The question has been bandied around S.C. education circles for years. When teachers are evaluated by their supervisors, should student performance be considered? In other words, if students aren't making the grade, should it reflect negatively on their teachers?
Yes, some have argued. Teachers' job is to educate students. Students' progress should be the primary measure by which they are judged.
No, others have said. Teachers don't get to pick their students. Some have bright students who soak up information quickly and get help at home from involved parents. Other educators teach students who struggle to grasp concepts, who may have learning disabilities and who come from homes where education is not a priority. Even their best efforts may not result in high student test scores.
South Carolina is wading into the fight and creating a new teacher evaluation system that, for the first time, will take into account student performance and growth. As a result of a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education from certain elements of the federal No Child Left Behind law, South Carolina must modify its method for teacher evaluations. One requirement is that student growth (the amount by which a student improves from one school year to the next) be a "significant" component in the new system.
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We agree with the inclusion of student growth, but caution the department in how it incorporates it into the new system. Parity among teachers must be sought. Educators who teach in high-poverty schools should be compared to those teaching in similar surroundings. Teachers with large classes should be compared to those with similar workloads. And credit should be given to teachers who get their students to improve on standardized tests -- even if the students still aren't performing up to snuff.
Just how to achieve that is a big task for the Department of Education and a 25-member team it has selected. They will review a pilot teacher evaluation system currently in use in 11 school districts, make changes and roll out a new system for statewide use. We're glad two Beaufort County School District representatives are on the team who can speak for Beaufort County.
Also, Beaufort County teachers have made some good suggestions that we hope will be part of the state's discussion. In an October meeting with Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head, Beaufort County School District teachers said:* More frequent evaluations are needed. That's not happening now. One teacher in the group said she had been evaluated only three times in the past 10 years.
* Greater consistency in the methods used to evaluate teachers is needed. Currently, the method can vary from school to school, the teachers said.
* Evaluations should result in helpful, specific recommendations on how teachers can improve. Sometimes, evaluators are not familiar with the material being taught so they cannot provide instructive feedback, teachers said.
The creation of the new evaluation system offers an opportunity to more accurately evaluate teachers and improve the teaching force. If the state gets it right, the next generation of South Carolinians will be the winners.