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Hub union is urged to accept use of MCAS scores in teacher rating

School leader lauds decision of state association

PUSHES FOR CHANGE Carol Johnson, the head of the Boston school system, told the union the current evaluation system is inadequate. PUSHES FOR CHANGE
Carol Johnson, the head of the Boston school system, told the union the current evaluation system is inadequate.
By Akilah Johnson
Globe Staff / December 22, 2010

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The Boston Teachers Union should join other educators throughout Massachusetts and endorse plans to use student test scores to help determine teacher effectiveness, Superintendent Carol Johnson told union leaders yesterday.

In a letter to the Boston union, Johnson praised the decision by the Massachusetts Teachers Association to tackle one of the most divisive issues in today’s education-reform debate. The suggestion by the state’s largest union to include MCAS scores in teacher evaluations validates what the School Department said during contract negotiations that began last spring, she said.

“It is past time to implement a complete and fair evaluation process that uses this information to affirm the complex work that our dedicated teachers undertake every day in thousands of classrooms,’’ Johnson wrote. “The current evaluation system fails to distinguish between the best teachers, teachers who need support to become excellent, and individuals who no longer belong in our profession.’’

The school system, the local union, and the state teachers association all agree that a new evaluation process must include observations of how teachers function in the classroom as well as student performance. But using results of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System to evaluate teachers is a deal-breaker for the Boston union.

Boston union president Richard Stutman said in an interview yesterday that the MCAS test does not provide a complete picture of what a child has learned that year. Student progress as well as classwork must be taken into account when measuring student performance, he said.

“If we’re not sure that the MCAS is good for students, it’s hard to say that we think they should be used for teacher performance,’’ he said. “What we’re interested in doing is looking at the research, and the research actually weighs against this despite what the MTA says. If the MTA wants to concede the point that this is a done deal, let the MTA concede this is a done deal.’’

The Massachusetts Teachers Association does not represent Boston public school teachers. The Boston Teachers Union, which represents about 7,000 educators, is part of the American Federation of Teachers, which opposes efforts to include standardized test scores in decisions about who gets to keep a job and who gets promoted.

The state teachers association presented its proposal to the state Board of Education at yesterday’s meeting. According to the plan, test scores of struggling students would be measured against peers in other classrooms to avoid penalizing teachers with a mix of students. For example, the progress of low-performing students in one classroom would be measured against others with similar scores.

Teachers would be reassessed if test scores were drastically different from the rest of the evaluation, which would include classroom observation. High scores would garner bonuses through mentoring and special jobs. Low marks would mean a one-year improvement plan and dismissal if improvement was not made.

Like the state association’s proposal, Boston’s school system calls for a plan that blends student performance with classroom observation. Unlike the union’s plan, the school system wants it to be a 50/50 split.

Ultimately, the responsibility of drafting new evaluation guidelines lies with a 40-member state committee, which plans to present recommendations to the state board in February.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at ajohnson@globe.com.