BESE to look at changes for evaluating teachers

Louisiana’s top school board is about to consider several changes in the state’s new method for evaluating public school teachers, including one that would make it easier for new teachers to land job security.

The issue is one of several high-profile topics to be discussed when the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meets on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The panel also will consider whether to revamp the role of counselors in high schools, get public input on funding levels of state aid for public schools and do its first, annual job review for state Superintendent of Education John White.

However, White’s recommended changes in teacher evaluations — the details are still being ironed out — would revamp what teachers have to do to be rated as “highly effective” and how those in high-performing schools are graded, officials familiar with the issue said.

Under state laws passed in 2010 and 2012, half of the annual review for some public school teachers is linked to the growth of student achievement and the other half to classroom observations by principals and others.

In addition, new teachers would have to be rated as “highly effective” for five out of six years to earn a form of job security called “tenure.”

One of the changes that White may recommend would allow teachers rated in the 80th percentile statewide — that means they outscored 80 percent of their peers — to be rated as “highly effective” instead of the current 90th percentile requirement, said Stephanie Desselle, who follows public school issues for the Council for a Better Louisiana.

Desselle said her group would back such a change.

“If you look at 80 and up, they are making a lot of growth,” she said of student achievement. “From my perspective that is totally justified.”

The state has about 55,000 public school teachers.

About 20,000 who teach math, science and other subjects will have half of their job reviews tied to objective tests.

The others rely on slightly different methods.

The evaluations, which began this year, will start being linked to tenure during the 2013-14 school year.

Under a bill last year pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, new teachers initially would have been required to be rated as “highly effective” for five years in a row to earn tenure.

That was changed to five out of six years after complaints that the initial requirement was too rigorous.

Allowing teachers in the 80th percentile to be rated as “highly effective,” instead of having to reach the 90th percentile, would also loosen rules for earning tenure.

The plan would not change the rankings for teachers rated as “ineffective,” who are expected to make up the bottom 10 percent of those rated.

Those teachers could face a loss of tenure and dismissal if they fail to show improvements.

Jim Garvey, who is set to become vice president of BESE on Wednesday, declined to discuss details of White’s recommendations.

But Garvey said any such tweaks would stem from multiple conversations with teachers, superintendents and others and would be designed to enhance a review system that will make teachers more effective.

“There is not anything that you get 100 percent correct on the first design,” said Garvey, an attorney in Metairie.

In another area, White is expected to recommend teacher evaluation changes to address complaints from leaders of Westdale Heights Academic Magnet School, the LSU Laboratory School and at least two others in Shreveport.

Critics contend that even high-scoring students whose results drop from the previous year can result in a teacher being rated as ineffective, which they said has shown up in trial runs for the new reviews.

White said in October that the concern only applies to 40 or 50 teachers.

He said special rules may be needed in cases where students score at top levels while teachers are rated as ineffective, including more reliance on classroom observations to come up with a grade.

White has been meeting for weeks with BESE members, educators, teacher groups and others in advance of his recommendations.

A BESE committee is set to consider the issue at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, with final action scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.