At the end of the first year of the Teacher Incentive Fund grant, teachers across the district were openly invited to be a part of a new initiative, now known as BRIDGE. The Charleston County School District saw the value of having teachers' input during the critical phases of creating the evaluation system.

We responded to this call by signing up for workgroups. Recent articles about BRIDGE in The Post and Courier and other media outlets indicate the misinformation being circulated about the initiative is growing.

As the chairwomen of these workgroups, we feel it is important for educators and community members to know what is truly happening in the process of creating this new evaluation system.

Major changes can be scary; fortunately the "Learn" component of BRIDGE has been implemented to offer support for teachers throughout the school year. Professional development coordinators have been placed in the 14 pilot schools to facilitate professional growth of teachers by being a sounding board and collaborator during instructional planning.

An online professional development database offers educators access to videos, sample lessons, teacher forums, etc.

This support is designed to offer teachers personalized learning opportunities.

These opportunities are critical for teachers as they work toward their student learning objectives.

Student learning objectives (SLOs) have been described as a guessing game, where teachers will randomly choose which students will pass a data target and then be evaluated on whether or not those students passed.

Fortunately, SLOs do not require psychic powers; they require common sense.

SLOs enhance and document what teachers are already doing to impact student achievement. It's a familiar process of planning, teaching, assessing and reflecting.

After analyzing a variety of data, teachers identify strengths and weaknesses for the class as a whole, targeting an area of need. Principals and teachers will then work together to develop a plan that will address that area of need.

As the year progresses, teachers can monitor and adjust instructional methods used to help students be successful.

At the end of the year, principals and teachers again analyze multiple data sources to measure student growth towards meeting or exceeding the original goal.

Perhaps the most controversial component of BRIDGE is the use of value-added measures (VAM).

Many media outlets contend that VAM is unreliable and demand that it be removed.

Currently when school report cards are published, the public gets a limited view of a school's achievement. This is based largely on the percentage of how many students passed or failed a standardized test.

What's missing is that, by evaluating achievement as pass or fail, we are not recognizing the hard work of students who make growth. VAM focuses on measuring student growth from one year to the next, no matter where that student starts academically at the beginning of the year.

The unique component of VAM is that it also accounts for factors affecting student learning, such as attendance, poverty or learning disabilities.

The most important thing to remember about BRIDGE is that we are currently piloting components of the evaluation system.

Teachers are encouraged to become active participants in this ongoing process by joining workgroups.

There is still important work to be done, and becoming an integral part of the decision-making process will help teachers understand how BRIDGE affects them.

Samantha Blake

Hearthside Drive

Charleston

Erin Cymrot

Maybelles Lane

Charleston

Samantha Blake is a fifth grade teacher and Teacher of the Year at E.B. Ellington Elementary. She is chairwoman of the Value-Added Measures (VAM) workgroup. Erin Cymrot is a fifth grade teacher at E.B. Ellington Elementary. She is the chairwoman of the Student Learning Objectives (SLO) workgroup.