The best way to gauge the performance of Kentucky’s teachers has long been debated. By holding educators more accountable, lawmakers believe Kentucky can graduate smarter students. The traditional image of a teacher evaluation shows a school principal, slipping into class, and observing the instructor in action. In places like Gallatin County, it’s a bit more formal. School Superintendent Dorothy Perkins says her principals use a system that does a good job of identifying areas where a teacher can improve, and then creates a plan for fixing those problems.
“This evaluation system, based on a rubric, will allow you to move up the continuum of improvement. You will go from either ineffective, developing, accomplished, to exemplary. And there are standards and indicators below each of those that help you and tell you how to improve,” said Perkins.
But, in fact, Woodford County Representative Carl Rollins says Kentucky has no consistent measure of a teacher’s effectiveness.
“As you know if you any involvement with the school system, we have 174 districts and we have 174 evaluations. The purpose of this bill is to pretty much standardize the way we do evaluations, although it does allow for districts to apply for waivers,” said Rollins.
Highlighting the need for consistency is a report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Western Kentucky Senator David Givens says it demonstrates the connection between good teaching and a student’s education.
“You mentioned a willingness to engage in a student survey component. Are you truly open to that being part of this legislation? Well, I don’t think it’s mentioned in the legislation, but I certainly think it would be important. I would find that, if I were a teacher, to be valuable feedback,” added Givens.
A bill under consideration in the general assembly requires the state board of education to establish a statewide system of teacher evaluation. It would need to be in place by the fall of 2014.
In creating a standard evaluation, Senators Rollins and Givens note it’s important to consider the thoughts of parents and probably students. During a recent hearing in Frankfort, Senator Givens quizzed Rollins about the role students could play in a teacher’s evaluation.
“You mentioned a willingness to engage in a student survey component. Are you truly open to that being part of this legislation?” asked Givens.
“Well, I don’t think it’s mentioned in the legislation, but I certainly think it would be important. I would find that, if I were a teacher, to be valuable feedback,” responded Rollins.
Of course, where the rubber hits the road is in the classroom….which means teachers must also buy into any standardized, statewide evaluation program. Sharron Oxendine is President of the Kentucky Education Association.
“We think what this system will do, if it’s implemented properly, is it will give every teacher in the state the opportunity to sit down with their administrator and say these are the three or the five things that I need to work on as an educators. And then, that principal, that supervisor, whoever it happens to be, provides those opportunities for that teacher to become better to improve,” explained Oxendine.
Most everyone involved in teacher evaluation agree they want a system that consistently improves instruction. But, in cases where a teacher falls below the standard, Oxendine says, it’s also important to have a system that responds fairly and with justice.
“What we’re hoping for is it will give ample opportunity for those teachers who are struggling, you know, you may have a sick parent, you may have a sick child, you may be going through a divorse. All of us are gonna’ have those bumps, but what we’re hoping is that this new system will provide an opportunity for those folks to get continuous feedback about how they’re doing to improve their craft,” said Oxendine.
From the viewpoint of a school administrator, Gallatin County Superintendent Dorothy Perkins believes, over time, any statewide evaluation tool must also allow for consequences, including the dismissal of an educator.
“Well, you will have the data that either a teacher gets better or they don’t. And it will take time, two to three years to demonstrate that that teacher is ineffective, and once that happens, you have grounds for dismissal or to guide that teacher into another career path. So, yes eventually, it will become an issue with whether teachers are becoming more professional and effective,” added Perkins.
When asked if this type of evaluation system would result directly in the dismissal of some teachers, Perkins says that ‘remains to be seen.’ She says there are other issues such as the ‘teacher tribunal’, which will need to be addressed. Perkins adds, ‘We’ll have to cross the bridge when we come to it.”