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Pa. House OKs bill to assess teachers based on student achievement

Pennsylvania appears to be headed toward a teacher evaluation system that for the first time would be based in part on student test scores.

Pennsylvania appears to be headed toward a teacher evaluation system that for the first time would be based in part on student test scores.

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Ryan Aument (R., Lancaster) and approved by the state House on Thursday would count student performance on a wide variety of measures for 50 percent of teacher and principal ratings. The measures include everything from graduation rate and attendance to state and local test scores.The remainder of a teacher's evaluation would be based on classroom observation, the traditional way. That, too, is undergoing an overhaul. A pilot program aimed at making observations more accurate and useful ended its second year this month; Phase Three is scheduled for this fall.

Under current state law, teachers rated unsatisfactory two years in a row can be fired.

The legislation, which still must be voted on by the state Senate, would "help student achievement by helping teachers develop and improve their teaching," Carolyn Dumaresq, the state Education Department's deputy secretary, said Thursday. Teachers, she said, would now be held responsible for "making sure that children are learning."

The Corbett administration has made changes in teacher ratings an education priority. There is broad agreement that the current evaluations are largely meaningless. Fewer than 1 percent of teachers were rated unsatisfactory in 2009-10, the latest year available; that is widely held to be unrealistically low.

At least 18 other states and the District of Columbia use or will soon use student performance as a significant factor in teacher evaluations. That is up from only four states a few years ago. Legislation that would use state test scores in grading New Jersey teachers is making its way through the Legislature in Trenton.

Teacher evaluations that use student state test scores have raised controversy elsewhere. Researchers question whether the test scores reflect teacher performance accurately.

The Pennsylvania plan blunts much of that criticism by using a broad range of student performance measures, including a school's Advanced Placement test participation and SAT scores and student grades on projects and on local tests. And ratings are based in part on whether students are making progress in school, not simply on whether they currently meet state standards.

Pennsylvania State Education Association president Mike Crossey, while not outright endorsing the proposal, praised it Wednesday for including "a structure for commonsense, well-rounded, multiple measures of student achievement in a teacher evaluation reform plan that will help guide educators in the classroom."

The new evaluation would have four rankings: distinguished; proficient; needs improvement, and failing. The current rating is only satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Some teachers welcome the remake.

Deborah Kearney, an eighth-grade English teacher at Lionville Middle School in Chester County's Downingtown district who participated in a pilot teacher evaluation project this year, said: "I'm not afraid to share what I do; my classroom door should be open all the time." As for using test scores to judge her work, while that should not be the only measure, she said, "If I can help my students improve from one year to the next, that needs to be counted."