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Teachers union proposes evaluation system

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A national teachers union leader urged the state Board of Education members Wednesday to implement an evaluation system that would hold educators, administrators, students and parents accountable for schools' success.

Randi Weingarten, president of the national American Federation of Teachers, said the evaluations would ideally include "fair, meaningful, comprehensive" teacher evaluations, a contentious issue in the Mountain State.

Gov. Joe Manchin and state education department officials have previously suggested a comprehensive teacher evaluation system tied to student performance, but haven't had much luck convincing the teacher-dominated House of Delegates to back the plan.

State teachers' unions, the West Virginia Education Association and the state AFT chapter have also opposed evaluation plans. Currently, teachers with more than five years of experience aren't required to have annual evaluations.

Weingarten said state schools need to implement better performance evaluation systems in order to increase schools' performance.

"How do we look ourselves in the mirror to see what is it we've been doing wrong?" she asked board members.

She said an evaluation system geared at "improvement and not 'gotcha' " will help school systems identify good teachers as well as their underperforming peers.

"Those who are not making it, it will be obvious," she said.

She said schools currently give educators  "drive-by evaluations."

Principals or vice-principals visit teachers' classrooms once a year for five minutes ("three-and-a-half minutes if they really like you") and give teachers "satisfactory" evaluations, Weingarten said.

On the other side of the scale, some school districts measure their teachers' performance by watching students' standardized test scores.

"Neither snapshot is right," she said.

Weingarten advocates frequent evaluations, not just one five-minute review or an end-of-year test.

She said evaluations should be "something akin to a football game tape." Teams don't wait until the end of the season to watch their game films, she said, so teachers shouldn't wait until the school year is over to evaluate what they did right and wrong.

Schools with good evaluations should also take a close look at why they perform so well, Weingarten said. School systems should use performance data as a "point of departure," she said.

Weingarten, continuing her football analogy, said if teams watch a quarterback complete a Hail Mary pass "they don't say 'Great, we got seven points. They say, what did we do right?' "

She said the evaluation system could also include a peer-evaluation component where teachers review one another. Weingarten said her organization's research shows teachers are "harder and harsher" when performing evaluations than administrators are.

"If they are part of the process, we get much better outcomes," said Judy Hale, president of the state's AFT chapter.

Hale is part of a state education department task force charged with updating West Virginia's teacher evaluation system.

"Teachers are not afraid of accountability," she said. "But it has to be fair."

She said the AFT's suggested evaluation model includes measuring "student growth" instead of a single standardized test score. Hale said that would include students' attendance information, critical thinking abilities, class participation and other measures.

WVEA president Dale Lee is also on the task force and said the group members "haven't been able to really nail down" a fair student growth model yet. He said many student performance issues are out of teachers' control, like West Virginia's "huge" truancy problem

 "I can be the greatest teacher in the world but if a student is never in my class, how can you evaluate me based on that student?" he said.

Weingarten had other recommendations for state board members, too. In addition to good teachers, she said schools need good leaders to support those teachers.

Unsupportive administrations are the No. 1 reason people leave the teaching profession, Weingarten said.

Weingarten also said schools need to have a "robust curriculum" with career and technical education, art and music, and "dismantle barriers" between schools and their communities.

"Ultimately what we need to do is make our schools the center of neighborhoods like they used to be," she said. "Too often we draw a line between school and community."

She said a school's success is "inextricably linked" to its community's success, and neighbors need to consider schools the "cathedral" of their community.

Weingarten commended Charleston's Stonewall Jackson Middle School and the Hope Community Development Corp., headed by Grace Baptist pastor Matthew Watts, for working to become West Virginia's first community school.

State legislators agreed in July to let community organizers and the state board of education to implement undefined "strategies" at a school with large numbers of disadvantaged, minority and underachieving students.

Weingarten said Bob Brown, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, informed state Superintendent Steve Paine that she was in town Wednesday and Paine invited her to speak.

With about 1.5 million members, the American Federation of Teachers is the nation's second-largest teachers union.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or



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