Student success is no longer a mandatory indicator of teacher performance.
In June, the State Board of Education and Early Development chose to repeal the requirement, relieving what many state officials, local educators, administrators and their peers statewide believe to be a significant burden on Alaska’s 54 public school districts. The repeal comes only months after the Every Student Succeeds Act, the 2015 reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB, voided the same requirement at the federal level.
“Initially it looked like it had promise,” said Sondra Meredith, administrator of teacher education and certification for the state. “…It was not as straightforward as we had anticipated, the way it was being developed. It seemed irrelevant and not really practical. For our capacity in the state, we couldn’t do justice to that component and do justice to all the teachers.”
Alaska adopted the evaluation tool to qualify for a waiver from NCLB standards, along with the requirement that all school districts use an evaluation system based on a national framework model to measure academic achievement to develop and publish the data, called student growth maps, annually.
President Barack Obama verbalized what many were already feeling in 2011 when he announced his administration deemed the NCLB criteria unrealistic and doing more harm than good.
NCLB demanded all U.S. public schools reach 100 percent proficiency by 2014 in the areas of math and reading, as demonstrated through 32 different criteria under the Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, accountability system. By 2011, half of all public schools were failing to meet AYP, and that number was only expected to increase if a waiver for the criteria was not made available, according to an October 2012 report by the Center on Education Policy titled “What Impact Will NCLB Waivers Have on the Consistency, Complexity and Transparency of State Accountability Systems?”
According to the Center on Education Policy study, AYP actually incentivizes states to keep standards low so the number of failing schools will not continue to increase.
Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and 43 states are approved for the waiver, including Alaska, which was approved for the waiver in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Only five states have not applied for the waiver.
School districts and the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development spent the following three years preparing programs to qualify for the NCLB waiver. All school districts were expected to implement pilot programs for the student growth maps and teacher evaluation requirements by the 2015-2016 school year.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District was one of the less than 10 percent of school districts that were ahead of the curve, and so was slightly more prepared to carry out the new requirements, Meredith said.
In 2008, the school district implemented the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching, a certified teacher evaluation method, which pre-emptively met the requirement that school districts adopt a national model for monitoring student growth, said Christine Ermold, director of Elementary Education and Professional Development. The school district advised at least 10 other school districts that were considering using the Danielson Framework to meet the new standards, although some chose other tools in the end, she said.
The Danielson Framework, which could be applied in large, small, rural and urban school districts, already incorporates student performance data into teacher evaluations, Ermold said. The program emphasizes teacher performance in four main areas including planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities and engagement in the profession. Student performance is a valuable piece of gauging the quality of a teacher, but not as a standalone, which is the position the school district has taken from the start, she said.
“We invested a tremendous amount of time and energy into developing that process (for recording student performance) in that 2.5-year time frame,” she said. “If you equate the time that a committee of (20) educators spent over 2.5 years developing to a financial burden, I would say it was a financial burden… there is other work we could have been doing during that time.”
The educator evaluation process developed by the school district has turned out to be useful enough to implement in some capacity, Ermold said. Tenured teachers who have met state proficiency standards and are approved by their principals to skip one year of a formal evaluation can choose to take a teacher enrichment path, or track student achievement as a replacement. The school district previously offered enrichment paths, which are more flexible avenues for professional development, prior to the teacher evaluation requirement and is a very valuable tool for educators, she said.
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