Pa. education chief backs teacher evaluation plan

    The chief of Pennsylvania’s Department of Education is backing legislation to change the way school teachers are graded. Teachers unions, however, are urging caution. 

    There are two kinds of teachers in Pennsylvania—those who are satisfactory and those who are unsatisfactory. At least, that’s as detailed as the current evaluation system gets.

    Add some nuance, says state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis, and base the score on student performance. That way, he said, teachers might start getting real feedback and serving students better.

    “Our current law doesn’t allow to factor in student achievement into the evaluation system,” Tomalis said. “The main mission of our system, the highest priority of all–students achieving academically–is not allowed to be part of our evaluation system.”

    The proposed rubric for grading teachers has four possible scores, from “distinguished” to “failing.”

    Teachers unions say they support an overhaul of the evaluations system, but caution against using an ill-defined measure of student achievement.

    Sometimes student performance has less to do with the teacher and more to do with the student, said Linda Cook of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. That means some teachers could be deemed failing because of an unfortunate situation, she said.

    “I can’t change the student who comes to school hungry, who worries about whether their parents are employed, who worries about where they’re going to get their next meal, who worries about their struggling communities and what’s around them,” Cook said.

    Lawmakers are vetting a state House proposal to evaluate teachers annually based on classroom observation and student academic achievement.

    The bill does not call for the ratings to have any bearing on teacher employment, tenure or pay.

    In the interest of disclosure, PSEA provides funding for WHYY’s coverage of state government issues.

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