pack light on Standards of Learning testing days.

 But in reality, their backpacks are stuffed with hidden baggage that could seriously impact their test scores.

Take, for example, the third-grader whose family just moved into a motel room the week before. The sixth-grader covered head to toe in poison ivy. The eighth-grader who broke up with her boyfriend on the bus that morning. Even a small distraction can defeat a year’s worth of preparation for standardized tests.

 And so some area teachers wonder why their job performance will now be tied to student test scores.

 “SOLs were never designed to be used to evaluate teachers,” said Peter Pfotenhauer, president of the Spotsylvania Education Association. “We’re being judged on what a student does on one day out of the year.”

 But many teachers aren’t protesting the new standards yet.

 That’s because most don’t know that when they go back to school this fall, they will face new evaluation procedures.

 School divisions throughout Virginia are implementing new teacher evaluations, as mandated by the state Department of Education.

 The federal government prompted the changes, which are a requirement to receive a waiver from some of the rigors of the No Child Left Behind standards.

 Last month, Virginia received that waiver, in part because state officials adopted a policy in April requiring school divisions to evaluate teachers based on student progress.

 To qualify for the waiver, states must adopt evaluation standards that call for at least 40 percent of a teacher’s review to be based on student performance.

 In Virginia, that means that schools now must rate their teachers across seven standards: professional knowledge, instructional planning, instructional delivery, assessment of student learning, learning environment, professionalism and student academic performance.

 For most area school districts, the first six standards are not new and have received little objection. But educators are stumbling over “Standard 7,” as some teachers now call it.

 The first six standards account for 10 percent each of a teacher’s review. But the seventh makes up 40 percent. And for educators, the seventh is the hardest to qualify.

 Tying a teacher’s performance to a student’s test scores is something sch

ool divisions nationally are struggling with. For many, it makes sense: An educator’s biggest responsibility is to teach students.

 But each fall, students show up with new pencils, composition notebooks, glue sticks—and family issues, disabilities, poverty, illness and more.

 “You can work your tail off and still not succeed with a child,” said Pfotenhauer, who teaches English and history at Ni River Middle School. “A teacher is the single biggest school-based variable in a student’s education. But it isn’t the only variable.”

 Other influences include the family’s level of education, the parents’ commitment to their children’s schooling, absences, illnesses, death, divorce or deployment of family members, he said.

 Spotsylvania County, like many area divisions, hasn’t yet voted to implement the new standards. But a committee has presented the plan to the School Board.

 In Fredericksburg and Stafford County, school board members are also studying the new plans. 

 School divisions must have a teacher evaluation plan in place this school year or send the state a plan to have such reviews implemented next year.

  In King George County, the School Board voted to approve the new evaluations with little discussion on the seventh standard. Most of that School Board’s conversation revolved around another part of the evaluation process: student surveys.

 For the first time, teacher evaluations will also include surveys handed out to students.

According to the VDOE’s recommendations, these surveys will be read only by the teacher, who will include the results in a portfolio to be used as an evaluation tool.

 Student progress will also be measured by so-called SMART goals, which each teacher will have to write for students. These goals must be achievable and measurable within a year.

 Another concern for teachers: How do you measure student progress leading up to the tests?

The evaluations won’t simply look at a student’s SOL scores but will use a complex equation known as student growth percentile. Under this equation, a teacher’s worst nightmare could be the gifted student who scores near-perfect SOL scores each year. In this case, there’s no room to improve.

 Additionally, educators wonder about the timing. These evaluations come as the state is increasing the rigor of the SOL tests.

 This year, Virginia rolled out a new math SOL, and test scores dropped dramatically. Next year, new English and science tests will be given and a technology component added.

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973