Some of Charleston's biggest teacher advocacy groups have joined forces to oppose new teacher evaluations that are being tested in 14 Charleston County schools this year.

The Charleston County Education Association, the Charleston Teacher Alliance, EdFirstSC and the South Carolina Education Association formed a coalition to fight against BRIDGE, which is the district's new evaluation and compensation system.

They described BRIDGE as poorly designed and unfair in its methodology.

"A teacher's career should not be turned into a carnival game," said Jackie Hicks, president of the South Carolina Education Association, in a statement Monday. "This is worse than a coin toss, and it puts enormous pressure both on teachers and students.... The plan assumes teachers are the problem and don't want to be held accountable, but nothing could be farther from the truth."

Charleston's BRIDGE is making waves on the national scene too, with Diane Ravitch, a former U.S. assistant secretary of education and well-known education leader, writing a blog post Monday criticizing it.

"Nothing like copying what was tried and failed everywhere else!" she wrote.

During the county school board meeting Monday night, Superintendent Nancy McGinley responded to criticism by saying the district wants to work with teachers and celebrate and reward their success. She said some of this negativity isn't supported by facts, and she encouraged the public to check out the district's BRIDGE website for more information.

New evaluations

Teachers in 14 Charleston County schools will be judged this year based on their students' growth, classroom observations and their evaluations on the state ADEPT system. Some version of this system will be used for all teachers in the district's 82 schools by 2015-16.

Those results will be used in the new pay-for-performance system, which will be used with all teachers by 2016-17. Officials have said no teacher will lose money.

The changes in Charleston County are a result of the district receiving a $23.7 million, five-year federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant. The money is going toward developing and implementing the new evaluation and compensation systems. Charleston was the only district in South Carolina to win the money.

Outside of Charleston, both the South Carolina Department of Education and lawmakers are making similar efforts to change the way teachers statewide are evaluated.

The state has proposed a plan that would use students' test scores as part of teachers' evaluations, and that is being tested in 49 schools this year. One lawmaker, Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island, has prefiled a proposal that would go further than the state's plan, and it would go into effect as soon as the 2014-15 school year.

A group of nearly 20 Charleston County teachers who support StudentsFirst, an education advocacy group, gathered Tuesday to endorse Patrick's proposal, including its requirement that 50 percent of teachers' evaluations would come from students' growth as measured by test scores.

Value added

The most controversial part of the evaluation is that 35 percent will come from students' value-added scores, which is the difference between what students' scores would have been with an average district teacher compared with their actual scores.

Hicks said value-added assumes that a student's performance can be attributed solely to an individual teacher, and it doesn't weigh variables outside a teacher's control, such as home environment or parent impact.

"It's junk science, plain and simple," she said.

Patrick Hayes, a third-grade teacher at Drayton Hall Elementary and founder of EdFirstSC, said some policymakers sometimes are excited that value-added appears to hit the mark, "sort of like a monkey with a shotgun."

"Teachers and experts are more concerned about the misses," he said in an e-mail to his membership. "It's wildly unreliable when used to evaluate individual teachers."

Audrey Lane, the district's deputy for human capital development, said value-added is only one of multiple measures that will be used to evaluate teachers, and students' background characteristics will be factored into the formula.

"We think it's valid in the context we're using it," she said.

This year is a pilot, and more evaluation components could be added in the future, she said. She pointed out that Kent Riddle, the teacher who leads the Charleston Teacher Alliance, recently was added to the district's BRIDGE steering committee, and that Hayes serves on two work groups.

"We've invited (teachers) to the table," she said. "We have to have value-added. It's a requirement of the (Teacher Incentive Fund) grant."

The state's proposed plan calls for students' scores to make up 30 percent of their evaluation. Patrick's proposal calls for 50 percent.

National interest

Across the country, using students' scores to evaluate teachers' performance is a controversial issue.

Ravitch's blog on education covers an array of education-related topics, and it generated 8.3 million page views in less than a year. In her post on Charleston, she wrote that the district's leadership has come up with some stale ideas and branded them as "reform," and she referenced McGinley's participation in the Broad Superintendents Academy, a national program that aims to prepare leaders of public school systems.

"Every Broad-trained superintendent has the same ideas but is tasked with calling them 'new' (when they are not), 'evidence-based' (when they are not), and 'reform' (when they are the status quo, paid for and sanctified by the U.S. Department of Education)," she wrote.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.