It’s virtually impossible to tease out an individual teacher’s contribution to student test scores in a fair, valid or reliable way
The Boston Teachers Union has been involved in discussions with the School Department on and off for the last three years on the subject of “impact on student learning ratings,” which are required by state regulations passed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) in 2011. The regulations require that every educator in the district receive a rating of low, moderate, or high that is separate from his or her summative rating of exemplary, proficient, needs improvement, or unsatisfactory. According to regulations, this student impact rating is to be based on student growth percentiles derived from student scores on the MCAS (where available) and/or district-determined measures, or DDMs. DDMs are tests created at the district or school level for the purpose of evaluating educators.
While this mandate has been on the books for five years, few districts in Massachusetts have made any progress in developing a process to derive impact ratings, given the virtual impossibility of teasing out an individual teacher’s contribution to student test scores in any fair, valid, and reliable way. What’s more, we – along with many school officials, including a good many superintendents across the state – see the mandate as counterproductive and harmful to teaching and learning. While we have engaged the School Department at various times in the last few years on the topic, we have not received satisfactory answers to fundamental questions about how the process will work, including how educators and students will be protected from the harmful consequences of this policy.
The issue has dragged on in communities throughout the state, and no district of any size has an operational program in place. In fact, given the unpopularity of the issue, the state has postponed implementation twice in the last few years. The BTU has not reached an agreement with the school district, and we have voiced to them our serious concerns about the policy’s unfairness, unworkability, and negative impact on teaching and learning.
Because we do not have an agreement, the School Department has indicated it may implement the policy unilaterally. We hope the School Department doesn’t go down this road. Instead, we urge them to join us and other educators around the state in pushing back against this harmful policy. In fact, the timing for such a concerted pushback could not be better, because the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) eliminates the federal requirement that educator evaluations be tied to student test outcomes as a condition of states receiving federal education dollars.
On the issue of student feedback, there is another regulation that requires that student feedback be incorporated into the performance evaluation process. We have been meeting with the School Department on this as well, and we have made some progress. As this is independent from the issue of DDMs, we hope we can reach a satisfactory resolution. When we do, we will inform our membership.