For the first time next year, thousands of Chicago Public Schools teachers will be evaluated based partly on how well their students are doing academically. Many fear they will face dismissal if the standards are not applied fairly.
“It’s going to make people really angry,” said Ruth Resnick, a librarian at O’Keefe Elementary School, who spoke last week at a public forum about carrying out a new state law that changes how teachers, principals, librarians and other staff are graded.
But state and district leaders say the new evaluations will be better than the decades-old system now in use. They say more thoughtful and effective evaluations will not only increase student achievement, but also provide teachers with better feedback for how to improve.
Despite low graduation rates, test scores and other measures of student performance in the district, more than 90 percent of its teachers are now rated excellent or superior.
“We’re now at a critical point in time,” Darren Reisberg, the deputy superintendent at the Illinois State Board of Education, said last Monday at Lane Technical High School as he opened the final public forum in a series of meetings about the new law.
Last week, an advisory council drafted legislative rules that districts must follow. The law requires a public feedback period before lawmakers vote in about nine months on guidelines for administering the new system.
Moreover, district officials and the Chicago Teachers Union, already at odds over issues like a longer school day, must agree on guidelines for, among other things, what tests to use for measuring academic growth and how much the results should factor into evaluations. Then hundreds of evaluators and principals must be trained on how to put the system into effect before the next school year begins.
School districts and their unions must also address other crucial matters, including how to measure the performance of teachers whose subjects are not tested and those who teach special-needs students and English-language learners.
“Those are the big questions, and I don’t know how they get answered in the next year,” said Lauren Sartain, a researcher at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, who spent the last two years studying teacher evaluations in Chicago.
The law calls for the new assessments to be used in half the city’s public schools next fall and the remainder by 2013. The rest of the state has until 2014.