Teacher evaluations are the buzzwords in education reform right now. As more schools compete for federal funding, districts are scrambling to implement evaluation methods that produce the most qualified teachers. However, in the scramble, one issue that is seemingly being overlooked is the effect these teacher evaluations are having on special education teachers and the students that they teach.
In creating teacher evaluations, officials and administrators often base the evaluation on a split between student achievement and in-class observation. However, student achievement—often based on standardized test scores over a period of time—is increasingly taking center stage.
For example, in New York City, controversial teacher evaluations were released that almost completely negated any in-class observations if student test scores dipped beyond a certain level.
This poses a problem for special education teachers when it comes time for evaluations. Achievement for a student with special needs is completely different for a traditional student, and often cannot be measured with traditional standardized tests.
A good representation of the difference between achievement in special education classes and traditional classes comes out of a recent article from The Associated Press. In that article one teacher describes the challenges she faced in getting her students to just say their names at the beginning of class.
Bev Campell explained in the article that over the course of the year only one out of the nine students in her class was able to say their name, and she considers this to be huge progress.
“People don’t understand where they’ve come from,” she said to The Associated Press. “It’s slow.”
She’s absolutely right. It is a slow, challenging and important process, and is something that cannot be measured through written tests. And yet, many states will continue to place more focus on standardized tests for special education teacher evaluations.
This brings up the question of how states are going to measure student achievement in students with special needs, and evaluate special education teachers.
There is no doubt that special education teachers need to be evaluated, as they are tasked with one of the most challenging and important tasks of educating children that just decades ago were thought to be un-teachable. And they are doing it with large success. Students with autism, learning disabilities and other challenges are finding themselves thriving in an educational environment, and even moving on to higher education.
To remedy the situation, Access Living’s Rod Estvan gives the following recommendations in preparing special education teacher evaluations:
• More time for implementing the new evaluation as it pertains to special education students, to give educators more time to consider the implications.
• A strong framework for principal observation that is unique to special education students.
• Allowing school districts to let students’ achievement growth be hashed out in meeting where Individualized Education Plans are developed, so that teachers and parents could look at a student’s educational history and decide what is realistic and acceptable.
While it may be appropriate to use standardized test scores to measure student achievement in traditional classrooms, intensive classroom observations may be a better way to measure achievement in special education classes.
Why not have behavioral experts or other trained professionals come in and evaluate the students? It may cost a bit more money, but it may also prevent situations where unqualified teachers essentially baby sit the special needs students.
Of course, all of this becomes muddier as schools move toward the mainstreaming and inclusion of special education students into traditional classrooms, where they can potentially become subject to the traditional means of measuring achievement.
Daniel Duerden is a writer and content editor for 360 Education Solutions