Connecticut has been taking a beating lately in the court of public opinion.
Last year, a Gallup poll found that nearly half of all Nutmeggers want to move out of the state, and indeed, Connecticut’s population decreased by approximately 26,000 between July 2013 and July 2014, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
Connecticut Forum President Richard Sugarman explained how a spirited discussion erupted at a recent event when one participant expressed her desire to move.
“Heads started nodding, people sat up in their chairs and many others jumped into the conversation, adding their comments about what’s wrong with Hartford and what’s wrong with Connecticut,” said Sugarman. “I asked the group, ‘How many of you have planned to leave or considered leaving Connecticut?’ I assumed that only a fraction of the group would say yes, but I was wrong. Nearly everyone raised a hand.”
As a teacher, however, I don’t mind Connecticut. The state is certainly not without its educational problems, but it could be worse — we could be New York.
The Empire State just passed a law that relies profoundly — ridiculously — on standardized tests to evaluate teacher performance.
“Teachers will receive two component scores [each worth 50 percent] — one based on ‘student performance’ and a second based on observations,” explained Carol Burris, a New York school principal. “State standardized tests must be used for the first score, if such tests are part of the course or grade level taught by the teacher. Schools may add a test, but it must be created by the New York State Education Department (NYSED), or be on a NYSED approved list.”
Burris added that the governor and legislature “also put into law what can’t be included in the evaluation. Lesson plans and student or parent feedback surveys are forbidden. There is no place in this evaluation to include the quality of the relationship that a teacher has with her students or the families she serves. Two teaching snapshots and student ‘performance’ are all that counts.”
Apparently, New York legislators truly appreciate their teachers, as demonstrated by this statement from Carmen E. Arroyo of the 84th District:
“Those teachers that are responsible and are doing their job, those teachers that sacrifice their families and themselves for the children they serve are going to be protected. Those that are not good, better get a job at McDonald’s.”
Makes Connecticut look like an educational Shangri-La.
While 45 percent of a Connecticut teacher’s evaluation is tied to data-based “student growth and development,” there is flexibility in defining that metric. I admit I have serious misgivings about data, but at least our state’s leaders have shown some common sense and a willingness to reassess misdirected initiatives.
Last year, for example, the state’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Committee allowed school districts to delay the implementation of the teacher evaluation program since it coincided with the rollout of the Common Core State Standards.
Even more fundamental were the ideas that 12 south-central Connecticut superintendents outlined last month in a CT Mirror op-ed.
As the state seeks another waiver from the sanctions of the No Child Left Behind law, these superintendents urged Connecticut officials to “identify a clear and compelling vision for education in our state.”
Specifically, they endorsed education reform that re-thinks the role of standardized testing, encourages innovation, and moves away from simply “ranking/sorting/sanctioning” teachers.
Most notably, they suggested that the use of standardized testing to evaluate teachers be reduced or eliminated.
“[Standardized tests] do not measure our highest aspirations for our students,” wrote the superintendents. “They do not measure the quality of a school or the performance of an individual teacher, and are corrupted when misused for these purposes. They can disrupt authentic learning for long periods of time. Yet, some districts have oriented their practice and curriculum around these tests.”
Strong words. Surely, such words were not spoken when New York lawmakers drafted their teacher evaluation system.
Connecticut still might not win any popularity contests, but citizens should consider themselves fortunate that we do have educational leaders with foresight and common sense. Here’s hoping that those qualities ultimately find their way into Connecticut’s schools.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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