by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS
Last time we talked about summative assessment, the cumulative, usually annual, measures of student achievement. The annual part of the bargain seems to be changing, there may now be semi-annual online exams in some states, but the focus of this blog has been student evaluation over the past few weeks.
A larger issue, still evolving at the state and district levels, is teacher evaluation. The climate of paranoia over how we will all be evaluated as teachers has risen to a fever pitch. The main scary point has been the drive by education reformers to tie teacher evaluations to student achievement test scores. We all know the picture has only started to become clear for the assessment of special education teachers and students. Some of the biggest questions like “how can we hold special education students to the same standards as ‘regular'” kids are being asked and debated nationally.
We have learned to write specific IEP’s to try to use existing laws to our advantage while protecting our students from unreasonable testing requirements. We are actively aligning our curricula to Common Core State Standards and hope the process will be informative.
But what about the teachers? If we haven’t really ironed out student evaluation issues for special education, how are we going to fairly evaluate teachers? We all want to know how we are doing as we are compared to our peers in SPED classrooms.
The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) has written some guiding essays to help us understand these complex questions. CEC’s ESEA (NCLB) Reauthorization Recommendations document has been crafted over the past 4-5 years by committees and focus groups entrusted with the task of sorting it all out. It does an excellent job of reminding us that it is possible to reconcile the missions of ESEA and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). CEC believes that blending the strengths of both IDEA and ESEA will result in policies that directly address the challenges confronting the education community. They stress everyone’s desire to create and nurture a highly qualified teaching staff to manage increasingly complex student needs.
What about our teachers? How can we measure their effectiveness in the classroom? Teaching is part science mixed with a big dash of art. The older I get, and the more truly gifted teachers I observe, the more the art part comes into focus. You know a good teacher when you see one; you feel it in the electricity in the classroom and the bright eyes of the students. Really great teachers manage their classrooms brilliantly and effortlessly to manage challenging behaviors so learning can occur uninterrupted. With a flick of a wrist and a raised index finger, you can watch 25 students suddenly shush and sit up straight with hands folded on the desks (how the heck did she do that?) It’s all about expectations, and consistent messaging from day one of each school year. The children eat it up, and prefer an organized classroom to “creative chaos.”
To address questions being asked by educators the CEC drafted “CEC Position Statement on Special Education Teacher Evaluation” I urge you to read it thoroughly because it is a sensitive approach to all teacher evaluation.
They took another step and crafted “CEC’s Special Education Teacher Evaluation Toolkit“. It helps us understand some of the more practical aspects of the process. Basically their message is that all teachers must participate in the planning process for implementing teacher evaluation systems. All evaluation systems must occur as a system, over time, with scheduled monitoring and a diverse collection of tools, not relying on any one measure to judge the merit of a teacher’s efforts.
Other discussions to get you started on the road to understanding directions we will all take in the years to come:
Don’t be silent, comment on this blog, what do you think, how will your district approach evaluations for special education teachers?
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