Standardized tests, teacher evaluations focal points of forum
EAST GREENWICH — New Rhode Island Board of Education chairperson Eva Marie Mancuso is trying to steer the ship through some murky waters regarding the current state of education Rhode Island is in within the high school and college ranks and hopefully make things smooth sailing down the line.
But many local officials and administrators of education are concerned about the new policies and methods that evaluate teachers and their performances, as well as how to handle the ever-accelerating new standards school districts have to meet to properly mentor students across the state.
Those issues were brought to the forefront last Thursday evening when Mancuso, along with Dr. Colleen Callahan, met with teachers and officials in a packed Town Hall where the Board of Education chairperson and Callahan formally explained new teacher evaluation systems, new standards on students receiving their high-school diplomas and standardized testing in the state.
During the hour-long discussion that was extremely lively, Mancuso, in her opening remarks, stated that the state needs to have a system of education that is fiscally responsible and a diploma system that means something not just for residents in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut, but also equivalent to other countries around the world.
“Our goal for the board of education is to design which tests are the best,” Mancuso said. “Our goal is design which teacher evaluation is the best. Our goal is to facilitate and make sure it meets the objectives it sets up to be going forward.”
Mancuso acknowledged there has been a lot of discussion about evaluations from NECAP testing – and coming soon to East Greenwich, the online PARCC examinations – and she stated “at some point” the Board of Education and the districts around Rhode Island may have to reevaluate to make modifications to that program, but right now isn’t the time and everyone needs to wait and see what happens with the process.
Mancuso also expressed her great concern of 75 percent students in Rhode Island who have moved onto college, particularly the Community College of Rhode Island, who have to take at least one remedial class at that level. As part of her analysis, Mancuso recalled reading an article in a newspaper where the math lab at CCRI can’t be staffed properly in order to handle the high influx of students who have to take the remedial courses, on top of said students having to pay for those courses.
“That is the problem with our education,” Mancuso said. “That’s why it has to change. What’s the best way to do it? I don’t know the answer to that. But I know we can’t keep doing business as usual. These aren’t stories; this is what has been documented.”
Both Mancuso and Callahan then explained the new educator evaluation systems that were adopted and approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), which Callahan said was a “really tough process.” Currently, there are four teacher evaluation systems, which are the Coventry Teacher Evaluation System, the Learning Community Teacher Evaluation System, the Rhode Island Innovation Consortium Teacher Evaluation and Support System – a group that handles the West Warwick, Woonsocket, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Cranston and Providence districts – and the Rhode Island Model Teacher Evaluation and Support System.
The measures that are used to evaluate educators range from professional practice, professional foundations and responsibilities and student learning and teachers are rated by their overall effectiveness in four potential categories – highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective.
“We need to have it play out that meets of needs of teachers and administrators in every district,” Callahan said. “It’s my firm belief that happens between labor and management and they need to work things out.”
However, local school administrators, both current and former, as well as local government officials, expressed great concern about the evaluation systems only factoring in certain elements and not looking at the broader picture.
District 36 Senator James Sheehan (North Kingstown, Narragansett) said to Mancuso the reason a lot of people feel there’s a lot pressure and blame placed on teachers for students not performing well is the connection that teachers aren’t teaching and believes teachers have been “demoralized terribly” through the evaluation process. Sheen also stated that 50 percent of the teacher evaluation comes from performances by students on standardized tests and that the other variables need to be factored into a student underperforming on standardized tests and not just poor teacher performance.
“So 50 percent of how teachers are evaluated is not how they teach in these school departments,” Sheehan said. “There are countless variables whether or not a student learns, whether it’s home life or distractions, day-to-day habit or a learning disability. I would urge to shrink the 50 percent down or do something about that because that is totally inequitable. I would like to see that on how I get evaluated is not based on my performance but the performance of someone else, which is beyond my control.”
One high-ranking official from the East Greenwich Education Association then addressed Mancuso, saying that even though the idea of every district working collaboratively is a good idea, she believes that teachers are only getting lip service. She stated she has been to meetings with RIDE Commissioner Deborah Gist and said “she acts like she’s listening to you and then other things happen” and that Gist has her “own agenda.”
“I’m upset because our professional judgment is not being listened to at all,” the East Greenwich Education Association official said. “And I think a lot of teachers have excellent professional judgment and need to be listened to by the Board of Education. I’ve not heard one teacher who said they weren’t totally frustrated, totally demoralized. Is that a true way to educate? We’re ruining the profession. Eighty-five percent of the teachers say this isn’t working and we need to listen.”
Mancuso recognized the issues that were shared and emphasized that the only way everything will work is that everyone has to come together to help improve the educational environment and also stressed that it’s going to take time.
“Once everyone recognize there is a problem, we know this problem and we got to get to the end to work together to get to the end. Then, we’re going to have people who feel better about the process because teachers will be respected, but so will parents and administrators and business people and college professors and everybody else. I’m not saying it’s going to take two years or five years, but we got to get there.”