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It’s Not a Level Playing Field

Virginia teachers express their concerns about protecting continuing contract status and the new evaluation system.

In a recent email to VEA’s cyberlobbyist corps, Director of Government Relations Robley Jones asked members to help with our ongoing efforts to beat back attacks on continuing contract rights for teachers, something we were, together, just able to do in the 2012 General Assembly.

According to Jones, the continuing contract bill that was carried over from that session will likely be rewritten. “In its new form, a teacher who has two consecutive poor evaluations or two out of three negative evaluations will be dismissed,” he wrote. “This dismissal will not be subject to appeal through the grievance procedure, and the license of the teacher will be revoked.”

Further clouding the issue, these evaluations will be based on the new procedure being put in place by the state, which bases 40 percent of the evaluation on student test scores.

“There are many examples of why folks who are doing the business of teaching might view this proposal with a level of skepticism which exceeds that of the general public,” Jones went on, before issuing a call for real-life stories from Virginia teachers that reveal the inconsistencies and potential consequences of the rewritten continuing contract legislation and the new teacher evaluation system.

Many of you responded to that call, and here are some examples of what you said, with the names of the teachers removed:

Veteran teachers are already on the chopping block from principals in some school divisions. I guess they feel threatened by the experience of these teachers. They’d rather have the rookie teachers to mold like they want. This bill will be very unfortunate for teachers and students, and too much pressure on this already stressful profession. 

I teach special education. My classroom is full, and all my students have different special needs. I have an instructional aide. One of the other special ed teachers in my division has only two students, plus an aide. If I receive a poor evaluation, it will be due to any number of influences, no matter how hard I work.  My colleague will have the benefit of more planning time, smaller class size and several other advantages by simply having fewer needs to meet.

Who’s going to want to work with lower level or special needs children anymore? I wouldn't. I’d want to teach only honors students or those who’ve consistently passed in previous years. That way, I’m practically guaranteed a successful outcome on my evaluation. Teachers will not want students in their classes who have consistently failed previously. These students are probably already behind and not yet ready to succeed at grade level, yet teachers will be evaluated based on how they score. It's maddening:  Such a simplistic approach to such a complicated issue. Would we deny a license and practice to a doctor who has two or three patients who do not survive? Pre-existing conditions are not their fault, yet they do their best to help their patients be as healthy as possible. Teachers do the same thing.  We help our students progress as much as possible from the time they enter our classrooms, but there are many variables we cannot control.

I worked in an alternative school for several years. Alternative schools house some of the most difficult students to deal with because of their behavior, home life, financial disadvantages, educational exceptions, transportation issues and many, many other reasons. It was absolutely baffling to our staff that we were to be held to the same evaluation standards as teachers at other schools in the county without half of the same difficulties we faced. Seems to me that an alternative school would be a place where we would want the best teachers to be, in order to help students catch up to their peers. But who wants to work at this type of school when the only outcome for the teacher is evaluations that show lack of progress? What becomes of the students in these schools when teachers that care transfer because they want to teach without the blight of poor evaluations?  They fail, the county fails and, ultimately, the country fails.

What if there’s a personality conflict with an administrator that suddenly results in negative evaluations after years of good ratings? Under this proposal, if you receive two negative evaluations you could be terminated. The new evaluation process looks to put way too much power in the hands of one person, the principal or designee, instead of the panel of people now utilized by most school systems if a teacher has shown a decline in performance.

It's very clear to me teachers are getting the most blame for failing schools. We must account and re-account for everything.  You name it, we’ve met it: benchmarks, AYPs, etc. Now we have this new evaluation system and I fear it will be turned around to bite us.  Has anyone ever thought children or parents may need to be more accountable?

How dare anybody say we’re not doing our jobs? I leave this school everyday exhausted after trying to cram in everything.

I’d put teachers up against anybody. The negativity from our government is so upsetting. We have many, many uphill battles. I just wonder what will be next.

Why is it that every article I read about [the continuing contract] bill contains the word "tenure" or "lifetime continuing contract" as if that is something we possess? Is there no accountability for factual accuracy? 

Please continue to inform us of developments on the continuing contract front.  I'm all for marching in the streets over this one. 

I would very much like to join a group of like-minded educators on this [continuing contract] issue. Our students are suffering horribly from the political games our representatives are playing.

The idea of basing teacher evaluations on student test scores is ludicrous. Lawmakers and policymakers should be required to spend a week in one of our schools before they’re allowed to vote on anything at all in our society, let alone education issues.

Six of the 16 students in my homeroom have IEPs. I love working with special education students; however, the new evaluation system may tarnish my 25 years of positive evaluations! Our school is the central location where all our county’s special ed students are located, putting our entire school at risk of failure. It’s my belief that we should set students up for success, not failure. Shouldn't teachers and schools receive the same treatment?

I’m appalled at the new evaluation system with the 40 percent component. I’m of retirement age but love teaching and am planning to stay until I’m 70. You can't compare teaching in suburban schools with teaching in inner city schools on an equal basis!  Many teachers in my building are considering moving to private schools or finding a new vocation.
This bill is no doubt another strategy to discredit public schools. Unfortunately, it’s working.

Testing is only one way of showing a student’s knowledge. It's not the only way, and not everyone tests well. Knowing how to take a test is not as valuable a life skill as knowing how to think critically, ask deeper questions and problem-solve. We don't need to prepare students for a test, we need to prepare them for life.
What about technology resource teachers?

• These positions were created to provide technology coaches for teachers. While we are teachers, there is no direct student score available to measure our effectiveness.  So we get 40 percent of someone else’s scores? That’s not equitable at all. 

• We report in different ways depending on the school division. I know in some school divisions there is one technology resource teacher per building. He or she then reports to the principal who may or may not have the same idea of what‘s expected as the next principal. Other school divisions have the technology resource teachers report to central office and then all of them in that school division are held to the same expectations.

My students have special needs, including learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, seizures, ADHD and autism, and they generally test two or more grade levels below their peers. I’m asked to provide a reading program for up to an hour each day and my schedule is to be in two buildings four days a week.  I must also cover written language IEP goals; I do that one day a week. That leaves three days to teach reading. Our county’s goal for improved fluency is that these students progress two years!  I don’t see how this is possible. They are also expected to pass the reading SOL test. 

One thing that’s frightening is when an administrator takes a dislike to a teacher, who then becomes a target. It has happened and will continue to happen and we must have continuing contract protected.  School systems can get rid of incompetent teachers, and should do so. However, we should never have a witch hunt mentality like some administrators do. Luckily, I’ve only worked for one administrator who enjoyed his power to control. After one year I moved on to another system. 

I have grave concerns about being evaluated based on my students’ performance when so many things interfere with providing quality instruction.

It takes a huge amount of teacher time to read, file, deliver, test and re-test just to have materials in a data binder for teacher evaluation. This process also consumes a huge amount of paper. Time and paper are both commodities that should be directed to students. Good teachers I know are now saying they wouldn’t recommend teaching as a career choice. Name me another profession that has so much work to do to be re-certified—I’ve talked to doctors, bankers and lawyers and they say they don’t do this much added work.

Is an SOL test score how we measure the worth of children and teachers? What about a test given to all in the beginning of the school year and then at the end? Won't that show growth? How about a child that enters a fourth grade class reading on a second grade level and then at the end of the year is on a third or first semester fourth grade level? Doesn't that show growth? How can we possibly expect all children to score the same thing on a test? Do adults do that? I really think it’s time for the people who write these "rules" to get out of their office and come try teaching in the "real world."

This new evaluation is time-consuming and adds to the mounting pile of paperwork that teachers already experience daily. No one, including our administrators, seems to know how to help us. In my county, if you’re not a classroom teacher, you’re given extra duties because you’re not considered a valuable part of the school (I am a librarian). These extra duties are usually assigned during your planning time. I feel that regardless of how much effort and planning I put into this evaluation, I’m doomed to fail. This new evaluation provides an easy way for administrators to dismiss teachers who have taught for many years and are at the top of the salary scale.

If a teacher is assigned the highest needs students, how is the principal providing support?  If a school needs to be working to improve parent and community support, it has an effect on teacher success.

How can teachers be held accountable for students who are consistently late and/or frequently absent? Or have uninvolved parents? It upsets me when I send homework to practice the skills we teach and parents don't even bother to look at or try to help with it. Yet we are going to be held accountable?

SOL test scores are generally accepted as the measure of success, but for many of my students, true success is improving their basic reading by a grade level. This system is not going to improve teachers or student outcomes. It’s a negative-only outlook.

This just feels like another hoop that hard-working professionals have to jump through to show that we’re doing our jobs. It’s a waste of precious teaching time. I believe that good principals know teacher quality by many indicators, not just testing data. So much of teaching is classroom management and skills that have nothing to do with subject matter, but have everything to do with students having a learning environment.

It’s very premature to be firing teachers and taking away their teaching license based on test scores. The same teacher in another school system or with higher-achieving students may do quite well. There are too many factors that determine why one teacher has a higher performing group and another has a lower performing group. Taking away a license is a serious penalty that will have a lifetime of after-effects.

I have spoken in detail as to why I don't think this initiative is a good idea. However, it continues to be rammed down our throats. Why are teachers’ paychecks and job security contingent on someone else's motivation to learn? In no other professional field do we base the livelihoods of employees on the outcomes of their clients. If we did, lawyers and doctors would be bankrupt—yet they still prosper despite our society's health and crime problems.


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