Both sides were set to meet on Tuesday to ensure that they were still on the right track. The new contract is set to be voted on this Thursday; if accepted, the school will resume on September 8th. The biggest issue at hand involves the standard upon which teachers are evaluated. Both sides agreed that the current teacher evaluation system needed to be changed. The system in place simply rates teachers as either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Union and school officials have agreed upon a system where each teacher would receive one of four different rating levels. The new system would also provide principals, the evaluators, with less ambiguous criteria on which to judge teacher performance. The school district is in favor of using such metrics as students’ standardized test scores as a heavy percentage of each teachers’ evaluation. While union officials agree that test scores can provide valuable insight into teacher effectiveness, they disagree with the extent to which the district wants to use test scores to hold teachers accountable. The district, however, insists that they want to use test scores as only one piece of a comprehensive program to evaluate their teachers.
The idea of using test scores to evaluate educators is not a new one. President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act sought to improve students’ academic performance by holding teachers accountable for both the number of students who passed their state-mandated tests each year and the scores they received. Under No Child Left Behind, schools are also required to meet certain goals each year, including improving the test scores of minority and at-risk students. While the practice of using test scores for teacher evaluation has gained momentum, particularly with the endorsement of the Obama Administration’s focus on education reform, many teachers argue that test scores alone are not an accurate means for judging the effectiveness of an educator. Seattle union leaders argue that factors outside of the classroom can have a significant impact on test scores and that it is unfair to hold teachers accountable for variables that are beyond their control. Recent studies have shown that early childhood development, literacy, classroom size, and test-taking anxiety can all adversely affect test scores. Many testing experts now admit that test scores alone may not accurately reflect learning outcomes.
In response to criticism of the proposed teacher evaluation system, officials from Seattle Public Schools have presented a plan whereby the new system would be phased in slowly over the period of several years and would be mandatory only for new teachers. School officials have also promised that any increased teacher accountability would be balanced with additional support provided. Both sides insist that they will continue to do everything possible to come to an agreement and avoid a strike. At this time, union and district officials express confidence that the school will resume on time.