Dist. 204 choosing tests to measure student growth for teacher reviews

 
 
Updated 3/30/2015 6:05 PM

Teachers and administrators in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 are working to determine how to include student growth as a factor in teacher evaluations by the 2016-17 school year.

The change in teacher evaluation procedures won't be a "bone of contention" in negotiations between the district and the teachers union, whose contract expires at the end of this school year, union President Paul Gamboa says.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The state requires all school districts to begin using student growth as one variable in teacher evaluations by Sept. 1, 2016. In District 204, teachers and administrators have been meeting since 2012 to sort through the logistics of what they call a major change.

Gamboa said teachers and administrators both know the state law that mandates the change has its flaws.

"The district has done a good job of letting the teachers understand that we're making the best of a bad situation here," Gamboa said. "It's an imperfect law, but we will move forward collaboratively."

Superintendent Karen Sullivan said the district purposely has included many teachers among the group of 75 people that has been meeting the past three years to plan for the change. The group aims to have student growth account for 25 percent of a teacher's evaluation during the school years beginning in 2016 and 2017 and then rise to 30 percent beginning in fall 2018.

"This is not a perfect law. We will not have a perfect outcome," Sullivan said. "Our hope is that our teachers see that we've tried desperately to work with them in this process and do the very best that we can for them."

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A year and a half before implementation must start, Patrick Nolten, executive director of research and assessment, said teachers and administrators are focused on choosing which type of tests to use to measure "student growth."

"Growth is not about landing on a certain level of performance," Nolten said. "It's about change in knowledge, skills or understanding of concepts demonstrated across two data points."

Three types of tests can be used to determine growth. The tests will be given once in the fall to establish baseline scores and then again in the winter to see how much scores improve.

Type I tests, such as the ACT, are administered statewide or nationwide and scored by an entity outside the district. Type II tests are districtwide and given by all teachers in a certain subject area. Type III tests are created by individual teachers to reflect instruction in their classrooms, Nolten said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Each district can measure growth using two of these tests, but a Type III test must be included. While this might sound like it will lead to more "teaching to the test," Nolten said that isn't a bad thing if Type III tests are used because teachers can create them to reflect what they would be teaching anyway.

"If you have a well-developed assessment with satisfactory content that is standards-aligned and connected to something meaningful -- we like a teacher that teaches to that test," Nolten said. "If it's aligned properly with what's going on in the classroom, it makes sense that you would be teaching that content."

The district's decision is whether to measure growth with two Type III exams, or with one Type III and one Type I or Type II assessment. It's a tough call because there are pros and cons to each option, Gamboa said.

"There are so many variables it's hard to isolate teacher behavior as the lone thing that is influencing student achievement," Gamboa said. "We're trying to find one (assessment) that is manageable, and we're capable of implementing and is most fair to teachers and could help improve instruction and student achievement."

One test that won't be included in teacher evaluations is the PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, exam that students began taking earlier this month.

Doug Eccarius, assistant superintendent of human resources, said the test isn't given at the right time to measure growth before teacher evaluations must be completed each spring.

District 204 covers portions of Naperville, Aurora, Plainfield and Bolingbrook.

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