Politics & Government

Bill in Kentucky legislature would tie teacher evaluations to student performance

Under legislation pending in the General Assembly, student achievement would become a standardized part of Kentucky public school teachers' performance evaluations for the first time.

House Bill 40, sponsored by House Education Committee Chairman Carl Rollins, D-Midway, would authorize the Kentucky Department of Education to implement the evaluation system starting with the 2013 school year. Rollins' committee is to take up the measure Tuesday.

The Kentucky Education Association generally has signed off on the proposed evaluation system. But closely tying teachers' evaluations to students' academic progress could be one of the most sensitive issues in the 2012 legislative session.

The idea already is generating heat in Tennessee and some other states that are implementing new teacher evaluation systems in answer to the U.S. Department of Education, which wants student achievement factored into evaluations as a way of improving instruction.

As now planned, Kentucky teachers would be assessed on criteria such as their communication skills, knowledge of subject matter, ethics, use of technology and how well their students are doing academically.

The Kentucky Department of Education is developing the evaluation system now. But the state Board of Education has not yet decided the extent to which student achievement would affect a teacher's overall score. That could be a sticking point.

"The U.S. Department of Education has said that (achievement) should count a 'significant' amount, but they have never identified what that is," KEA president Sharron Oxendine said last week. "Some states apparently have taken that to mean more than 50 percent."

A more immediate concern, Oxendine said, is funding that will be needed to train principals in how to evaluate teachers in the new system, and funding for professional development to help teachers prepare for evaluation.

"Teachers should be evaluated on the same tenets and components, regardless of whether they teach in Laurel County, Boone County, Pike County or Jefferson County," Oxendine said. "Where is all the money going to come from?"

Rollins said Friday that he thinks making student progress count for about 30 percent of a teacher's score would be adequate, and he said he hopes money will not be a problem.

Factoring student achievement into teacher evaluations might be relatively simple in classes such as English and math, Rollins said, but it will be more difficult in classes that have less clear-cut results, such as drama, physical education or practical living.

"It's not an easy thing to figure out, and I don't think any state has done it well," he said.

Tennessee, which launched a new teacher-evaluation system last fall, already is having problems. News reports last week focused on wide variations in teachers' scores. Some Tennessee school districts are giving almost half of their teachers the highest possible scores, while only 1 percent of instructors in other districts are getting such sparkling evaluations. Achievement counts for about 35 percent of a teacher's score in Tennessee.

Jerry Winters, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, said this "probably has been the most frustrating year teachers and principals have experienced ... because of problems tied to the evaluation system."

Kentucky Education Department spokeswoman Lisa Gross said the department has been working to develop a new teacher evaluation system to meet requirements of the federal Race To The Top funding program, and as a part of its application for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind program. Many groups, including KEA, are working on the effort, she said.

A few public school districts, including the Jessamine County Public Schools, are field-testing the proposed new evaluation system to get ready for statewide implementation next year.

Jessamine Superintendent Lu Young said her district has identified some teachers who volunteered to be evaluated in the field test, but none have been reviewed yet.

"I think there are a lot of issues that will have to be addressed as we move forward in the final program," Young said.

Developing a new, uniform statewide evaluation program is crucial to improving education in Kentucky, Rollins said.

"Right now we have 174 school districts," he said, "and 174 different evaluation systems."

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