Education board approves new educator evaluation system tied to students' performance


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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — The South Carolina Board of Education has approved an evaluation system that judges teachers partly by their students' performance.

The board voted 9-5 this week to begin implementing Superintendent Mick Zais' educator evaluation system statewide next school year. Half of a teacher's evaluation will be based on classroom observations, while 30 percent will be based on how much progress students make in their classroom. The remaining 20 percent is up to each district.

As for principals, half of their evaluations will be based on their school's growth. They'll also be rated on nine existing professional standards, including school climate, community relations, and effective management.

"Our new educator evaluation system was developed to improve teaching in the classroom and to give parents confidence that student performance matters," Zais said. "Measures of student growth objectively answer the question, 'Compared to similar students throughout South Carolina, did the children in your classroom learn anything?'"

Dozens of schools piloted the system over the past school year, but the board needed to approve the statewide model.

Zais said the board's decision ensures South Carolina maintains its waiver from the "onerous provisions" of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Evaluating educators based on performance is a required part of states' exemption from the law's all-or-nothing provisions. Without the waiver, South Carolina would be subject to the law's requirement that every public school student score proficient on state-standardized math and reading tests this year.

Educator advocacy groups had offered their own plan.

Kathy Maness, director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, said Friday they realized student learning had to play a role but preferred that it make up 20 percent of evaluations, rather than 30 percent.

One of the most controversial aspects of Zais' original plan was dropped, when the agency decided not to give teachers an A through F letter grade on their evaluation. The state board made clear in late 2012 it would not approve letter grades, which teachers opposed as degrading.

"We're glad the state board listened to the stakeholders to get rid of that," Maness said.

Instead, evaluations will fall into five levels: Exemplary, highly effective, proficient, needs improvement, and ineffective.

The evaluations are not linked to teachers' salaries. According to an agency report, they're intended to allow local officials to tailor training to educators' specific strengths and weaknesses, while providing educators more frequent feedback.

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