Generational shifts viewed in teacher assessments

Sandra Ardoin, who is a first-year teacher, is anything but rattled about the prospects of rigorous new job reviews that are under way in public schools across Louisiana.

“What the evaluations are looking for is what I was taught to do,” Ardoin said.

“They really are not that different than when I was evaluated as an undergraduate,” Ardoin added.

But Michelle Williams, an educator for 13 years, said she has mixed views about the new job checks, including details of how the state decides whether students have shown sufficient gains from the previous school year.

“The model they have implemented is flawed,” Williams said.

The views point up sort of a generational split among teachers nationally when it comes to sweeping changes in teacher evaluations, according to an online survey by Teach Plus, which says it promotes quality teachers in urban areas.

In general, teachers with 10 or fewer years in the classroom embrace the changes, including reviews that link the growth of student achievement to teacher performance, and ultimately whether they keep their job, according to the group.

But those with 11 or more years of teaching, the report says, are far less receptive to the evaluations and other changes.

“Whereas the notion of standards of effectiveness finds broad support among all teachers, measuring teacher effectiveness sees far less support among veteran teachers,” the group said in a 16-page report.

The issue touches on one of the most controversial topics in years for the state’s roughly 55,000 public school teachers, and thousands of teachers in other states where similar laws have been put in place.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who pushed for the overhaul in teacher job reviews, portrays the changes as a way to improve student performance, and boost student achievement.

Teacher unions and other opponents say the new evaluations are seriously flawed, and demoralizing to much of the state’s teacher workforce.

Under the old rules, teachers typically were reviewed formally once every three years, mostly through classroom observations by principals.

The fact that 98 percent of teachers were rated as “satisfactory” while student achievement ranks near the bottom of the nation pointed up the need for improvements, backers of the overhaul said.

Under the new rules, 50 percent of the evaluations will be based on the growth of student achievement and 50 percent on classroom observations.

The student achievement will be linked to standardized tests for about one-third of teachers, such as math and science educators, and on student-growth targets for others.

Those rated as “ineffective” for two years in a row — the 10th percentile or lower — could face dismissal proceedings.

Job reviews will also start being linked to tenure — a form of job protection — during the 2013-14 school year.

Andy Kling, a physical education teacher at Dutchtown Primary School, said the new reviews offer a more thorough way to judge how teachers are faring, especially through feedback that can pave the way for professional development.

“The current changes, although sometimes painful, are necessary,” Kling said in an email response to questions.

Williams, a former classroom teacher who now instructs English II and English III teachers at East Feliciana High School, said she agrees with the need for the new job reviews. “Their children need to show some kind of growth,” she said of educators.

But Williams and some others said her concern is the details of the evaluations, how they account for issues outside the teacher’s control and the fact they continue to undergo tweaks, including some approved last month by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“It is contantly changing,” she said.

Williams said details of the new reviews have “a lot of kinks that need to be worked out.”

Teach Plus said that, in one finding, 71 percent of teachers new to the classroom agreed that student learning should be part of the evaluations compared to just 41 percent of veteran educators.

The report said one reason for differences among new and veteran teachers is the time when they entered education.

Those who have joined the classroom in the past decade, the study says, did so during an era of increasing standards and student assessments, and sweeping federal legislation like the No Child Left Behind act in 2001.

Ardoin said that, during training, teachers her age heard about the emphasis on inquiry and children working together rather than more reliance on textbooks, like many of her veteran counterparts.

Mitzi Murray, a 13-year veteran who teaches civics and law studies at West Monroe High School, said she generally backs the new evaluations and that most new teachers she has talked to are not critical of the overhaul.

“On the other hand, I have noticed that veteran teachers are more resistant to the changes being required by the new system,” Murray said in an email.

Julie Stephenson, who teaches 10th and 11th grade English at Ruston High School, was Louisiana high school teacher of the year in 2011.

Stephenson, who is in her 14th year of teaching, said the new reviews are a big improvement over the previous job checks.

“I think those evaluations and observations had become rote and mechanical,” she said.

But she also questioned whether the new job checks can truly reflect some of the problems teachers grapple with, such as an unusualy unruly group of 15-year-old students.

“Any given year you might have a particular group of kids or circumstances that simply cannot be managed as effectively as other years,” Stephenson said.

State officials have said the job reviews make allowances for a wide-range of non-academic issues, including household poverty.

The key, they say, is for the student to show improvement over the previous school year, which officials call a reliable way to forecast future academic performance.

Stephenson said the new evaluations will have an impact, especially for struggling teachers.

“This model is either going to make them change or make them leave,” she said.