It’s good to see the Lawrence school district looking beyond standardized tests as it seeks to develop new and better ways of evaluating teachers.
Standardized tests have been the mainstay of the federal No Child Left Behind law, but, because the Kansas State Department of Education sought and received a waiver from that law, Kansas school districts now are free to either adopt a model being developed by the state department or craft their own system. The Lawrence district has chosen the latter course, and a group of five teachers and five district administrators are working on a new evaluation process.
One of the major concerns with No Child Left Behind is that it depended too much on standardized tests to measure student progress. Teachers were forced to focus much of their attention on the subjects covered in those tests — mostly math and reading — and perhaps not spend enough time on other subjects or other needs of individual children.
The Lawrence group is trying to remedy that situation by creating an evaluation system that uses other standards to measure student and teacher success. That might include comparing a student’s writing sample from early in the year with one later in the term or using a pretest to document a student’s progress in a certain area. One big advantage of the system is that it could be used to help evaluate teachers in many areas — like music, art and physical education — not covered by standardized tests.
Lois Orth-Lopes, a Cordley School music teacher and a member of the group developing the new evaluations, explained that the district’s current system of teacher evaluation was “cutting-edge” when it was introduced, but new research has pointed to more effective ways of measuring student progress. She also points out that the district group is working hard to garner support from teachers for a program they hope will be viewed as a way to promote professional growth and not as a “gotcha” measure.
It will be interesting to see what the group ends up with and how the Lawrence program compares with those developed by other districts in the state. There is no more important factor in public education than maintaining a corps of dedicated and well-trained teachers. The Lawrence district seems to be taking a solid, creative and professional approach to meeting that goal.