Galway officials admit teacher standards too low

Board approved plan to hold on to aid

Thursday, January 24, 2013
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— Galway Central School District officials say they are settling for what they consider a less-than-acceptable standard of student achievement in order to keep state funds.

Those funds are tied to adopting a state-mandated plan that grades teachers based on student test scores.

In certain subjects, the district has agreed to grade teachers as “effective” if at least 35 percent of students meet their goals, even though district officials think 66 percent for every teacher is a better figure.

“We believe that 66 percent of our students achieving their targets would be more appropriate to effectively evaluate our teachers and students,” states a letter to parents, staff and community members posted on the district’s website this week.

The letter, which is signed by the Board of Education but not by any individual members, said that in the voluminous Annual Professional Performance Review, the district overlooked one important detail when negotiating with the teachers union last spring. That detail was in setting so-called scoring bands to say what percentage of students have to meet goals in subjects that don’t have a state assessment.

But the union said the two sides did negotiate that, and the district agreed to let the union come up with those numbers.

“We went through a lot of training and professional development to learn why and how to do these,” said Carrie Herron, Galway Teachers Association president.

Few teachers fall into the category where 35 percent of students achieving their goals is considered “effective” teaching, Herron said. Most of those who do teach special education classes.

“Physics or AP courses are very different than courses with students that have a variety of special needs,” she said.

The standards for most subjects are higher, Herron said, some even higher than the 66 percent goal the district mentioned in its letter.

“The plan is rigorous,” she said. “If it wasn’t rigorous, if there wasn’t integrity, it would not have been approved.

“The majority of teachers are going to either get a score from the state or be set at a higher band.”

The state sets the standards for English and math teachers in grades 3-8 because the state administers assessment tests in those grades and subjects. But at every other grade level, and for teachers of other subjects within grades 3-8, the local district has to come up with its own achievement goals and say what percent of students need to meet them for the teacher to be considered effective.

Even for subjects that require a minimum of 35 percent of students to meet the standards, teachers are aiming for much more than the minimum, Herron said.

“We’re not aiming for ‘developing’ or low ‘effective.’ We’re aiming for ‘highly effective,’ ” she said.

The district’s letter calls the 35 percent mark “one of the lowest scoring bands in the state.”

The two sides went back and forth on the issue for some time before the district reluctantly agreed to go with the teachers union’s scoring bands. Not doing so and missing last Thursday’s state deadline for approval of the plan would have cost the district $412,000 in state aid, the letter said.

“We were simply unwilling to mortgage the academic opportunities for our children to continue the stalemate,” the letter said.

In the end, the final plan was submitted and the state Education Department approved it last Thursday, Herron said.

 

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