Lowcountry teachers quiz state schools chief on evaluation system
About 200 Lowcountry public school teachers packed a high school auditorium Monday to learn more about what they need to do to make the grade.
S.C. Superintendent of Education Mick Zais called the meeting at Stall High School as part of the state’s seeking a new system for evaluating public education under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Zais did relatively little speaking Monday, mostly turning the floor over to his deputies to explain the bureaucratic details.
Part of the new plan involves a new method of evaluating public school teachers, and a similar meeting in Greenville three weeks ago drew a crowd of 500 people and a bevy of shouts and jeers on that topic.
Patrick Hayes, Director of EdFirstSC, was one of several education advocates who showed up Monday to protest the proposed changes.
Hayes said many teachers were upset initially at plans to give them A-F letter grades, but the state has backed away from that, at least for now.
“The bigger concern has always been the use of schoolwide test scores to evaluate teachers,” he said. “It’s incomprehensible that teachers would be judged off the performance of an entire building. The unfairness to teachers is obvious, but the unfairness to kids is another concern” because good teachers will be less likely to seek jobs in struggling schools.
Kathy Meeks, director of the Office of Teacher Evaluation, confirmed no letter grades would be issued based on a system that has not been validated. The state’s evaluation system is currently being tested.
“The operative word is ‘proposed,’ ” she said, adding that the state is still open to suggestions and doesn’t have answers to all the questions.
It was difficult to sense the mood in the room since those present were required to write questions, which were asked by a state employee. At least one person tried to shout out a question near the end.
Several teachers wore matching shirts saying, “A Child is More than a Test Score.”
Hayes said Monday’s event was carefully stage managed. “Obviously, they wanted to avoid a repeat of what happened in Greenville.”
Roger Smith, executive director of the S.C. Education Association, said he spoke to one person who submitted several questions, none of which were asked.
“I think the meetings would be much more productive if they allowed an opportunity for interaction other than writing question on paper,” he said.
Meeks said teacher pay is not tied to the evaluations, though she said earlier that one of the goals is to create a system that can be used to influence personnel decisions.
But Meeks also said another goal is to provide more training. When one question asked what the state is planning to do to provide meaningful support to teachers, Meeks replied, “That’s an excellent question. That’s an area where we’ve really fallen short.” She said the state is working to figure that out, too.
The evaluation system will consider a student’s growth — how well the student has improved his or her performance over time. But Hayes said that idea also is fraught with problems because such evaluations are based on two tests — and they can create larger errors.
Jackie Hicks, president of the S.C. Education Association, said while the state may have backed away from letter grades for teachers during its testing phase, “they never said it would not be part of the final evaluation, so that’s a major concern. They’re soft-pedaling what they’re doing now because of the experience they had in the other forum (in Greenville).”
Zais said the proposed changes are designed to provide a road map to making sure all schools are preparing students for the skills they need for college or a career.
“I’ve visited 152 schools in the last 23 months, and I’ve seen some outstanding schools — some of the best in the nation, frankly. I’ve also seen some of the most troubled schools,” Zais said. “Sadly, not every child has access to an excellent school.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.