White: Teacher evaluations need consistent rigor

The state needs to find ways to ensure that public school teachers are evaluated with consistent rigor because it is not happening now, state Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday.

“The challenge becomes how do you create a system where principals have flexibility but at the same time you do it with rigor,” White said in an interview.

The issue is the latest twist in Louisiana’s new, controversial system for evaluating about 50,000 teachers.

The change required that, for many teachers, half of the annual review is based on the growth of student achievement and half on traditional classroom observations, mostly by principals. However, the state has given principals the authority to generally interpret the data, review their observations and decide whether a teacher is effective or ineffective.

But White told the state’s top school board on Tuesday that, based on what he knows about the 2012-13 evaluations, the standards of the reviews in some school districts are “more relaxed than is appropriate.”

He said officials need to come up with ways to strike a balance between giving principals flexibility with making sure that the reviews are uniformly stringent across Louisiana.

“It is an important conversation to have,” said Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

BESE member Walter Lee, who lives in Shreveport and is former superintendent of the DeSoto Parish public school system, said striking such a balance can be elusive. “It is a difficult task and it takes time,” Lee said.

When any new rules might be enacted is unclear.

The final report on the first year of evaluations is set for September.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and an opponent of the new job reviews, echoed Lee’s concerns. “There are going to be serious questions on how this is being implemented,” Monaghan said of any new standards.

Details of the new evaluations vary depending on what kind of teacher is being checked.

About one-third are linked to the growth of student achievement, such as math and science teachers, whose students can be given objective tests.

Evaluations for about two-thirds of teachers are linked to student learning targets, which is sort of a student measuring stick agreed to by teachers and principals before the school year.

Carolyn Hill, a BESE member who lives in Baton Rouge, said comments she hears from teachers is that educators are moving too fast to launch the reviews and that BESE and others are unwilling to listen to their complaints.

Lottie Beebe, who is the new superintendent of the St. Martin Parish school system, said math and others teachers are held to higher standards than those based on student learning targets, such as speech, music and English instructors.

“We know it is a flawed instrument,” Beebe said of the new job evaluations.

White told reporters that, under the previous system, 99 of 100 teachers routinely got satisfactory ratings based on classroom observations by principals.

“They had flexibility before and there wasn’t much rigor,” he said.